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posted October 20, 2008


Creators: Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Mick Gray, Patricia Mulvihill
Publishing Information: DC Comics, Hardcover, 128 pages, November 2008, $19.99
Ordering Numbers: 1401215815 (ISBN10), 9781401215811 (ISBN13)

This is a stand-alone Joker story told from the point of view of a henchman sporting the flamboyant name of Jonny Frost. It's his story as much as the title character's: the book begins with Frost's initial encounter with the Jerry Robinson creation and ends when their relationship is severed. Although they were developed independently, the 128-page original graphic novel explores the same thematic strains inherent to the character that the recent Batman movie: the Joker as a deranged nihilist whose power comes as much from getting under the skin of those opposing him as it does overcoming folks' defenses through sudden bursts of over-the-top violence. The dialogue is fine and the art appropriately pretty in that now well-established style of DC's where you can never quite tell if things are photo referenced. I enjoyed the design work, although I was less happy with a quirk of the art where the various characters' faces are lined in a way they look at bit like Marvel's Molecule Man. Generally, though, I had few if any complaints about the comic's craft components.

The overall impact felt less than the sum of those parts. One supposes Joker would be a fine follow-up purchase for anyone older than 16 that thought Dark Knight was just about the best movie they had ever seen. It bored the living shit out of me. I didn't leave Batman: The Dark Knight wanting more, so sensing I could get such a fix here provided few preemptive thrills. A significant portion of Joker felt less like revisiting this year's most successful movie and more like straight-up leftovers of the superhero-pulpy kind. Frost came off like he could have been making a guest appearance from any number of comics by a select half dozen of today's emerging writers. I nearly checked to see if my old copies of Sleeper to make sure elements hadn't leaked through their plastic sleeves and onto my new Batman book. Save for a tightly-played, off-kilter encounter with Killer Croc near story's beginning, Joker's set pieces frequently stagger away from dramatic oomph and into the land of straight-faced silliness. At one point a badly-behaving sub-boss has his skin removed. I guess that was supposed to make me go "Holy crap -- Joker is a monster!" Instead I thought, "Man, that's silly-looking. Joker is a goofball."

What's strange to me is that I don't read a lot of superhero comics and the one thing I liked most about Joker was the nerdy, superhero thing about it: watching the Joker assert his will over the various facets of Gotham City's surprisingly durable underground. The grander themes failed to make a significant impression. I'm not sure there were themes available to anyone that hadn't already bought in to the basic set-up of Batman comic books, the endless battle between this set of things over here that Batman represents and that list of things over there embodied in the Joker. In the end, Joker felt like an exercise in creating a template for a series more than its own act of creation. By the time Joker was nearing its conclusion and our narrator had finished selling to us the transformation that had taken over his life, I felt like jumping off a bridge, too.