After being let off the hook by Commissioner Gordon at the end of James Tynion’s run (reading it doesn’t seem to be necessary if you want to pick up this series), the Joker is back in town and he’s got a new, subversive plan to announce to everyone.
Most of the plot includes the Joker, doing his thing, acting like a smug, smart aleck as he teases changing his life from messing with Batman to something more noble. The plot is ok. This is primarily a set-up for the rest of the series. As Joker prepares to make his life-changing announcement, we get a tease that there’s someone else who has a clear beef with the Joker and is making plans to attack him. I wasn’t terribly invested in finding out the answers we were going to get. For me, the Joker works best when he’s fighting the Batman. A major status quo change from that likely won’t last long, because any major change from the Batman and Joker dichotomy is only going to make people miss the formula that has worked for decades.
The artwork, meanwhile, is decent. The panel layouts are incredibly simple, with many pages only using about five panels in a vertical row or a big page splash to visualize the story. It made everything easy to follow. Carmine Di Giandomencino seems to be a good artist for the Joker, able to portray his wide range of expressions, from insincerely kind to maniacally evil.
Defining the Joker’s “Voice”
It’s interesting to look at the kind of handle DC has on each of its characters. I’ve reviewed Poison Ivy, and that’s a character that DC is just getting back on track, taking her back to her roots. I’ve reviewed Harley Quinn, and that’s a character in which DC has lost all understanding of, yet they refuse to ever fix. With the Joker, however, DC writers and their editors have a pretty consistent definition and voice for him, so you can guarantee what you’re getting from the Joker in any one of his appearances.
In every comic book that includes the Joker, I can usually project Mark Hamill’s sharp, smug, and darkly comedic tone onto his dialogue within a book, because writers have very well defined how the Joker should sound. That is true of this comic as well. My only real problem with it is: I’ve heard better. Mathew Rosenberg has a fine voice for the Joker that sounds “in character,” but at the same time, I can think back to writers such as Geoff Johns in The Three Jokers that gave the Joker much more punchy dialogue, and it elevated the story to a new level. It’s things like having the Joker come off of a series of horrible murders with a casual, cheery “what a life” exclamation that make him a villain you both love and are repulsed by.
Comparatively, Joker in this comic is doing a baseball player bit, while keeping hostages, and trying to manipulate people onto his “team,” which is all very much in character. “Let the Batman deal with the Questionman, the Maskedman, and the… ummm… Melty-faceman, I guess,” Joker says as he explains that he must move on from Batman. I do love that Rosenberg is going for a Joker that mixes both legitimate comedy and violence, but none of it is as funny or clever as I’m used to seeing the Joker portrayed. (Chuck Dixon is a master at portraying a violently funny Joker, especially in The Joker: Devil’s Advocate).
This discussion about the Joker’s “voice,” might sound petty, but remember, there is a very high standard for how the Joker should be portrayed, and making his character as entertaining as possible would carry an otherwise average plot a long way.
Is This Really the Best Use of the Joker, Though?
The fact is, we know this book is a bit of a side-quest and a cash grab from the real Joker stories for which everyone reads comics: the Batman stories where the Joker is the villain. That’s where the Joker really works best. The fact that he and Batman are the complete and utter opposites of each other creates an unmatched chemistry between them. Batman might fowl Joker’s plans, but he is also the only thing that gives the nihilistic clown any real meaning to his life. In turn, the Joker presents Batman with one of his ultimate challenges: to never break his “no kill” rule, no matter how much he hates the evil jester. Watching those two together is like watching a volcano that’s threatening to explode, and no side-show can really compare to a volcanic explosion.
People might say I’m judging prematurely, but Tynion’s Joker run was basically a Commissioner Gordon maxi-series with “Joker” on the title. Frankly, these Joker ongoing books seem like an excuse to constantly have a book released that says “JOKER” on the title since that IP sells well, but in exchange, we might not truly get the best ideas for the character in the long run.
The Back-Up Story
Mathew Rosenberg also delivers us a back-up story with art by Francesco Francavilla. This short tale is meant to be reminiscent of older bronze age Joker comics, particularly his first solo run from the 70s. This is seen by the use of the much more flatly drawn artwork, looking as if it had been drawn with pen, pencil, and ink, rather than drawn with computers.
The plot here is this silly bit where the Joker has become smitten with Power Girl and tries to think of ways he can impress her, including trying new outfits which are easter eggs to his various looks throughout the years.
This reminded me of the story from the Joker’s original solo series where he “fell in love” with Black Canary (issue #4 of that series). I don’t think this will click with most readers, though. Most people seem to see the Joker as an asexual villain, who wouldn’t care at all about impressing Power Girl, Black Canary, or anyone other than Batman. However, I found this to be a little funny in that, whenever the Joker isn’t portrayed as asexual, he does seem to prefer blondes.
- Joker Fatigue hasn’t set in for you
- You enjoyed Joker’s ongoing series from the 70s
Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing isn’t a bad book, but I am used to a lot more from stories that include the Clown Prince of Crime. I think that the character would be represented a lot better if DC continued to focus on giving him arcs in the main Batman book and under the Black Label, and I’ll probably keep that opinion until something really spectacular happens in this run.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.