Jim Gordon is in a rough spot. Not only is he smack in the middle of a fray between the Joker, a couple of Texan cannibals, and She-Bane — but, if The Joker #4’s meandering inner monologue is to be believed, poor Gordo is super depressed.
The Joker series got off to a rough start. The first couple of issues were too busy shouting “‘member The Killing Joke!?” and slathering every panel in unnecessary exposition to bother establishing its own identity. Last issue, thankfully moved away from TKJ but kept the worrying trend of exposition slathering. But, as of the Joker #4, I’m happy to report that the series is picking up.
We last left Jim in the middle of the aforementioned three-way clusterfuck. Issue #4 jumps right to the action as She-Bane and her Santa Prisca militia tear through the security forces loosely aligned with the Joker. The action itself is pretty fun and even reasonably clever, especially She-Bane’s use of the environment and even the bodies of her slain foes to wreak havoc as she b-lines straight for Joker.
Gordo’s monologue is present in all its wordy unglory, though at least this time it’s less expository and more mood-setting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not inherently against monologues, but they are pretty boilerplate noir/hard boiled staples and thus easily slip into hackneyed/cliché territory if not handled with cleverness or care. With lines like: “…I thought I was a good man, trying to do good in a bad world.” and “I looked myself in the mirror and didn’t see a good man looking back at me.” James Tynion IV handles things with about as much care or cleverness as a vegetable wielding a sledgehammer.
Fortunately, the monologue cuts out around halfway through the issue and we get mostly dialogue for the rest. There’s even a fairly enjoyable heart to heart between Jim and the Joker. The Joker fires off simultaneously one of the most edgelord-ish and least hot takes on Batman that I’ve read in a while, but a fun — if a little obvious — plot revelation from Mr. J and a notably badass line from the (ex) Commish elevate the interaction (spoiler pic above).
I think I’ve made my distaste for Guillem March’s big-chinned Clown Prince abundantly transparent at this point— but this time around March does put that style to some good uses, especially during a particularly satisfyingly grotesque and trippy couple of panels (see above).
Arif Prianto’s colors were also pretty solid, and even occasionally inspired. The decision to make a cloud of nerve gas look more like colored chalks from a Holi festival was a small stroke of brilliance. Though I wasn’t a fan of Prianto’s decision to make the inside of the Clock Tower back in Gotham an unsightly shade greenish yellow. I get the impulse to not go with the tech glow = blue visual cliché but baby poop yellow? Really? Why not a nice purple? Or even a turquoise?
I also find March’s inks for closeups on She-Bane’s mask (above) eye-catching and enjoyable. They invoke 90s ‘tude in the best ways, especially when paired with those big sharp rhomboid eyes.
I still dislike Punchline with the heat of a couple suns (JK, I can actually barely muster a simmering annoyance), but the backup this time around is okay. I.e: it doesn’t make me regret my life choices whilst reading it.
Mirka Andolfo’s art style is still (for the umpteenth time) not for me, but it appears to get more and more polished with each issue. Romulo Farjardo Jr.’s colors are good, and they mostly avoid gradient or single color backgrounds this time around. Also Romulo is a fantastic name.
As for the story itself. Punchline (surprise!) gets the upper hand in her little prison conflict with the help of a few ass-pulls and more than a little plot armor. But who reads the Punchline backup for Punchline anyway? As everyone who’s with it knows in their gut of guts, Harper Row/Bluebird is where it’s really at. And Bluebird gets a pretty cool Batman-esque escape this issue. So I’m as satisfied as I can be with this hot garbage of a backup.
- You like pretty colors
- The Joker is the light of your life/you live in a society (I’m sorry)
- You’re into early MTV-esque grotesque art
- You want to watch She-Bane wreck it
A bit of fun action, some trippy colorful art, and a few twists and turns make this by far the best issue of The Joker yet. It’s absolutely the first issue to make me truly hopeful that this story might turn out to be pretty good. That said, The Joker #4’s stubborn insistence on continuing to plaster boilerplate monologue over nearly every panel of its first half still kept the issue from being more than above average.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.