Where’s the Punchline?

joker1The vivid cover art of Brian Azzarello’s “Joker,” published by DC Comics, says everything about the bloody tale of disorder and depravity.

Reeling from news that the Joker is being released from Arkham Asylum, Gotham City is in utter peril. This is a sick, twisted affair, and the titular madman is at the heart of that illness. Artist Lee Bermejo and author Azzarello confidently tackle the raw and vile events surrounding the unthinkable return of the fiendish mastermind. Similar to their fascinating work on “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel,” the story is from the other side of the aisle.

A two-bit hood named Jonny Frost, who’s eager to get in on the action, is our guide. Meeting the likes of Killer Croc and Harley Quinn would make anyone else think twice, but for Jonny, there is nothing he wants more. Jonny soon learns that tearing through Gotham with the Joker is a dangerous proposition. With every obscene act, Jonny gets closer to becoming the big shot he always wanted to be. This is all too alluring for a man starving for some control – Jonny recognizes himself in the Joker.

This is where the story lives. Unapparent on the first read through, this flip in perspective makes “Joker” a valuable portrait of the twisted trickster.

Nothing in the narrative is all that interesting, and frankly you may not like Jonny all that much. He is just another guy, nobody playing at being somebody, and he is in over his head. This is also the book’s strength. Being that Jonny is not larger than life, we get a real glimpse at why the Joker does what he does. We learn this Joker isn’t the manic prankster from the cartoons, nor is he the homicidal anarchist made popular on the big screen; Azzarello’s Joker is all of these and a little more. This keeps the pages turning, the underworld scared and Jonny spellbound.

Getting a little too close for comfort, you’re liable to gag even as you lavish over page after page of the grimy strip clubs, frigid meat lockers and slimy bedrooms of Gotham. The art is putrid and disgusting in the most appropriate way possible. Two-Face’s mangled face, Croc’s urban makeover and even the Riddler’s pimped out entourage seem to fit this gangland rogue’s gallery. There is sharpness to the illustrations that cut into you like a rusty knife. It is dirty fun looking at Bermejo’s work.

Though “Joker” is an original story, it is hard not to draw parallels between this and last year’s film “The Dark Knight.” Published before that film’s release, it is at least a spiritual companion to the cracked and unflinching realism present in the current Batman film mythos. Making connections in this regard might make this more or less fun, depending on your tastes.

Jokes have a surprise in the end, a few funny pictures that get you to see things a little differently. No surprises here, but you do think differently about the Joker, a disease at its most dangerous, and the Batman, next best thing to a cure.

An uncompromising look at the fandom the iconic villain has garnered over the years, “Joker” feels like picking at a scab, with a little bit of puss and a little bit of hurt as your reward in the end. If the Joker is your kind of murdering sociopath, then this book does the fiend justice.

About Ron Hatcher 8 Articles
I am a refugee from the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. I have survived on this Planet Earth via work as a teachers assistant at Kingsborough Community College for three years. As a freelance photographer, I’ve attempted to capture your world’s stranger habitats in and around your capital city, New York. For many of your years I’ve been an illustrator, avid fan of film and television,and a “video” gamer. I do not yet understand your ways; eating and copulation are still foreign concepts to me. I suffer a form of hysterical space madness, symptoms include obsession with sci-fi and socioeconomic politics from beyond the moon. Lest we forget the past we are doomed to repeat the future. I carry a briefcase with me at all times with codes some of you refer to as the “football.” I hope I don’t need to use it regarding my own heritage I’d rather not let all this happen again.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.