I was pretty lukewarm in my review for the start of The Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing. I don’t feel fatigued by the titular character as others do, but I wasn’t very intrigued by the initial set up for this run either. Will this issue change my mind and give me the exciting twists, turns, and psychological intrigue I’ve come to expect from Joker stories? Well, let’s see, shall we.
The Two Jokers
One thing I talked about at length in my last review for Joker was how important it is to get this character’s voice right, projecting crisp, entertaining, and even darkly hilarious dialogue through the Joker. I said that Matthew Rosenberg’s Joker voice, while fine, just didn’t hit the high marks I was used to reading for Joker dialogue. Well, as Rosenberg allows us to spend time with the “other Joker” he teased at the end of the first issue, we get the kind of Joker dialogue I was looking for!
It is precisely the energetic, dark, yet funny dialogue I love reading from the Joker. Its use here proves to me that Rosenberg is quite qualified to write the character. Carmine Di Giandomenico also draws this “other Joker” with very sharp, evil features in contrast to the softer, friendlier features of the first Joker. They are both very deliberate, well-executed choices, and they lead me to believe that the Joker who is more violent is probably the real one, except for one thing. The more violent Joker is almost too violent. We’ve had renditions of the Joker where he has gotten this violent before, but not for a while– probably not since Scott Snyder’s version. The first Joker doesn’t feel like himself either, being too light-hearted, but he does give off the more clown-y and silly side that the Joker has also shown in some stories. Therefore, I’m not totally sure who is the real one yet. One thing is for certain, both Jokers are very convinced that they are the real version and that the other is fake.
Nevertheless, I do have a bit of a higher opinion of this creative team on the Joker. Once again, they are making very deliberate choices in how each Joker is characterized, both in the writing and in the artwork, to craft the mystery.
As another quick positive, Jason Todd shows up to try to solve this mystery. I appreciated that, as Jason is an important character to the Joker’s history, and I think it’s a good idea to utilize those characters in a Joker solo book. Speaking of which…
Harley and Joker Have a Rare Interaction
The next thing that happened, I could not believe. Harley and Joker share a scene together. This is shocking because these two are allowed to interact so rarely these days that I’ve been getting the idea that there is an editorial ban on them. Essentially, the “softer” Joker comes to visit Harley, much to her fury, and Harley hits him and ties him up. All the while we get a monologue in Joker’s mind about how he enjoys Harley screaming at him and how he really does hold a soft spot for her. Harley eventually dismisses him declaring that he is not the real Joker.
This scene works on the level of deepening the mystery. Harley’s claim that this is not the real Joker, along with Joker’s overly affectionate inner monologue about Harley, would further convince the audience that this is, indeed, a fake Joker. However, this Joker still seems to think he has a history with Harley and feels a legitimate amount of twisted affection for her, only leading the reader to have more questions over who this guy really is.
All that worked well; however, Harley Quinn’s characterization did not work for me. This has been going on ever since DC tried to make Harley’s split from Joker permanent back in New 52’s Harley Quinn #25. On the rare occasion Harley and Joker do interact, Harley always transforms into a purely vitriolic, bitter, vengeful ex-girlfriend, and no matter how many years pass by, it never feels in character to me. (Funnily enough, former Batman News contributor, Elena, called DC out for this poor depiction of Harley, years ago, but I guess no one has listened). I always thought Batman: White Knight presented a much more natural depiction of Harley reforming, showing Harley legitimately mature, rejecting her old life with the Joker, yet also keeping an amount of pathos when it came to their relationship.
What’s also weird is that, on these rare occasions that Joker and Harley are allowed to interact, Joker, whether real or fake, is portrayed as far more affectionate of Harley than ever before. It’s like DC doesn’t want Harley to give even the slightest indication she still feels anything for Joker, and they also fear depicting the very abuse that made this relationship controversial in the first place.
Anyway, I wish DC would allow more nuance from Harley when it comes to her interacting with Joker. You can do that without making her a complete simp for him again. Harley could offer a lot more to this story if that was the case, since Red Hood already fills the position for someone who purely hates Joker.
Haven’t We Seen All This Before?
Despite having a more positive opinion on Rosenberg’s writing of the Joker this time around and his ability to craft a mystery, I can’t help but feel this story is redundant. Regardless of whether or not one of the Jokers we see here is fake, or maybe he’s been split in two, or whatever the answer to the mystery is, we just had a huge Joker story that dealt with this same idea: The Three Jokers. Before that, we had Grant Morrison explore the idea of “multiple Jokers,” in the sense that his Joker would reinvent himself as different versions all the time.
With that, I still don’t feel like I’m getting anything new from the Joker in this series so far. I also know that, with all the talk of “Joker fatigue” amongst comic book fans, a lot of people probably aren’t going to be won over by this new story either, unless it begins to present something that feels more fresh. However, we are still in the very early days of the new run, so we’ll see.
The Back Up Story
Matthew Rosenberg is also still the writer of the back-up story for the Joker book, and I got to say, it’s the highlight of the whole thing! It’s another tale that’s drawn and written in the style of early Bronze Age Joker comics. This time around, Joker is offended that his friends, the rogues of Gotham, have laughed at him. Therefore, he stages a fake suicide to teach them a lesson, and we are then treated to the villains giving the Joker a funeral, with each giving a speech on how they felt about him. I gotta say, the whole thing is absolutely hilarious!
I loved the unique answers Rosenberg gave to each character on their relationship with the Joker. It made the comic unpredictable and engaging. It wound up having a pretty tragic ending, but the dark comedy and tragedy fit well for the tone of the Joker’s character. This back-up story made the entire comic for me!
- Bronze Age Joker stories are your favorite.
- You love stories with multiple Jokers.
- Joker fatigue hasn’t set in for you.
For the main storyline of The Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing, I still feel pretty lukewarm. Rosenberg is proving himself to be a good choice for the writing of the Joker as an individual character, but we’re really not being presented with anything we haven’t seen before. I hope we get more clues in the next issue that make this run more engaging, but if not, perhaps Rosenberg will continue to entertain in the back-up stories.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.