15th Oct2019

‘The Joker: Year of the Villain #1′ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by John Carpenter, Anthony Burch | Art by Philip Tan, Marc Deering, Danny Miki, Jonathan Glapion | Published by DC Comics

joker-year-villain-1-cover

It’s always nice when a small time villain like The Joker gets his own spotlight issue. Hidden away as he is by DC, it would be nice to see him get some exposure….said no one ever. Let’s be honest, especially at the moment, you just cannot escape The Joker. Be it in comics, or on screen, including The Joker movie, TV shows like Gotham, and animated movies like Killing Joke. He’s a one man industry. But why? Was is it about The Joker that taps into the human psyche and interests us so. Is it a repressed hatred of our fellow humans? A chance to stick it to the man? anarchic rebellion? Truth is, I think, all those things. The Joker is such a malleable character, so open to reinterpretation with each generation, he represents all things to all people. Is he bad, or just damaged? Let’s see what his own Special thinks…

I’ve been hugely enjoying the Year of the Villain issues, an increasingly rare example of how to do a major event right, and it was just a matter of time before The Joker, probably DC’s premier super-villain right now, got his shot. If that wasn’t enough, its only co-written by John Carpenter. Yep, THAT John Carpenter. John Carpenter plus The Joker I would expect to add up to something deeply unsettling and, if the first few pages are anything to go by, I think I’m right. We are seeing The Joker through the eyes of someone else, an obviously mentally ill young man, Six of Hearts, who has just broken out of Arkham with Joker. Well, followed him out. After Joker blows up all his henchmen for not helping him escape Arkham, him and Six drive into Gotham. Six’s monologue about his mental illness is actually quite touching, and also sad in how he idolises Joker because he doesn’t hide his mental illness like everyone else who suffers. He revels in it.

It becomes clear that Joker is more unhinged than ever, leaving a more and more violent trail of bodies behind him. Six, who we discover killed his father after years of abuse because of his mental illness, tags along, not really part of it because he is still struggling to tell right from wrong. Joker decides they need to fight crime, so he puts on a fancy dress Batman costume, and has Six put on a Robin costume. Six is a truly tragic figure, genuinely mentally ill but unable to see Joker is exploiting him, playing with him. Until he does. As confused as he is, as damaged, he starts to see the wanton killing and destruction for what it is, and starts to think perhaps The Joker is not the best role model. He takes a major step, and decides to go find his Mom who he hasn’t seen in five years while in Arkham. Someone else, though, had the same idea.

As Six sees The Joker with the knife to his mother’s throat, he makes a shocking realisation, as do we. The Joker isn’t insane at all. He remembered all the things Six told him, he planned to do this. He’s just a truly evil person, using the pretence of mental illness as a cover for his actions. As Six lunges at him, he realises ‘He’s evil, not crazy. I’m crazy, not evil’. He’s no match for Joker, and gets beaten within an inch of his life, before Joker moves off, to create more anarchy and destruction elsewhere. We find out that Six’s real name is Jeremy, and his mother regrets having had him sent to Arkham, but that’s what you do with the mentally ill, isn’t it? Hide them away. We end with a happy ending of sorts, with Jeremy and his mother reunited, but with the knowledge that Joker is still on the loose and Jeremy has a long way to go to cope. But hey, hope doesn’t cost a penny.

This was not your average superhero comic it’s fair to say. The Joker was as dark, as truly sociopathic as you will ever see. The notion he is not actually insane is also a terrifying thought considering what he does. The writing by Carpenter and Burch was outstanding, the ultra violence balanced by the understanding of mental illness. The art was also excellent, full of crazy angles and uneven panels, full of manic energy and breakneck speed, a perfect visual anarchy to compliment the story. My only bad thing to say really is that there was nothing really to tie in to Year of the Villain, barring a shoehorned in cameo from Suicide Squad’s Enchantress, and as a spotlight on Joker we gained no real extra insight as the focus was on Six/Jeremy. Having said that, as a standalone issue I loved it, thought it added something to The Joker as a character, especially seeing him through another’s eyes.

Want to see true madness? A sane man playing at being insane because he likes it? Then this is for you. Dark and disturbing yes, but also a must read.

***** 5/5

The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 is out now from DC Comics… but be quick, reportedly this issue is selling out fast!

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