Joker: Killer Smile #1 and #2 are fantastic. Those issues are creepy, claustrophobic, play with expectations and constantly make me question what is real and what is delusion. On top of that, the art in the first two issues is phenomenal. Now we have arrived at the third and final issue of this miniseries. Issue #2’s cliffhanger has made me wonder how the creative team would wrap this story up. Will there be a surprise twist at the end? Will the ending be as heartbreaking or unnerving as the events in the previous issues have been? Only one way to find out. SPOILERS. You have been warned.

It’s not easy to conclude a series that has been as strong as Killer Smile. While I love the previous episodes, I think that this issue has some shortcomings that are uncharacteristic of this miniseries. The first thing that strikes me is how straightforward this conclusion ends up being. Rather than continuing the rollercoaster ride through Ben’s chaotic mind, it plays out like so many other typical Batman stories do: Batman swoops in to apprehend Joker, but when faced with the choice to save innocents or catch Joker, his code forces him to choose the innocents, and this allows Joker to escape.

While I don’t necessarily have a problem with this scenario in itself, within the context of this particular miniseries it does seem like a bit of a lazy way to conclude the story. The previous issues did a remarkable job of setting a dark and mysterious tone, but this conclusion breaks that tone in favor of shifting the focus to the conflict between Batman and Joker. That’s a shame, because I really liked that this book was focusing on an original character without any superpowers or a costume, a character that was falling victim to Joker’s manipulation. It was refreshing to see that among DC’s recent publications. What makes this even more disappointing is that to me it feels like the creative team is treating the ending as if it’s some kind of plot twist, as if the final reveal that Ben was a mere pawn in Joker’s bigger scheme to escape Arkham is something that we didn’t see coming. However, this is what Joker does. It’s not a new concept. In fact, I’d say it’s an old trope that we’ve definitely seen before.

Moreover, I don’t think that there’s anything particularly interesting about the way that the creative team incorporates the “Happyville” segments. Throughout the miniseries, the children’s book called “Happyville,” which features the clown character Mr. Smiles, has appeared. In the previous issues it was used to turn certain scenes upside down and inject another dose of horror into the narrative. But in this issue the “Happyville” segments simply reiterate what we already see happening with Ben, Joker and Batman. Those segments don’t recontextualize any scenes. They don’t add more horror or suspense. They are just kind of there. But that’s not to say that they are a complete waste of time and resources. What I appreciate is that the comic’s narration, written in the tone of said children’s story, creates a nice contrast to the violent artwork and subject matter.

The artwork, while definitely really good, isn’t as mindblowing and experimental as it was in #1 and #2. There are some eye-catching splash pages, but if you open this book hoping to see more of Sorrentino’s crazy hallucinations or gut-wrenching horror, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. While the art is still beautifully sequential, the page layouts dynamic and easy to follow, the human anatomy pitch-perfect and the facial expressions believable and realistic, the art is also a lot more straightforward, much like the writing. What we get instead of the experimental stuff are fight scenes between Batman and Joker and escaped inmates rioting in Arkham. Interestingly enough, the final confrontation, which is between Ben and his family, is the least visually interesting and also the least impactful writing-wise. Another nitpick that I have is that Sorrentino is capable of drawing the most gorgeous backgrounds, but neglects to do that here. Instead, we just see plain walls, empty night skies, and sometimes no backgrounds at all. It’s these little details that have allowed us to get fully immersed in this story, and without these details, the story as a whole just loses its magic touch.

Recommended if…

  • You are a fan of Andrea Sorrentino’s art.
  • You have to see how this story comes out.
  • You don’t care if this final issue is less scary and unique than the previous issues, you just want to see Batman and Joker duke it out.

Overall: Don’t get me wrong. This is an entertaining comic. The pacing is on point, the dialogue is crisp, and the artwork is good. It’s just too bad that the creative team didn’t stick with the gripping tone and unique structure that they had established earlier, rather than reverting to a more generic approach. Whether or not you decide to pick this up is up to you, but I recommend that you wait for the trade to come out. I have a feeling that this story will read much better when you can read it all in one sitting.

Score: 7.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.