Sunday, September 6, 2009

Batman: The Man Who Laughs (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Doug Mahnke, Patrick Zircher
Collects: The Man Who Laughs one shot, Detective Comics #784-786

If there's one thing fans aren't lacking, it's Joker stories. The character is nigh omnipresent at times and never too far from any writers mind when they get their hands on one of the books. If there's a story they don't go back to much, though, it's the first encounter. Sure, there's the original issue - Batman #1 - that introduced Batman's enduring arch-enemy, but that's also, like, seventy years old now.

Enter Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke with the "Man Who Laughs" one shot. Structured like a sequel to Batman Year One, it fits right in, taking place before and after those last few panels of the aforementioned story, where Jim Gordon mentioned the villain by name and his plot to poison the Gotham Reservoir. We don't exactly waste time with any origins, either; much like The Killing Joke, it's kept vague, focusing instead on the terrorist nature of Joker and the chaos he delivers. Why he's there doesn't matter as much as what he does now that he's there. Batman muses that he'd prepared for murderers, rapists and petty thieves, but not the mentally unstable. Nothing will ever be the same again, something Gordon and Batman are keenly aware of.

If you're familiar with the name Doug Mahnke, you will probably expect some very good art. You won't be disappointed. As you might expect, Mahnke draws the hell out of the story, making the story as solid visually as any other aspect. The linework is a bit sketchier here, but it's a style that works. Unlike other attempts by other artists, Doug Mahnke manages to keep the style from becoming an eyesore.

Also included in the trade is a three issue story from far further into Batman's career. Near as I can tell, it takes place a while after No Mans Land has come and gone; Jim Gordon has since (temporarily) retired as a cop and assists the Dark Knight in an unofficial capacity. The story itself is a team-up between the current hero of Gotham - the Batman - with the original hero of Gotham - Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern - to solve a case that went cold during Alan's original time in Gotham in the 1940's. It is a copycat? Or the original returned?

It's fine, even if it's not going to have a large impact on the Batman mythos or anything. But really, it's impact doesn't matter; it's a nice extra, included to give you another Brubaker penned Batman tale and pad the length a bit. It reminded of what you might get if you took an issue from "The Brave and the Bold" comic and gave the team-up three issues to play out. It's fun, which is all that really matters. Also, if the last couple pages don't make you smile, I'm not sure what will.

The art is fantastic. Patrick Zircher's style there is a bit more solid than Doug Mahnke's approach in the title story and it looks very modern. It's some slick work and makes the team-up as good looking as it is fun. So the entire book looks good from cover to cover. You can't ask for much more.

My Opinion: Buy It

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