Review: Joker

The Joker is Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s follow up to Lex Luthor: the Man of Steel, and taken together the two books form a very interesting contrast.  Luthor was all about getting into the mind of a villain, the Joker on the other hand is all about showing how impossible a task that is.  

The story focuses on a low level thug named Jonny Frost who decides to work for the Joker in an attempt to build his rep.  He swiftly becomes the Joker’s pupil, and learns to regret that decission very quickly.  But while Jonny may be the story’s protagonist, the title character is of course the focus of this story, and in this book he is written better than I’ve seen since Alan Moore penned the Killing Joke.  

The portrayal here is fairly close to the one from the Dark Knight (including Bermejo’s character design), although DC has insisted that the movie was not an influence on this book.  The Joker here is terrifying, there’s no gimmicks and no jokes, just a brilliant and insane monster out to bring down the world around him.  The one awkward thing in the story is it’s role just outside of Batman’s cannon.  This version of the Joker could be made to fit, but some of Batman’s other rogues are also on exhibit here in forms that have no resemblance to their other appearances.  This does work to ground the story in some sense of reality (for example Killer Croc is a thug instead of a man-eating lizard-man), but it is a little jaring if you’re coming to this after reading the latest issue of Detective Comics.

As for the art side, this is a beautiful book and it just makes me hate even more how little interior work Lee Bermejo does.  He’s an incredible artist, and he’s perfectly in synch with Azzarello here.  As I said earlier, the Joker is supposed to be completely alien here, but the times when the reader gets a slight glimpse of what is going through his head it’s almost entirely due to seeing the character’s eyes (which incidentally are masked on the book’s cover, given a hint of what to expect within).

Azzarello and Bermejo have formed an amazing creative partnership, which has reached maturity in this, their third collaboration.  I dearly hope it will not be their last.

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