Happy New Year, everyone!
This isn’t a segue into the review or anything – I just wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank everyone for reading my content in the latter half of last year. This job may be small in the grand scheme of things, but it came into my hands at a sensitive period of my life, and has made things all the better for it. I love writing these reviews, and I love reading your thoughts on them, whether you agree or disagree. In 2020, I’ll be tackling a bunch of new things, from the new Justice League run to hopefully visiting America and a con or two myself! I look forward to what this year brings, and I look forward to sharing some of that with you. <3
…Oh, right, the review. Yeah, this book’s alright!
I think some considered my review of the first issue to be a little harsh, but I didn’t really see much to love about it. It was competently made and certainly not a chore to read, so I marked it in the “average” column – I think I was a little disappointed that it didn’t seem to do anything interesting with the concept of a gritty Gotham crime story. There are a lot of factors as to why I might feel this, and I’ll dive into some of them here; but I think this issue appeals a little more to me, if only on a technical level. I didn’t like it on my first read, but upon rereading it today, I picked up on some things that let my appreciation for the comic grow a little more.
So, I mentioned having seen several crime shows before, but my favourite – and what I believe to be the most relevant to this comic – is Hannibal. For those who haven’t seen it, it can be a little too fantastical and psychedelic for some, but earlier seasons in particular favoured a similar formula: finding a gruesome crime scene from a meticulous killer, and using forensics and psychological analysis to trace the murderer to their roots. This story reminds me of its more formulaic first episodes, where there was a new grizzly spectacle each week to ogle. When I saw the opening splash of this comic, I was immediately taken back to my days of watching that show, and that’s nothing but a good thing. In fact, I’d go so far as to bet that it’s a homage to a clock motif from that show!
I get the sense that this book is going to play out a lot better in a trade, and I might have to read it all back to back when the final issue comes out to see if my opinion on the book becomes more positive as a result. At the end of issue one, I complained about the comic teetering off into a non-ending, which did not feel like a good way to end a first impression on a book. In reading this issue, though, I can see how perfect this image would be to read immediately after Harley’s monologue at the end of issue 1, as if to punctuate her point on the nature of darkness. This image is genuinely incredibly creative and well-executed, and while that’s in no small part thanks to Mico Suayan’s uncomfortably realistic and foreboding illustration, I do congratulate writer Kami Garcia on thinking up of a legitimately cool new artpiece/crime.
Sadly, I’m still not big on Garcia’s writing. To her credit, it is nice to read a comic that isn’t flooded from page to page with overly verbose narration or excessive dialogue; Garcia does know when words are necessary, and when you can let a moment just sit, and have the imagery speak for itself. It makes sense; she has an impressive history with her work in novels, and I imagine she would know that that the look of a scene often portrays far more than anything someone could say about it. When she does write dialogue though, I’m just not a big fan. John Kelly, the kid who we’re being led to believe is the Joker, has several moments that don’t land for me – such as the dialogue between him and his abusive father, or when he quotes Sun Tzu when hacking into a rude jock’s social media and outing pictures of him with another man.
There’s also a moment where Harley is analyzing a crime scene in which fat is being melted off of human body parts – comparing it to the actions of a Peruvian crime gang. When I read this tidbit, I was genuinely intrigued; was Garcia drawing from real crime cases and crafting interesting fiction from them as a point of reference? I’d love to see more of that!
So, interested, I went to look it up… and found out that the story was discovered to be a hoax created by the police to cover up a series of unlawful killings they were involved in.* This was discovered not one month out from the initial reports of the black market fat, which was also immediately questioned by medical officials at the time. While that is a VERY interesting story, it’s not the one that Garcia was intending to draw from, and it makes me worried that the policework in this story isn’t going to be much more than surface-level.
I really loved the art this time around, though; while the occasional uncanny valley effect was still there, the entire experience felt smoother and more polished, with Mike Mayhew’s work this issue being a particular standout. Just look at how striking this image is!
I think if anyone is going to read this story, it will be to see the potential in comic books steeped in naturalism: playing out a crime drama on the page could be more effective and affordable than playing out a crime drama on television, depending on the content.
While I adored the spectacle that opened the story, my major critique of the artwork in this issue is also directed at Suayan: particularly, his panel composition. Perhaps this is a matter of how it was scripted, but there were several moments in the issue that felt like the action didn’t gel from panel to panel. There’s a moment where the Joker stabs a man in the hand, but you don’t see that action – it just cuts to the knife in the hand, leaving you to fill in the blanks. Sometimes, letting a reader imagine the space between two panels can be effective, but I don’t think that’s the case when a character’s doing a physical action – like here, when Harley pins her estranged brother(?) to a wall.
Not only does it feel like the panels are lain out strangely, but it feels weirdly jumpy – strange when the book has an impressive page count with a lot of space to work with on each page. This could be just a matter of polishing the craft as issues go on, but I thought it was worth pointing out.
Listen, I made a lot of things clear in my first review about how I felt on this comic – I don’t really feel like I know any of these characters, and I don’t think this story fits well as a Harley or a Joker story. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad story by any means; if it gets past the hiccups that I’ve been hung up on (and I do think they’re important hiccups), then I could see the comic improving more and more as time goes on.
- You enjoy stories like Joker that tackle the past of an iconic character.
- You’re a fan of Harley being portrayed for her smarts instead of laughs – even if she is a tad generic.
- The mystery of the story intrigues you – this is a nine-issue comic, and I do feel like there are a few bait-and-switches on the way, which legitimately excites me.
- You want a half-decent crime novel expressed with honestly astounding visuals.
- Side note: If you, like me, are a little tired of gay people/acts in high school only existing in media just for them to be outed, you should read the webcomic Heartstopper. It’s a genuinely heartwarming story about positive LGBT relationships in high school, and it’s free!
To my eye, I definitely felt like there was an improvement in this issue from the previous one, though I only really felt it the second time I read it with a clearer head. I think it can grow into something quite good, and it’s quite possible that the entire story will be better than the sum of its parts – but I think some clichés and ineffective storytelling methods currently hold it back, at least for now. I’m glad to see it’s getting more people into crime stories, though!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.