10th Mar2021

‘The Joker #1’ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by James Tynion IV | Art by Guillem March | Published by DC Comics

So, let’s talk about The Joker. I have mixed feelings about the character if I’m honest. As a Batman villain, no problem. When he used to show up occasionally it was a big deal, as you knew it would be a good storyline. In recent years it just feels as though the character has been completely overexposed, so his effectiveness has, for me at least, tailed off. His overexposure has become such a thing that Geoff Johns even made light of it in ‘Batman: Three Jokers’, an incredible mini by the way, by showing us it was impossible for one Joker to be doing all the things he was supposed to be doing. So, for a Joker book to work, it needs to be special, to do something more than the usual Gotham shenanigans. Are James Tynion and Guillem March the creative team to do just that? Let’s take a look.

Batman and the Gotham Bat-Fam aside, the one person The Joker has a close bond with is James Gordon. He did after all do very bad things to Gordon in The Killing Joke, not the least of which was beating and humiliating him and having his daughter Barbara (also Batgirl of course) shot and paralysed. His son’s death was also all Joker. We start this issue with a spotlight on Jim Gordon, with him reflecting on what brought him to Gotham, and how some early advice to him from an ex-cop now makes perfect sense. He told Gordon you uphold law and order as a cop, but sometimes you come across pure evil, and then you just shoot at the head. Gordon reflects that The Joker fits that bill perfectly. To the present, and we pick up in the aftermath of the Joker gas attack on Arkham Asylum that left many inmates and staff dead. Many of Batman’s rogues gallery were presumed dead, notably Bane, though Gordon’s not totally buying it. Actually, not buying it at all.

Gordon is, of course, no longer Police Commissioner in Gotham. Mayor Nakano is temporary head, and has asked Gordon to be Gotham’s new Joker Czar. Gordon refuses, partly because he’s not an idiot, and partly because he wants to stay retired and doesn’t like Nakano’s ongoing harassment of Batman. And yet… Gordon doesn’t like the way Gotham seems to be going. In some panels that seem deliberately to be echoing The Dark Knight Returns, Jim observes that The Joker is starting to be a constant influence in the city. Kids wear approving t-shirts, protestors wear clown masks, thugs model themselves on him. Gordon is also literally haunted by Joker. His presence follows him around, haunts him every day. This is a man at war with himself. He wants to return to the fray, but just needs that gentle kick in the butt.

Meet Cressida. She gets Jim to look at some photos and intel on Joker, from Belize. Cressida clearly represents some very rich, very ‘in the shadows’ people. They want to hire Jim, to find The Joker, and then to kill him. He’s not good for business it seems. In return Jim gets to eliminate a ongoing threat to Gotham, and gets a 25 million dollar payday. Morality vs. right? Can killing pure evil ever be wrong? Jim’s got a lot to think about.

We get a bonus back-up tale as well, by Tynion and Sam Johns, drawn by Mirka Andolfo. ‘Punchline: Chapter 1’ follows on from The Punchline Special, and follows her court case while she’s stuck in prison. Punchline is Joker’s new girlfriend in case you weren’t aware, though I find her a very weak imitation of Harley Quinn personally. It’s OK, but doesn’t add a huge amount to the issue for me.

I really enjoyed this. Tynion took the perfect approach, by making The Joker take a back seat in his own book. Jim Gordon was the star, and was our ‘everyman’ entrance into the story. Even though Joker didn’t appear in person until the very end, his presence, his influence is on every page. Tynion writes a great Jim Gordon, with some excellent inner dialogue, and crafts a clever story that derives its influence from Year One through to Dark Knight. The art is excellent throughout, some great individual panels and perfect pacing throughout. The Joker was especially impressive. You could get the story just by reading the panels without dialogue, always the sign of a great artists.

The creative team got this absolutely right. Make a book about The Joker but don’t have much of the actual Joker in it. Write about his influence, how he induces fear, how he haunts people, and how he makes people question their own moral code. Loved it.

Jim Gordon, why so serious? Ah, that’s why.

****½  4.5/5


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