Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Joker (comics)

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Contains: Original Graphic Novel

You'll notice right away that the word "Batman" is nowhere to be found in the title of this. It's very fitting. This is really Jokers story through and through.

The comic's story isn't straightforward in a strict sense. This is the Batman universe if you'd bathed it in noir pathos and dried it with grime. The Joker is released from Arkham without even the loosest explanation of how or why; a fitting omission, because in truth it really does not matter. The Joker is loose, he's mad and he wants to rule Gotham. We see his insanity through his henchman, Jonny Frost; a two bit thug with aspirations as high as the sky. A man who at one point wanted the sort of thing the Joker takes in the story until he slowly realizes just who and what the Joker is. This is not a crime story or a Batman story; in truth, this book is more a character study of the Joker than anything else.

In that manner, things just happen without a lot of resolution. You'll see several Batman rogues over the course of the tale and Joker will trade things, shoot people and threaten others, but we don't always get all the details. Why Joker calls Penguin "Abner", why Penguin is running a boxing gig, what Joker bought from the Riddler; all of these and some more are unresolved and given no explanation, but when you boil it down, they don't really matter either. In truth, the story itself is a ride with the Joker, diving within the depths of his madness. Little of what happens really matters; you know right from the beginning and all through Jonny acclimating to the new lifestyle that there's only one place the story can go to, but the journey there is a whirlwind and that knowledge builds the tension until the inevitable happens.

In a lot of ways, it's very fitting that this was released partially as a tie-in of sorts to "The Dark Knight". To be honest, the story feels like it could well take place down the line in that universe, sharing several similarities without ever meaning to. The Jokers look is a spot on interpretation of the Joker of the film - though this was not intentional, apparently - and the Joker here is in some ways like the Joker there. He just does things, being the tornado of chaos and insanity that he is. But this time, he's mad and focused; he takes on almost a mobster mentality in trying to take over Gotham, unwilling to let it go to the Batman. Gotham itself is less the gothic wonderland it always seems to be in most adaptions, but more the sprawling traditional city of the movie universe. The villains we see carry a similar realistic bent.

It's some measure of fun in seeing the Batman universe filtered through such dense noir pathos. Killer Croc is a black thug. The alleys are shadowed and rain slicked. Harley Quinn herself even shows up as a stripper in Jokers club, never saying a word throughout the tale while being his stalwart lackey. It's also implied she and Jokers relationship is heavily sexual. Drugs, pills and alcohol are all over. Everything carries a dark edge. It's fantastic.

As for Batman himself, he's wisely kept out of the story, for the most part. But that's not to say he's completely unmentioned. In a way, his shadow seems almost perched right outside the proceedings - in a fit of paranoia, the Joker vaguely refers to him, thinking he's watching throughout all the events that transpire - and that shadow builds until it looms large. Small hints of his presence in Gotham throughout the story culminate in the final sequence, or the point you knew the story had to reach.

Then, on top of all that is the artwork; it's simply mouth wateringly gorgeous. Everything is awash in grit and shadow, thick with atmosphere. It's simply stunning. I do not exaggerate when I say that the art is worth the price alone. It's great work that I cannot give enough praise to. In truth, it elevates the book to an even higher level than it was before.

My Opinion: Buy It

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