After much anticipation from some folks, I’m sure, Joker’s solo series is here! Five-hundred people have been murdered in a gas attack. The world blames the Joker, but did he really do it? Will it even matter when James Gordon tracks him down? Folks, I really do like to like things. Problem is, fickle and loose as they may be — I do have some standards, and this issue misses them by leagues.
This series might be named “The Joker” and have the Joker on the cover, but it’s shaping up to be much more of a Jim Gordon yarn. In The Joker #1, we follow Gordon’s novelesque point of view as he muses about the nature of evil and catches us up to speed on recent events. Specifically, one recent event as seen in my Infinite Frontier #0 review: Arkham Asylum was gassed, killing nearly all of its patients and staff. The clues all point to the Joker (eg: everyone dying with a rictus grin), although I’m not so sure he actually did it this time. But is the story this issue any good? Did James Tynion IV rise from the ashes of his run of mediocre Batman stories to deliver us some passable Clown Prince of Crime fun?
I would have never expected a Joker solo comic to be a noir. I could dig it being a noir, though. Too bad it’s not a very good one. The aforementioned prose-heavy POV is definitely a… choice. Not necessarily always a bad choice either — I have a lot of fond memories of clambering through walls of text in many marvelous Morrison/Moore/Gaiman comics — but Gordon’s inner monologue is half-explanation, half-exposition, and all hackneyed. In fact, Joker #1 as a whole is a nonstop parade of clichés. Gordon is a troubled, weathered, ex-cop. A femme fatale (complete with a big-goon bodyguard) shows up and offers him a job too tempting to pass up. Also, he’s suffering from Hollywood-PTSD.
But enough about Gordon’s low-rent noir; let’s dig into how Joker #1 treats its real star of the show, the eponymous Joker. I have to confess, I haven’t liked a Joker story in years. I don’t hate the character, obviously he has merits (maybe even some outside of his usually-iconic look) or he wouldn’t have stuck around for 80+ years. I think the litany of crappy Joker stories boil down to mostly one thing: tension.
In Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, the Joker said a line that, to me, basically sums up his character:
What does that have to do with tension? If the Joker is a murder clown that kills indiscriminately it sucks the tension out of any situation. Joker’s unpredictability, and the tension that unpredictability causes, is — at least to me — the linchpin to a good Joker story.
Unfortunately, all we’ve gotten lately is a procession of story after story where the Joker shows up and, well, kills randomly. Not because it’s funny, but because evil. But what about Joker #1? How does Tynion IV treat the character? By calling him super-duper evil and having him surrounded by folks he murdered randomly of course…
In general, Guillem March’s art in #1 is decent, but man, his faces are weird. They’re not as grotesque in Joker #1 as I’ve seen them in various issues of Batman, but it still doesn’t escape his tendency to make every prominent female character a supermodel with flawless mannequin skin and every male character a Clint Eastwood caricature. Gordon mostly escapes unharmed, i.e. he has slightly fewer lines on his face than an 80-year-old tanning-addict (also, his white hair is back, which is nice), but the Joker does not.
On a more positive side, Arif Prianto’s colors are solid. They are nice and colorful, and even manage to stay just shy of that glossy digital look modern comics can fall into that makes everything look like it’s covered in a thin layer of petroleum jelly. Some panels even use this faux-Ben Day dot shading (remember the dots they used to color old comics?) that looks neat, though I wish it had been used less randomly/interchangeably with hatching and shading from the colors.
PUNCHLINE BACK-UP STORY
Punchline is locked up in Blackgate… but if her legions of fans spawned from a viral video confession have anything to say about it, not for long. Meanwhile, Dr. Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row desperately scramble to find evidence that will put her away for good.
While it’s actually kind of nice to see Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row doing stuffTM, it’s hard to create a good story out of incredibly contrived circumstances. Half of Gotham fan-personing out over Punchline and wanting her released is absurd. Take a look at pretty much any and all famous true-crime cases throughout history and you’ll notice the public has a tendency to wholeheartedly assume the accused is guilty. Even O.J., with all his actor/sports-star pre-murder-accusation fandom, didn’t escape it. Unless there are a completely different set of cognitive biases in the DC comics universe, it makes absolutely no sense that so many people would be on her side. Unless the story is trying to treat her as some Nelson Mandela-type political prisoner? I doubt that’s the direction it’s going. Outside of some exposition about how badly the trial is going (because the witnesses keep turning up dead) and Thompkins and Harper Row coming up with a sort-of-plan, not much happens, plot-wise. Punchline punches someone after saying “You know why they call me Punchline?”
Mirka Adolfo’s art looks sketchy. I mean like a literal sketch, a quick doodle drawn on an art-tablet. Combined with Romulo Fajardo’s colors, it gives the art a web-comic vibe. Maybe that’s what they’re going for? Even if it is, I’m not a fan.
Also, Dr. Thompkins has almost completed her Benjamin Button-like reverse aging metamorphosis from old woman into someone the same age as Bruce, somehow…
- You stan the Joker.
- You stan Jim Gordon more.
- Noirs are your jam.
- You’re itching for a Harper Row/Bluebird back-up story.
- Against all good judgment, you are an actual fan of Punchline.
I can tell Joker #1 is reaching for something, and I applaud it for that. Problem is — as Gordon’s bog-standard noir monologue/plot and yet another lazy Joker portrayal make glaringly apparent — it looks incredibly unlikely the story will be able to grasp at anything enjoyable or meaningful.
As for the Punchline back-up story: The setup is contrived. The art is unpolished. Punchline punches… This back-up is not great, folks.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.