Review: JOKER
Author: Jett
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SYNOPSIS FROM DC COMICS: "In the all-new, hardcover original graphic novel JOKER, writer Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS) and artist Lee Bermejo (HELLBLAZER covers) – the creative team behind the acclaimed miniseries LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL – show an even darker and more disturbing side to the most dangerous man in Gotham: The Joker.

After yet another stint in Arkham Asylum, The Joker finds 'his city' divided among mobsters and costumed villains. Not content to settle for a piece of the pie, The Joker vows to take back the whole damn enchilada by any means necessary. Look for appearances by a slew of Gotham's most wanted, including gritty takes on Two-Face, Riddler, Killer Croc, Penguin, Harley Quinn and even Batman!

Not since THE KILLING JOKE have you seen such a powerful tale of The Joker – you won't want to miss this one!"

Life is good for The Joker right about now.

Last Summer, he stole the show in a little movie called THE DARK KNIGHT. And now, he's starring in a graphic novel that bears his name: "Joker."

Yep, things they be good for Mr. J.

A quick disclaimer/FYI before I continue on with my review of the new Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermejo graphic novel JOKER.

The Joker is by far my favorite of Batman’s great rogue’s gallery and I’m very, VERY picky when it comes to stories that involve the character. Some of my favorite incarnations of The Clown Prince of Crime include...

TV's BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES; comic book stories THE KILLING JOKE, ARKHAM ASYLUM, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, "The Joker's 5 Way Revenge" (from BATMAN #251) as well as the first two Joker stories in BATMAN #1; and, Grant Morrison’s take on The Joker in his recent run on BATMAN -- particularly his prose story in issue #663.

However, The Joker as seen in the film THE DARK KNIGHT is my favorite portrayal of the character to date. Personally, I believe that director Christopher Nolan (with help from writers David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan) and late, great Heath Ledger delivered the definitive interpretation of the The Joker no matter the medium. However

JOKER gives THE DARK KNIGHT and those others a bit of a run for its money when it comes to, well, The Joker.

“Poppycock!” I hear you all saying. But trust me, it’s right up there not only with THE DARK KNIGHT, but with all the great Joker stories you can name -- THE KILLING JOKE and ARKHAM ASYLUM included.

In fact, JOKER is one of the most violent, unnerving, and disturbing depictions of this great character that I’ve ever seen. It calls for multiple readings, even though you may not up to the task after the first go ‘round. And when you do eventually read it again (and again and again), you’ll do so as if you are watching a horror movie. You know, watching it with squinted eyes or a hand in front of your face as it’s some sort of shield.

What’s great about The Joker in this tale is that it provides readers and fans with a fresh take on the character; all the while staying loyal to what the character “Is” per the Batman mythos.

He is not the agent of chaos we saw in the film THE DARK KNIGHT, nor is he the crazy-ass, scene-stealing, murdering maniac that’s usually found in Batman comic books.

Honestly, it’s hard to explain exactly what The Joker “Is” in this graphic novel. All I can say is -- and I know it comes off as a bit of a cop out -- you will have to read it to get what I’m talking about. But don’t worry, The Joker in JOKER is indeed “The Joker.”

The story itself is fairly straightforward: The Joker has been released from Arkham Asylum and proceeds to take back “his city” from the gangsters, small-timers, and the "freaks" who took away his criminal empire while he was, ahem, “away.” What’s interesting is that writer Brian Azzarello tells the story through this Jonny Frost character -- a member of The Joker’s gang -- instead through Batman or The Joker himself. This point of view makes The Joker that much more horrifying as we get to experience first hand his violent unpredictability.

In addition to The Joker, Azzarello and Bermejo also provide us with original, yet familiar, takes on Two Face, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Killer Croc, and The Riddler. (In fact -- and a tad off topic -- if you ever wonder how Chris Nolan might adapt these characters to his world of Batman, JOKER might provide a pretty good indication.)

What about The Dark Knight himself? Don’t worry, he makes a guest appearance at the end and he’s certainly the Batman you hope and expect to see. By the way, have you ever wondered why Batman doesn’t cover his entire face with his mask? Well, he provides us with the reason in this graphic novel -- at the expense of The Joker. Even though Batman's appearance in the story is brief, the Batman/Joker relationship is handled very well and is spot on.

What can I say about Lee Bermejo’s artwork other than it’s absolutely spectacular (CLICK HERE for BOF's interview with Lee Bermejo for JOKER). If you are a fan of Lee’s work, he certainly doesn’t disappoint here. He brings this gritty realism to The Joker and Gotham City that I love . The subtlety and detail here is absolutely tremendous. Never has The Joker looked better in my opinion other than the Heath Ledger version in THE DARK KNIGHT. Yes, there are some similarities appearance-wise, but I know for a fact that the artist came up with his interpretation of The Joker way before any of us knew what Heath would look like in TDK. Regardless, Bermejo’s work is top notch here and some of the best I’ve seen in this medium in a while.

And just wait until you get a look at Harley!

Flat-out, JOKER is a must-have for all Batman fans and will be considered a Batman graphic novel classic when it’s all said and done. This one gets my “Run down to your comic book store the day it’s released and buy it!” recommendation.

Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, but you may be a tad disturbed. ..

...and need a shower afterwards.

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