I donít know if you are aware or not, but apparently the definitive Batman villain has returned to Gotham and is wreaking all kinds of havoc in Gotham City. Heís making the GCPD scramble all over the city, heís making members of the Batman Family quake in fear of his next awful escapade, and the way that heís written has to count as one of the most genuinely frightening interpretations of him. Who is this villain, you ask?
Thatís right. Jettís prayers have been answered: itís CRAZY QUILT!
No, of course not. The Jokerís back, and in a big way. I have a hard time remembering such a distinctive and horrifying way in which weíve seen The Joker in the past. ARKHAM ASYLUM by Grant Morrison comes to mind, as do stories like Alan Mooreís THE KILLING JOKE and even the artistic lines of Bob Kane himself from BATMAN #1 in 1940. With the massive ďDeath of the FamilyĒ event, though, Batman family ďshow-runnerĒ Scott Snyder and Batman artist Greg Capullo are taking the lead on a Joker whose face finally matches his mind: A bloody, disgusting mess whose smile is one of hateful defiance and rigor mortis than anything resembling a normal personís happiness. Batman fans have always known that The Joker was a monster; itís only now that he looks closer to that description than any other time in his history.
The tie-ins, in truth, have ranged in quality. While the main story by Snyder and Capullo in BATMAN rightfully has a critical and commercial lead, stories in books like RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS and SUICIDE SQUAD have shown The Joker in an inconsistent fashion with the other books. CATWOMANís tie-in was completely unnecessary. There are a couple Bat-titles that have risen above the pack, though, including Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleasonís BATMAN AND ROBIN.
While the tie-ins didnít technically begin for this title until issue #15, issues #13-14 set up the latest encounter between Damian and The Joker by having Batman ďcoachĒ Damian into what to expect and how to react from his deadliest enemy. If you know Damian at all, you probably know wjat his first and most primal response toward The Joker was: arrogance, and underestimation.
By the time they crossed paths in the opening pages of issue #15, that issue gave us the most gruesome look at Jokerís ďfaceliftĒ yet, where the maniacal clown was even playing with his face by placing it upside down on his head, poking his fingers through his eyeholes while spitting blood on the tied-up young Robin.
The issue makes reference to the first meeting of the two characters back in BATMAN AND ROBIN (vol. 1) #13, where Damian proceeded to beat The Joker within an inch of his life using a crowbar. That meeting eventually went south for Damian as well, and by the time we leave him in issue #15, he looks to be in dire straits while The Jokerís siege on Gotham is in full effect.
Patrick Gleasonís pencils are great for all of issues #13-15, but in the last issue of the bunch the manís talent sticks out even more, just because the sheer horror of The Joker quite literally bleeds through the page. Damianís expressions manage to show so much, because while the front of a highly-trained killer is put up to the clown, Gleason excels at showing that thereís a frightened little boy just beneath that faÁade.
If youíre looking for quality spillover of The Joker in another Bat-title, BATMAN AND ROBIN is it. The offerings in BATGIRL and NIGHTWING are respectable as well, but the pressure always seems to be on the incumbent Robin when The Joker comes back to town in a major way, and that tension is at the forefront of the current story in the title. The team continues to excel in the characterization of Damian, and have made the character strong enough to hold his own when his fatherís not around. The team also has the foresight not to step on the toes of other participating books. Even though Bruce is a star of this title, they understand that Batmanís bases are covered in the main title. This is Damianís part of the story, and I think thatís the right attitude for a tie-in to have.
Bottom line: BATMAN AND ROBIN is still kicking ass. Go take a look and see. - Chris Clow