It’s Batman and The Joker trading blows in a Gothic Cathedral with shattering glass windows, moody lighting, and The Joker’s penchant for completely erratic ramblings. I’d say that alone sound like it’s worth the cost of admission. But as usually, I’m going to break it down for you with a fine tooth comb to see if there is enough worthy content here to make it truly worth your time. Join me won’t you…
The atmosphere in this comic is outstanding! A lot of people take the time to praise Mikel Janin’s character work, but after I took in the unfolding story on each page, I paused for a moment to check out the surroundings. As I already stated, this whole story takes place in a Gothic Cathedral. So, you have all kinds of dramatic looking architecture that one commonly associates with these types of environments; stained glass windows, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, archways, and piers. It just looks awesome.
A selection of some of my personal photos from Le Mont Saint-Michel
Having been in a couple of these kinds of churches myself, it was easy to recall the sense of being in them, and the pictures didn’t do anything to distract from the memory I had of what they looked liked or how I felt while strolling down their naves and being dwarfed by their massiveness. In fact, I thought Janin did a very good job at capturing a close facsimile of the real thing.
And here are some of my photos of Notre-Dame de Paris.
But Janin did much more than just duplicate the architectural qualities reminiscent of these grand structures. He added additional atmosphere by incorporating all of the shadowy corners he filled the cathedral with. Look at almost any page, and you’ll find deep pools of inky blackness swallowing up any hint of detail. It almost makes me wish Batman hadn’t burst through a window, but instead, slowly emerged from the shadows. You know, something like this:
But, you can’t really complain about Batman bursting through a glass window or skylight. I mean, that’s what Batman does. Right?
I also really appreciated the fact that this story is simply two guys duking-it-out in a church. So often, Joker gets blown way out of proportion as this unstoppable force of nature, and writers think that just because he is super popular, it means he always needs to one up himself and find bigger and better ways to endanger larger and larger portions of the city. But really, I think some of the best Joker stories are when it gets more personal and he has a smaller more intimate relationship with his victims. One needs look no further than The Killing Joke to find proof of that. But it’s also evident in last month’s DC Nation #0 and Batman Annual #3 from 2014.
With the Joker, I think he actually spends just as much time fine-tuning the tortures he intends to inflict on one person as he does thousands. While I think that he does like to be flashy, I don’t think he does the things he does in order to steal the lime light and be the center of attention. Just take the previous two stories I mentioned. It’s not like what he did there is going to garner him national attention. But I think it was still important to him that he did what he did to those people, whether or not he got recognized for it.
There are also quite a few moments where The Joker’s dialogue or actions are incredibly amusing or unexpected. He will be going along saying one thing, and in your mind, you know what the natural thing he should be saying next is, but he’ll throw you a huge curve ball and say something completely unpredictable. And it’s the juxtaposition of how normal he is sounding one minute to how completely off the wall he sounds the next that is really striking and quite hilarious.
My favorite one is when Joker says he has to be careful not to kill his hostage, because if he does, Batman will punch him. And at that given moment, Batman is his hostage.
There’s also a bunch of other clever stuff King has the Joker say, for instance: He has trouble remembering one victim from another because he has killed so many people. Or the fact that he didn’t know what to do to get Batman’s attention, so he just went to a church and started killing people while he thought about it, and that’s when he realized that killing a bunch of people in a church would be a great way to get Batman’s attention. But how now he’s going to have to find another church full of people, since, you know, all these people are already dead…. That’s so Joker. In moments like these, I feel like King really managed to capture the Joker’s voice.
The Not So Good
The Joker goes Nananananananananananananananana, Batman. I actually always find this really weird when a character from the comics sings this. This is a theme song from a Batman TV show from OUR world. Where exactly did this reference come from in their world? If it was only something that ever happened once, then I could see it just being something that particular character decided to sing at that moment in time. But the fact that multiple characters have sung this in the comics means that they are obviously all referencing something in their world, that people in the DC Universe actually collectively acknowledge this as a sort of theme song for Batman. So, what are they all referencing? Can’t be the 1966 Batman TV show, because that is only a thing to us.
Batman only says one word throughout the entire comic. It just feels really really peculiar to me. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of stories where the Joker rambles on and on and ends up saying a hell of a lot more than Batman ever does, but this was staggeringly obvious that Batman wasn’t talking. It just seemed really really unnatural.
While most of this comic looks amazing, this particular panel is seriously under-par for Janin. I mean, if someone just showed me this panel and asked me to identify the artist and I had not yet read this story and had no other context to go off of, I seriously doubt I’d be able to pinpoint it as his work. Just look at it. It’s so….meh.
Also, in regards to the art, there are some serious inconsistency in the depiction of the broken window.
Before Batman crashes through the window, we can see his shadow right behind it. So, it’s pretty clear that is the window he is about to smash through.
But then, when he is actually in the process of smashing through it, it’s depicted as whole behind him. I thought perhaps he smashed through a different window, because 6 pages later you can see that it is still whole.
But then, 4 pages after that, the same window is show in two different panels as being shattered. Admittedly, I think the only reason I even noticed this was because of how much extra attention I was paying to the backgrounds, but still, is it too much to ask that the editors and artists pay attention to what they are doing?
At one point, Joker accidentally kills his last hostage. And at first, it even surprises him. He stands there like a deer caught in the headlights and comments on the situation. Then, he looks around the room to see if there are any other hostages left that he can use. Meanwhile, Batman just stands there…. WHAT THE HELL!?! I mean, what is he doing?!? Why isn’t he attacking? The Joker was clearly distracted and lost in his own little world. Batman had the drop on him. And yet….nope, I’ll just stand here. The fact that Batman doesn’t attack him while he incoherently rambles is unforgivable.
Then The Joker holds his gun up to Batman’s temple and takes him hostage. You know, I’ve read other Batman stories where this wouldn’t have even been a thing. Like, someone will have a gun to Batman’s head, but Batman is such a super ninja that he swats that thing away before the perp even knows what happened. And before you can say, “jimmy crack corn and I don’t care”, Batman has knocked the guy out and moved on to the next bozo. Granted, Joker is obviously a lot swifter than some random thug, but getting the drop on Batman like that was weak. Then again, Batman stands there like a doofus right before this, so maybe he got hit in the head jumping through that window.
Lastly, I understand that Batman wants to reform his adversaries, but come on! Joker just brutally and callously killed about a dozen people. This is a time for Batman to let loose, not kowtow to Joker’s demands. “But, Joker is threatening to kill himself, and Batman wouldn’t want someone to die”. Pfft. We all know that the Joker thinks too much of himself to commit suicide. And Batman should know that too. So yeah! This is what I wanted to see:
Yeah! Now that’s some Bat-Justice right there.
- The Joker mentions traffic on Bolland Avenue. I’d like to think that everyone here knows who Brian Bolland is, but if not, he was the penciller on The Killing Joke. And if you don’t know what The Killing Joke is, then for shame.
- You like Gothic architecture.
- You ‘re a fan of moody atmosphere.
- You love the Joker’s randomness.
- You prefer smaller more personal stories that veer away from city wide disaster epics.
On my first reading I thought, “Huh, not a lot happens in this.” It’s pretty uneventful, and the content doesn’t do all that much to move the story along. But upon subsequent readings, I found a whole lot more to enjoy. The environment the story takes place in is absolutely dripping with atmosphere and many of the Joker’s lines are quite good. It’s also a pleasant change of pace to find a story that focuses more on a smaller set of events as opposed to earth wide or city wide disaster events. Although, with the good, you’re bound to find some bad as well. And this story does have some bad. While most of the art is exceptional, there are a few continuity inconsistencies present, and a panel that looks kind of wonky. And when it comes to The Joker, he is handled exceptionally well, but in doing so, it seems King forgot to give Batman the same level of attention and care he gave the Joker. Batman acts peculiar, is inactive for no reason, is depicted as less skillful than he actually is, and just all around doesn’t do many of the things that one would expect of him. All in all, the issue has a lot more good than bad, but some of that bad stuff is just downright mind boggling.
SCORE: 8 / 10