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BOOK REVIEW

BATMAN: THE JOKER'S LAST LAUGH
Author: Bertram Gibbs
Saturday, May 24, 2008

FROM DC COMICS: "The Joker, thinking he's dying, concocts a scheme to carry on his legacy by transforming his fellow villains into "jokerized" versions of themselves in this exciting volume collecting the 6-issue miniseries (2001)!"

On an island in the middle of the Atlantic lies the Slabside Island Maximum Security prison (affectionately known as “The Slab“) which is the home to metahuman villains. Designed by inventor, head of security and ex-Mr. Miracle, Shilo Norman, the Slab has every device conceivable to not only nullify the powers of the super-villains, but to sedate and incapacitate them in the event of a riot. For the most part, the villains housed at the Slab have conformed to their environment.

Unfortunately, the Mad Monarch of Mayhem, the Joker, has been far less cooperative.

During an examination, the doctors at the Slab inform The Joker that he has an inoperable brain tumor and will die. Versus quietly accepting his fate, the Joker decides to pull one last grand performance and thus sets the stage for the 2001 six-issue, multi-titled crossover story titled BATMAN: THE JOKER‘S LAST LAUGH.

The Joker, leading the super-villains, stages a massive riot, forcing the warden to use a regurgitant to keep the super-psychopaths at bay. While some of the miscreants are subdued, the Joker uses the ever-changing powers of Multi-Man (whose powers change every time the immortal villain ‘dies’) to release Doctor Polaris, who in turn uses his powers of magnetism to disable the prisoner’s inhibitor collars. As the super-villain’s powers return, the warden fills the cellblock with a metagene inhibitor gas, which unbeknownst to the warden, was part of the Joker’s plan; the gas, combined with the regurgitant, creates a third formula that “Jokerizes” every villain in the Slab, turning their skins white, their hair green, and increases their level of madness.

As the chaos ensues (as chaos usually does), The Joker escapes with several of the altered meta-villains, leaving his ‘disciples’ to cover his escape. Inside the bowels of the Slab, Shilo Norman and Marshal Dina Bell lead a group of guards to first contain the prison, then, when separated from the security team, to escape with their lives. They are forced to fight several Jokerized metahumans as they move from section to section.

With the Justice League off-planet and Barbara Gordon unavailable, the Black Canary breaks into the Slab and is almost beaten to death by the chemically altered prisoners. Meanwhile, after a peaceful respite from her computers, Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson find out about the riot at the Slab. During their date Barbara questioned why someone never killed the Joker; her hatred for the madman as fresh as the day he crippled her. Grayson explains, “It’s revenge. We don’t do revenge”. Seeing the Joker free adds guilt to Barbara’s obsession, feeling that if she was at her station, she could have somehow prevented the Joker’s escape. To help Barbara though this, Nightwing heads for the Slab to see what he can do.

Nightwing meets the Batman at the Slab and rescues Black Canary from certain death. As they board Blue Beetle’s Bug, the second plan of the Joker is unleashed; the meta-villain Black Hole creates his namesake and transports the entire Slab prison (including Shilo and Dina, who are still inside) into a limbo world.

The Joker, who, with his meta-villain crew, is bored with defacing and destroying monuments around the world, feels the need to up the ante. Because the US Armed Forces have been sent to stop him and his minions, the Joker targets the President of the United States; Lex Luthor. Luthor, in response, declares war on the Joker. In a moment of reflection, the Joker sends a group of super-villains to pick up Harley Quinn, who he needs to bear his child and continue his lineage. Harley rejects the idea and out of desperation calls Oracle for help. Barbara sends Spoiler, Power Girl and Batgirl to her rescue and brings Quinn to the lab of Kirk Langstrom to assist in finding a cure to the Jokerization. Langstrom finds the chemical change is either killing the metahumans or making their condition permanent.

Black Canary seeks Dr. Clyde, who diagnosed The Joker’s illness, for more medical information on the tumor. She learns that the doctor falsified the results, thinking the gravity of his death would calm the Joker and make him more cooperative. While Canary informs Barbara of this, the Joker seeds the clouds with his Joker serum, creating a storm that changes everyone into insane facsimiles of himself.

While Shilo and Dina are forced to work with Mr. Mind to coerce Black Hole into returning them to Earth, Robin infiltrates Arkham Asylum to search for the Joker. At a different location, the Joker captures Nightwing and returns the unconscious hero with a note telling Batman he’s waiting for him at Gotham Cathedral.

Robin is captured by the Jokerized inmates of the asylum, only to be snatched by the converted Killer Croc. Knowing Robin is outnumbered, Barbara sends the Huntress in as backup. After escaping the raving inmates, Huntress finds out that Robin was taken by Croc. Huntress and Killer Croc battle in a water filled section of the asylum and during the underwater combat, she sees Robin’s shredded tunic and human bones. Enraged that Croc killed the Boy Wonder, she defeats the amphibious fiend and reports to Barbara and Nightwing that Robin is dead.

At the same time Dr. Langstrom and Harley discover the cure for the Jokerized villains and infected citizens , Shilo slips Mr. Mind into the body of Black Hole (Dina killed him in self-defense) and the Slab is teleported to Antarctica.

An incensed Nightwing goes to confront the Joker at Gotham Cathedral for causing the death of a second Robin. The church is protected by a force field, created by Joker’s metahuman militia, preventing the GCPD from entering, but because it’s ‘Junior Bats’, Nightwing is allowed inside. Wanting to confront Batman, but settling for Nightwing, the Joker and Nightwing go toe-to-toe in a knock down/drag out battle. Nightwing gets the upper hand and proceeds in beating the Clown Prince of Crime to a pulp, stopping only when Robin -- who escaped from Croc and Arkham -- appears. When Robin check’s the villain’s vital signs, both heroes are shocked to find the Joker is dead. Batman arrives in time to resuscitate the Joker before it’s too late.

The Jokerized citizens, the metahumans and the inmates from Arkham are returned to their normal selves, the Joker and most of the Slab convicts have been sent to their new Antarctic home, Shilo Norman – now warden of the Slab - has updated the Slab’s security (especially the Joker’s section), and President Luthor has called a ceasefire as everything returns to normal. Even so, Nightwing remains devastated by the fact that he lost control and not only killed the Joker, but liked it.

What is good about this collected series that is filled with action, interesting subplots, well written interaction between the characters, and shows the ruthless evil that is the Joker. Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty add an anger, guilt and obsessivness to Barbara Gordon’s character that readers have not seen before. In LAST LAUGH Barbara states that the Joker’s death would not only be justifiable, but would save lives in the process. Even though Barbara has made valid points, the truth behind her words is that she wants revenge and wants the Joker dead.

LAST LAUGH also begins Dick Grayson’s downward spiral and breakdown of character shown in subsequent issues of NIGHT WING (the guilt for killing the Joker, followed by his inaction to prevent Blockbusters’ death), making him question his role as a Crimefighter and his future.

On the other hand, LAST LAUGH tends to stretch the level of disbelief in two ways: First, the Joker is conveniently immune to the regurgitant gas sprayed on the Slab prisoners. Second, the combination of the regurgitant and inhibitor gas that Jokerizes the criminals seems like a forced concept.

BATMAN: THE JOKER’S LAST LAUGH is a fun read, but as good as it is, I would only give it a score of seven out of ten.

Bertram Gibbs is the writer of "Formally Known As . . . " -- an irreverent take on the super-hero genre.
Aside from being a film, television, and comic book historian, Mr. Gibbs studies forensic psychology and lives in a hidden fortified bunker somewhere in the United States. The bunker is surrounded by an electrified underground moat and is guarded by mercenaries, guard dogs, and his eleven year old daughter.

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