11th Jun2021

‘The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox Directors Cut #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Matthew Rosenberg | Art by Jesus Merino | Published by DC Comics (Digital)

I had promised myself I would steer away from Batman titles for awhile, as there are just too darn many of them. I love the character and his extended family of characters, but the absolute flood of bat-titles at the moment just screams corporate cash grab. As with most things I try to give up, however, I failed at the first attempt. This book came on the schedule, digitally speaking, and it was just too tempting. The cover looked intriguing, the promo blurb was promising, and it had a solid creative team. I justify my backtracking on the grounds that if the quality is good, then a large amount of books based around one character can be justified. As with the 1990’s crash, you tend to find things start that way, then it just becomes a case of pumping out product regardless of quality. Let’s see if this book gives us an indicator of which way the wind is blowing.

We start, as a lot of police procedurals do, in an interrogation room, where two policemen are trying to get a witness to tell them everything they know about a crime they witnessed. Nothing strange there. Except, the two policemen in question are Sergeant Harvey Bullock, and Commissioner James Gordon, and the witness helping them is The Joker. As opening scenes go, that’s quite a doozy. It gets stranger. He recounts how a large gathering of super-villians, all there to throw a party for Joker apparently, were brutally interrupted by a certain Dark Knight Detective. As Batman took down virtually everyone else, he left Joker alone, as Joker wasn’t doing anything, plus Joker knows Batman’s real name is Arnold. At this point you realise Rosenberg is setting us up as readers, because what we have here is a classic literature staple, the unreliable narrator.

Rosenberg has taken quite a clever approach, as virtually every aspect of The Joker has been used at one point or another. Criminal genius. Madman. Anarchist. Sane. Insane. Evil. Mentally Ill. The list goes on. We’ve seen in the past that The Joker has teamed up with fellow villains, but is as likely to screw them over as he is to see a partnership through. He has in the past quite literally stabbed Harley Quinn in the back. So, was he really a witness to a crime here, or the perpetrator? Harvey’s pretty certain Joker is doing his usual routine of pretending to help but actually just playing, whereas Gordon thinks he does want to help, exaggerated storytelling aside. I guess they represent the readers, who also fall on both sides of that fence.

We get a little background here, apart from The Joker’s clearly loaded evidence. The Police were indeed called to a disturbance, and all the villains were brought back and locked up in a holding cell at the station. All refused to talk, or demanded their lawyers, except one. Joker. So, what’s his game? Is he just happy to double cross his fellow villains? Did he commit the crime and wants to steer the Police in another direction? Is he genuinely helping them because of who the victim was? Ah yes, the victim. Not mentioned him yet. Turns out, the crime being investigated is the murder of The Riddler. Quite apt that a story that involves seeing and solving puzzles is to try and solve the murder of someone who thrived on just those things. Is that a clue in itself?

This was a really good start to what promises to be a nice take on some very familiar characters. Rosenberg has set up a scenario where he gets to play with personalities and evidence, and gets to tempt and tease us with clues and red herrings. A Joker story that requires detective work is high irony indeed. This is a seven part story, and if it can maintain the strong opener should be a classic. The writing, as I’ve already said, is excellent, but a definite shout out goes to artists Jesus Merino, who gives the interrogation room and police station scenes a real 70’s cop show feel. The layouts throughout are excellent, and I love the full page opening panel, which sets the mood perfectly.

This has the potential to be a classic tale. It is currently digital release only, but will be released physically at a later point. However you choose to pick it up, I highly recommend you do. This looks to be an instant classic.

***** 5/5

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