Arkham Knight: Genesis #3
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Illustrated by Dexter Soy
Colored by Dave McCaig
Lettered by Deron Bennet

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That right there, guys.  It would be nice if they swapped the names or replaced “with” with “and,” but hey, baby steps.

Put bluntly, not much happens this issue. The bulk of the twenty or so pages of the narrative is taken up by flashbacks, but that’s alright. I’ve said before that this title serves as a pretty good psychological profile on Jason Todd, and the events depicted here make his rage at the very least understandable.

The present day bookends consist of Jason arriving at the now abandoned Arkham Asylum, where he looks back on his final tragic night as Batman’s partner. After learning that Jason, as Robin, had once pursued the Joker out of anger and in direct disobedience to Batman, he was caught in an explosive trap that he only survived thanks to the Joker himself.

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There are shades of A Death in the Family, as you’d expect, but instead of outright killing him, the Joker tortures Jason.

Relentlessly.

Major props to Peter Tomasi, who has given us the most terrifying Joker I’ve read in a long time. And I say that without a hint of hyperbole; his Joker is morbidly funny, unpredictable, and positively brutal.

Hands down the most disturbing scene is a montage of different inmates getting to beat Jason, who is helplessly strapped to a chair for months.

Spoiler
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For a bit I thought Dexter Soy’s contributions were going to be workmanlike, adequate but nothing more.  As the issue goes on, however, it gets much more difficult to read because of the sheer brutality of the images.  There’s blood and gore, but the increasing look of hopelessness on Jason’s face says just as much as Joker taking a crowbar to it.  I wouldn’t say I enjoyed what I was seeing, but for the story they’re trying to tell it works marvelously.

Up to this point, I’ve found Jason to be whiny and bitter, his hatred toward Batman and Robin reading like a spoilt child who didn’t get their way rather than a man truly driven by his thirst for vengeance.  Now, though, it’s easy to understand why he’s angry: in his eyes, Batman didn’t look hard enough for him, didn’t try to see if he was still alive, and ultimately replaced him.  Jason feels alone, insignificant, and abandoned, three primal fears that nobody wants to have to face.

We know, of course, that this wasn’t the case, but Jason doesn’t.  Coming back to the Joker, he uses that to break him emotionally while allowing others to break him physically.  It gets to a point where you almost want Jason to be killed, not out of dislike towards the character but because that would be a mercy given the horror he’s being forced to endure.

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On a narrative level, the content of this issue is lean, but the weight it carries is greater than anything Tomasi has given us thus far.  The Joker says some absolutely horrific things, disturbing on their own but made even worse given the glee with which he delivers them.  This is a Joker who sees life itself as a joke, just as likely to shoot you as he is to throw a pie in your face, all because he thinks it’s funny.  One of his best scenes here is reminiscent of the “magic trick” from The Dark Knight: he asks who Batman really is, and then shoots Jason just before he can say it because it would ruin his own punchline.  He’s a maniac who is only predictable in his unpredictability, making silly “you’ll believe a Joker can fly” jokes before beating you senseless.

As the narrative timeline closes in on the Arkham Knight game itself, it’s becoming more important to wrap up plot threads and get a better idea of what Jason is planning.  While wheels feel like they’re spinning without going anywhere in the main title, Genesis is at least letting us look at the titular villain himself and see what drives him.  After this issue, even if his anger still feels a bit misplaced, it’s at least understandable why he feels the way he does.  For a team to take a character driven by rage and make the audience actually empathize with him, that’s a great feat indeed.

Recommended if:

  • You love these games.
  • You’ve wanted to see what happened to make Jason hate Bruce.
  • You’ve wanted to see the Joker be scary again, because seriously guys, he truly is.
  • Oh, and Bill Finger is finally getting his due.  It’s 76 years too late, but at least it’s happening.

Overall: This is a hard issue to read and write about: it’s necessary to understand Jason’s pain, but it isn’t an entertainment for that reason.  As a means to understand his rage, however, it works remarkably well, and I just cannot reiterate enough how great the Joker is here.  He isn’t some mysterious force that may or may not be immortal, he’s just a psychopath who wants to mess with Batman by any means.  It’s not a fun read, but it’s a necessary read.

SCORE: 8/10