The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox #1 review

When this book was first announced, I thought to myself, “Oh…another Joker story…” Initially, this didn’t pique my interest at all and I kind of forgot about it. Then we had to figure out who was going to review this title, and I decided to read the comic and see what this was even about, and I gotta say…this book surprised me. So, let’s have a look!

Full disclosure: Joker isn’t my favorite rogue (that would be Two-Face). While I have nothing against the character itself, I do think that most Joker stories since the New 52 have missed the mark, although there are a few exceptions that I thoroughly enjoyed, such as Killer Smile and Harleen. The problem that I have with these recent Joker stories is that the character is often reduced to a boring homicidal maniac. Nowadays, when Joker shows up, we know that he’s going to be evil and that he’s going to kill, and we also know that almost nothing about this is going to be funny or scary—it’s all just so predictable now.

I’m not interested in Joker as a homicidal maniac. To me, Joker is a guy who makes funny jokes (I mean, it’s in the name!). What makes Joker scary for me is that you can never tell if he’s just joking, or if he’s secretly intending to kill you. The best example of this would be the classic Joker gun: sometimes it fires a bullet and you’re dead, and sometimes a flag with the word BANG! comes out of the barrel.

Going into this issue, I was a little skeptical, because this could easily have been the start of another gritty, boring tale like all the others. Instead, it turns out that the creative team writes and draws Joker as a comedy character, and they definitely manage to make me laugh a couple times throughout the issue. So we’re already off to a good start!

The story is mainly set inside an interrogation room at the GCPD headquarters. Someone got killed, and Gordon and Bullock try to get Joker to talk. However, Joker just seems to be having fun. He’s cracking some morbid jokes and he rambles on about a surprise party that the other rogues threw him. What I particularly like about the way that the creative team presents Joker’s story about the party, is that it’s done in flashback and all the characters that are there speak in Joker’s voice. This hammers home how Joker is embellishing his story and most likely not always telling the truth. It’s a very entertaining and creative way to establish a mystery, as Joker’s character is infused with the narrative itself, and now I have to know what’s behind all this!

Of course it isn’t just Rosenberg’s writing that makes this such an entertaining read. Merino’s artwork is very detailed and dynamic. The opening panels, where we see Gordon, Bullock and Joker in an interrogation room, could’ve been dull as it’s simply three guys at a table, talking. These kind of scenes are always interesting because they force the artist to come up with creative ways to keep the reader engaged with the material. The fact that this is on the first couple of pages makes it especially challenging, because this is where the creative team has to hook their readers. Merino changes the angles from which he approaches the same characters and the same room in every panel. The first panel on page one gives us an establishing shot of the room from above, using a tilted perspective. When we go from this first panel to the others on the following pages, it’s like we’re constantly circling around the characters, which creates a slightly dizzying effect, as if Joker’s deranged mind is commanding how the story is shown visually. I admire how comfortably Merino uses all these various angles and compositions—it shows how versatile he is as an artist.

That versatility is also in full display during the flashback scene about Joker’s surprise party. Not only does he do an excellent job drawing so many different characters—from Harley to Two-Face to Ivy to Man-Bat, and many other rogues—but the script also calls for an elaborate action sequence that involves Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin. The way these characters move makes them seem so lifelike, and yet there’s a strong cartoon element present as well. Furthermore, Merino doesn’t take the easy way out, and creates interesting backgrounds at the same time.

But Merino isn’t doing this alone: Arreola colors this issue beautifully. The colors pop in every panel on every page. We get a full spectrum, which adds a lot of depth to each of Merino’s drawings. There are so many layers here, and yet Arreola achieves a solid level of consistency that really brings all the visual storytelling together. The colorful art also matches Rosenberg’s comedy quite nicely, as it gives off a fun, playful vibe.

That being said, there are two things that I think don’t work out very well. First, the issue isn’t told in linear order. The first half of the issue is set in the present and includes a flashback, and then the second half of the issue takes place between the flashback and the present. Now, of course this is a digital first series (which means that the print edition collects the first two digital chapters), and I can see why the creative team chose to open the story inside the interrogation room: it’s a good way to start the mystery. However, I don’t think that jumping around in the timeline adds much to the narrative, especially because the second half of the comic would’ve worked fine as the story’s opening as well.

Second, for some reason the GCPD locked up all the rogues, including Joker, in the same jail cell. We see Bane, Killer Croc, Deathstroke, Catwoman, Ivy, Harley, Man-Bat and other dangerous villains. I absolutely enjoy their banter and the comedy that comes from it, but when I stop to think about this, it doesn’t make sense. If these villains decide to work together—which they’ve done in the past—they could easily break out of the precinct and potentially kill a whole bunch of cops in the process. I’m sure that Rosenberg is aware of this and that all this is deliberate. After all, seeing them locked up like this works as a comedic beat, and for all we know these rogues will actually break out in a later chapter.

Recommended if…

  • You’re like me, and you’re tired of that generic homicidal maniac in clown makeup, and you want a Joker that’s funny, mysterious and unpredictable again!
  • You like mystery comics.
  • You like damn fine comic book art.

Overall: Yes, this book really surprised me—in the best possible way! I had a ton of fun reading this and I’m invested now. This book has comedy, action, mystery, and really good artwork. I highly recommend this to fans of the Joker, and I recommend it even more to those that are tired of the Joker. Seriously. This is refreshing and most welcome. Here’s to hoping the rest of the series will be just as strong!

Score: 8.5/10

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