This…was…TREMENDOUS! Without a doubt, this was the best issue of We are Robin to date. I was rather hard on this comic in its infancy, but with the last few issues, things have really started to pick up. With this installment, I think it is safe to say that W.A.R. finally has its first real hit. If the rest of this arc is anywhere near as moving and character driven as this first chapter was, then we are in for one heck of a ride!
Character, character, and more character. Part One of Jokers is all about establishing character. While there is some minor action, the majority of this story is dedicated to nothing but fleshing out the cast like never before. Aside from an issue here or a random insertion of bonus material there, one of my biggest beefs with this comic has always been that I couldn’t empathize with these people because I didn’t know them yet. Maybe the collected narrative has given me a better sense of them, and that is why I can relate to them more effectively at this point. I’m not discounting that, but I also feel like a greater attempt is being made to divulge the lives of these characters through showing instead of telling. We get to see their fears, trials, and demons.
After the conclusion of Robin War, I was slightly concerned that everything that had been built there wouldn’t be carried forward as this title continued. Fortunately, this is not the case. All the characters, excluding Dre, have given up their nighttime forays. After everything that’s happened, this felt like the most organic outcome that could have ensued. It’s really worth mentioning again….this actually felt organic. All too often, comics portray a convoluted/unnatural route. As if a writer has decided where he wants to end up, and twist the story to that ending, even if it doesn’t make sense. Bermejo seems to be crafting a story that takes events into consideration and actually has the cast react to them in a believable manner. When you consider that Duke all but guaranteed his departure from the group at the end of Robin War, I probably would have been doing a little bit of grumbling if things hadn’t turned out the way they did. This chain of events also gives us a chance to hone in on the real lives of these characters for a change of pace, providing us with a much needed boost in the empathy department.
What’s that? Like “A” for Alfred or something?
The single page character check-ins are also a ton of fun because Alfred is in every single one of them. I’m really happy to see Bermejo focusing so heavily on Alfred’s aptitude for disguises. It had always been a strong component of the character that unfortunately fell to the wayside in recent years, but I’m glad to see he is bringing it back with a vengeance. It’s also nice to see that no justification was ever given, or really ever needed for that matter. We aren’t force-fed a background story about his theatrical training from England. Once again, “show…don’t tell” is put on display, as we realize his proficiency in disguises by seeing what he is capable of doing, not being told.
1st page of issue #1 vs 1st page of issue #8
This story also introduces the “Robins” first real Arch-Nemesis. Everyone….here’s Johnny! In case he seems somewhat familiar, that’s because he’s the kid that was trying to beat up Duke in the very first issue of W.A.R. I went back and looked. While his face has undergone some design derivations, everything else about him is spot on: all the tattoos match up, and his friends even call him Smiley. It’s interesting to find out that we were already introduced to him, but paid him no mind at the time. In a way, it feels like this is bringing things full circle. It also plays up the fact that these kids lives are offhandedly mimicking the lives of their heroes. You see, much in the way that Batman was somewhat responsible for the birth of the Joker, Duke played a very small part in the birth of Smiley. And now, like Batman, Duke is going to have to deal with the fallout.
Bermejo really plays up the fact that these two are polar opposites. Going so far as to have Corona mirror their introductions. But it doesn’t end with the visuals. Dukes first thought in the series is about mortality, and how he doesn’t want to die. While Johnny talks about how life is a big long joke and death is the punchline. It is also important to note that while Duke has always been resistant to the call of herodom, Johnny fully embraces the call of chaos. His commitment to chaos makes him a far greater threat than Duke can ever hope to serve as a foil for. By examining their core beliefs, we can see that Duke has so much to lose, while Johnny has nothing to lose. Truly, the hallmark of the worst kind of evil. With as much time as this issue dedicates to character development, Johnny really gets the lion’s share of it. It seemed appropriate though. He has a lot of catching up to do, and if he is going to be the driving force behind this arc, it’s vital that we get a concrete understanding of him as soon as possible, and this story succeeds at it in spades.
While Johnny does have some legitimate reasons for being troubled, there had to already be some underlining insanity that drove him to this ending. With The Joker, he needed the worst day ever to go bonkers. Comparatively speaking, Johnny’s “bad day” registers as nothing more than a walk in the park, but it was still enough to push him over the edge. This kid has major problems.
Series regular, Corona, is once again on art…and is he ever on-point! Without any dialogue or thought boxes, Corona manages to up the tension and deliver several of the most ominous shots I’ve seen in some time. The true mark of a good comic artist is the ability to tell a story through visuals alone. While his art isn’t the best in the business, he has shown me today that he is nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. If this wasn’t enough, his story-boarding of the last 3 pages is a testament to the narrative depths that his visuals are capable of bringing. I won’t give up specifics, because it’s just too good. What I will say is that Corona and Bermejo continue the mirror what was established on the first page. Juxtaposing the two of them as they deal with similar variables, one choosing love and grief while the other embraces hate and contempt. It’s some very powerful stuff.
On my first read through, I actually missed some of the more subtle intricacies that Bermejo layered throughout the story. I’m counting this toward his favor. Sometimes when a writer comes up with something clever, they like to telegraph it so that you don’t miss how clever they are. Bermejo, however, obviously put a lot of forethought into coming up with this script, but doesn’t yell for you to notice how awesome it is. He puts it out there, and if you pick up on it, then all the better. I genuinely respect that approach.
- Johnny/Smiley has a little shrine wall dedicated to The Joker. Let’s have fun connecting the images with their source. My answers are in the spoiler tag below. (See how many you can get correct without peaking.) I only got 13/17. Maybe you can help me out with the last 4.
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
- Lee Bermejo Joker mouth from Joker by Lee Bermejo. (Incidentally, he is also the writer of this comic.)
- The Killing Joke. This particular image is actual an homage of an homage. While that over the shoulder glance is a classic pose from The Killing Joke, the style they are copying is actually from a poster that DC released for The Killing Joke. The original image was by Brian Bolland, but the poster was done by a different artist mimicking the pose from the book.
- The Killing Joke
- The Dark Knight Returns
- The Laughing Fish, Detective Comics #475
- The Dark Knight Returns
- The Killing Joke, cover art.
- Jim Lee Joker from Hush, Batman #613 and 614.
- Jerry Robinson Joker. 1940s Batman artist.
- I want to say Tim Sale, but I could be wrong.
- Another Lee Bermejo Joker tribute.
- ???? (This one is soooo familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.)
- I’m guessing that is an original Jorge Corona take on the Joker.
- Character driven storytelling takes precedent for you over everything else.
- You want to try this book, but were waiting for a good jumping on point. This is it.
- You want to meet the “Robins” new Arch-Nemesis.
- You want to see the best storyboards Jorge Corona has yet to deliver.
- You like a story with a sense of symmetry.
There cannot be light without darkness…order without chaos…good without evil. The “Robins” finally have their Arch-Nemesis, and he is Duke’s polar opposite. This point is demonstrated masterfully through the combined narrative efforts of Bermejo and Corona. In an industry ripe with convoluted storytelling and over the top scenarios, Bermejo delivers a truly organic tale full of depth, credibility, and gripping characters. If you’ve been curious about this title, now is the perfect time to experience the best of what W.A.R. has to offer.
SCORE: 9.5 / 10