Many readers are going to hate this one.

Joker #1 is a Villains Month comic that doesn’t acknowledge the events of Forever Evil whatsoever. That is, unless Jackanapes will play a larger role in that saga. Who’s Jackanapes? He’s the primate nemesis of Batman 666 Damian Wayne, a potential caped crusader of the future that would have existed had Damian made a deal with the devil in Grant Morrison’s Batman run. Joker #1 tells the story of Jackanapes from baby gorilla to fully-trained henchman of the Clown Prince of Crime, but it also parallels that tale of childhood upbringing to the childhood of the Joker himself!

Batman doesn’t kill and Joker’s past must remain a mystery. Those are two rules of Batman writing that I firmly believe in without question. The second we start to understand the Joker is the second he becomes less scary and the moment Batman kills is the moment our hero falls. So when artist turned writer Andy Kubert opened Batman #23.1 up with a flashback to Joker’s childhood and then never explicitly wrote-it-off by emphasizing Joker’s inconsistent memory (ex: “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”) I was offended. It makes the flashback appear definitive rather than another symptom of a fractured mind. But seeing as how we know this character well enough, I think that we can– but above all we SHOULD– assume that the memory Joker recalls is completely false. In fact, that’s the only way you’re going to find the comic enjoyable because if Kubert did indeed pull back the veil on Joker’s past then it’s a colossal mistake. So let’s say he didn’t.

Because if he did, it’s a weak effort to humanize a character that doesn’t need our sympathy. He is the greatest 100% evil villain in all of pop culture and I have zero interest in empathizing with him. It’s the totally wrong direction to go as it flies in the face of the very foundation of the the character. The best evidence that Kubert does indeed know what he’s doing? Look at the way Clarke drew the Joker’s aunt. She appears exactly like the Joker but in drag as Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oil. Or maybe how the stuffed animal (a monkey) is the only thing in Joker’s childhood life that had any color to it. I’m either sinking into denial and desperately trying to convince myself that an awful Joker story was actually good or I’m right-on-the-money and these flashbacks are all a figment of a lunatic’s imagination.

(And while I’m sure most of the discussion will be on if Kubert did or didn’t create a definitive Joker memory, I think we should take a moment to at least acknowledge how well he captured a Mark Hamill Joker voice!)

So pushing all of the potentially controversial Joker past out of our minds for a moment, what do we get? Well, we get the story of a homicidal maniac raising a baby Gorilla like it’s his son and all the ridiculous things that come with that. He takes him out for ice cream, teaches him how to fire his first bazooka, they watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre together, etc. etc. It makes for some really amusing and far-out imagery, but is it a story you need to read? Was this the best Joker story that could’ve been told in Villains Month? I feel like it could be a nice lead-in for Jackanapes in Kubert’s upcoming Damian Wayne mini-series but it really just seems so unimportant at this point in time, doesn’t it? All of the villains have taken over the world and Joker is still out there. What better time is there for him to show back up again than now? Not only that, but with this many magic and alien and extra-dimensional characters running around he stands a good shot of getting a new face and that needs to happen DESPERATELY.

Speaking of appearances, the saving grace of this strange story is that it gave Andy Clarke so many bizarre things to draw and really shine! Not only that but there’s a great deal of emotion to be found in this story and I think these are going to go down as some of the most detailed and expressive panels you’re going to see in any comic this month. While I have mixed feelings on the “childhood origin” of Joker, the imagery is haunting and while I don’t particularly care about how Jackanapes came to be, the illustrations are funny and wildly entertaining. Andy Clarke knocked this out of the park and turned a rather pointless and potentially divisive story into something that’s at least visually appealing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want Andy Clarke to start drawing a bat-title full-time, not just back-ups. This is a beautifully drawn and perfectly colored book. Clarke and Blond make a fantastic team.

Recommended If…

  • You’re a fan of Andy Clarke’s artwork
  • You wanted to know the origin of Jackanapes
  • You can assume that Joker’s childhood memory is just as made-up as all the others stories he’s told
  • You’re just up for something completely ridiculous

Overall

I doubt there’s a better drawn Villains Month comic out today, but the story here is not only pointless but there are many who will view this as Andy Kubert breaking the Cardinal rule of Joker stories– you don’t give him an origin. I think if you can assume that the memory is fabricated then what you get is a really insane tale about a homicidal maniac raising a Gorilla to be a henchman, which is just as strange as it sounds. Andy Clarke gets some spectacular visuals out of that but the story being told is not a memorable one you’ll find yourself revisiting in the future.

SCORE: 6/10