17th Jun2020

‘The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Various | Art by Various | Published by DC Comics

I think it’s a pretty good indicator of how much The Joker has entered into popular culture that he now merits his own Anniversary Special. He’s been pretty popular since the days of the Batman TV show back in the 1960’s of course, though Cesar Romero’s Joker bears little resemblance to today’s. The Joker has gone from being a clownish villain, a villain who uses humour as his calling card, to more often than not a representation of pure anarchy in human form, fighting back against the law and order of society, personified in Batman. I’ve read articles before where we are told to see The Joker as the hero, embracing freedom of thought and action, and Batman has an instrument of control and repression. I doubt Bob Kane and Bill Finger had all that on their minds when The Joker first came on the scene back in 1940, but we must appreciate just how great a character he is, where each generation can reinterpret him and yet keep him relevant, and entertaining.

As always with these anniversary books, we get a great list of creators, past and present, and 10 stories looking at differing aspects of the character. This book also includes a load of iconic covers featuring The Joker as well, which is a nice touch. We start with ‘Scars’ by Scott Snyder and Jock, a great pairing. It is a brilliant story, on the face of it just a chat between a psychiatrist and patient, a victim of The Joker, but also a perfect representation of how The Joker affects people, how he manipulates his victims. Brutal. and brilliant. ‘What Comes at the end of a Joke’, by James Tynion and Mikel Janin goes to the other end of the spectrum, from the victims to the fans. Yep, fans. The problem with telling your kids they can be anything they want to be is that, well, some of them want to be bad. Joker bad. Meet Punchline, essentially the new Harley Quinn, Joker fan girl made good. Or bad.

Next in line is ‘Kill the Batman’, by Garry Whitta and Greg Miller, art by Dan Mora, and is a slight story, touching on what The Joker would do with Batman gone. If you are yin with no yang, how do you cope? It’s entertaining enough. ‘Introducing the Dove Corps’ is a real blast of Silver Age DC, brought to us by Denny O’Neil and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It has that whiff of kookiness, where The Joker tries to be a good guy for once, to do a good thing, and to try and most definitely not kill anyone. ‘Try’ being the operative word. Silly, but fun. ‘The War Within’, by Pete Tomasi and Simone Bianchi is a complete change of pace, looking at the Batman and Joker conflict from The Joker’s side. The Joker sees it as an equal struggle between forces of nature, not as good versus bad. Would there be a Joker without a Batman? Another change of pace follows, with Paul Dini and Riley Rossmo giving us the more cartoony style of ‘ The Last Smile’. It’s a simple premise, what does The Joker dream about? what scares him at night? Of course, it’s The Bat. Always. It’s why Harley left him apparently, he never dreamt of her.

‘Birthday Bugs’, by Tom Taylor and Eduardo Risso, is a fairy tale of sorts, but a dark twisted one. Youngster Sergio is sad because no one wants to come to his birthday party. Sergio also enjoys pulling the wings and legs off insects. I suspect the two things are connected. Well, The Joker’s not having that. Fancying himself as the freaks icon of choice, he rounds up the neighbourhood kids, makes them bring toys and food, and forces them to come to Sergio’s party. A bit twisted, but a nice gesture, right? Maybe not as much as you think. Sergio’s Dad is one of Joker’s henchmen, and The Joker is there to dish out some punishment. Bittersweet. and brilliantly told. ‘No Heroes’, by Eduardo Medeiros and Rafael Albuqueque is another superb character study of The Joker, emphasising his instability and his volatility. Is he insane? Or truly just an anarchist? He does at times make some good points…

‘Penance’ by Tony Daniel is, always, visually delicious. Even other bad guys get on the wrong side of The Joker,as in this tale of a Mafia family boss explaining at confession how The Joker is after him. That priest is perhaps a little too attentive…it doesn’t end well. The final story is ‘Two Fell into the Hornets’ Nest’, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, another super team up creatively. Written and drawn in a kind of nightmarish pulp style, The Joker is back in Arkham Asylum, and is hallucinating wildly. Azzarello very tongue in cheek uses ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ as his template, featuring a certain Jack ‘The Joker’ Nicholson. We saw what you did there. It’s completely bonkers, but then that’s the point.

Yet again, a really top notch collection of creators and stories. I’ve never been a big fan of villains taking centre stage, they always shine better as guest stars or in specific story arcs, but the creative teams here show just how rich a seam they can mine with this character. No two stories are the same, yet all feel like Joker stories. Madness? Anarchy? Trickery? Pretence? Who knows. It’s all in those mysteries that The Joker has survived this long, he can be all things to all people.

The Clown Prince of Crime, The Ace of Knaves, The Jester of Genocide… Puddin’.

Happy 80th.

****½  4.5/5

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