Having The Last Laugh
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce reviewed Batman: Three Jokers, out now from DC…
Batman Three Jokers
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colours: Brad Anderson
Letters: Rob Leigh
Published by DC Black Label
While the idea of there being ‘Three Jokers’ was something of a big reveal when it was first mooted back in 2015, the revelation was quickly shunted away into the back of a DC continuity that preferred to bring Rebirths and Doomsday Clocks to the forefront. Now, Geoff Johns brings the idea back for a Black Label story which explores the psyche of the Clown Prince of Crime and his eternal struggle with the Dark Knight.
There are Three Jokers. That is what is now apparent to Batman, especially after a visit to Ace Chemicals turns up ‘Jokerised’ bodies – all dressed up as the ‘Red Hood’. After all, The Joker was always good at chemicals. Why couldn’t he make more of him? There’s ‘The Clown’, the same Joker responsible for the brutalisation and (relatively short-lived) demise of Jason Todd in 1988’s A Death in the Family. There’s ‘The Comedian’, the one who shot Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. And ‘The Criminal, perhaps the most mysterious of the trio.
The killings seem a prelude to a new plan by The Joker to destabilise the life of the Batman. But accompanying the Batman are Barbara ‘Batgirl’ Gordon and Jason ‘Red Hood’ Todd, two of the people who have had their lives torn apart by the machinations of The Joker. Will they be able to get to the bottom of the mystery of the three Jokers whilst also dealing with their own psychological trauma? And if one Joker is able to bring the Bat Family to the edge of destruction, what will it be like when there are three of them?
The co-dependency at the heart of the relationship between Batman and The Joker has become such a fertile ground for exploration in modern comic book lore that it has almost become cliché. Certainly, much of the book centres on this relationship (with The Joker even bringing Joe Chill into proceedings) and Johns makes pointed use of The Joker’s twisted reasons for his consistent battling of Batman. But the central gimmick does add some depth to this well ploughed ground. Not only does it allow for some exploration of different aspects of The Joker’s psyche – from the agent of chaos and disorder of the modern day to the clever criminal of days of old – but also gives us some chance to examine the damage he wreaks through the actions of Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon. Morality and responsibility versus chaos and anarchy become a running theme throughout the story as the ramifications of characters ripple throughout.
Yet the central conceit of the story is also vaguely unsatisfying. One of the defining aspects of The Joker character has been the mystery at the heart of his character, the blank ‘unknown’ for his origin. By fixing him within a more rigid continuity (especially with The Comedian being explicitly given the same ‘origin’ story as The Killing Joke) there’s a sense that his power has been diminished. The story lampshades this to a certain degree (and there’s an impressive end revelation from Batman himself) and the entire story is of dubious canonicity to say the least: but it reminds us of what can make The Joker such a terrifying and long lasting antagonist.
Unsurprisingly the story delves into frequently dark and violent territory and the book almost revels in a number of violent set-pieces. There’s a constant coldness here, a brutality. While this is an exploration of many facets of The Joker, there’s no sense of the hooting dandy from the early years. Instead there’s a white faced demon (or three) constantly at odds with the dark and shadows surrounding him. Fabrok channels the spirit of Dave Gibbons, with lots of muted colours and a thin, angular sharpness to everything. But it never drifts into the arena of out and parody, though there are also plenty of references to Batman history.
This turns out to be a stylish and often riveting affair, rich in Batman mythos and giving a new slant on the well explored relationship between the Dark Knight and The Clown Prince of Crime. Though one wonders – with a sequel now announced – where the two eternal antagonists can go from here.
Batman Three Jokers is published by DC Black Label and is priced at £14.99
Having The Last Laugh Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce reviewed Batman: Three Jokers, out now from DC… Batman Three Jokers Writer: Geoff JohnsArtist: Jason FabokColours: Brad AndersonLetters: Rob LeighPublished by DC Black Label While the idea of there being ‘Three Jokers’ was something of a big reveal when it was first mooted back in 2015,
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