As soon as I opened the package from DC, I knew this original graphic novel wasn’t for me. I’ve only ever liked one book by writer Brian Azzarello; most of his work is too violent and too aggressively “street” for me.

As if to confirm my fears, the press release plugs “an even darker and more disturbing side to … The Joker.” And the cover, emphasizing a bloody grin, is off-putting as well.

The story postulates the Joker getting out of Arkham Asylum and clawing his way back to the top of the criminal Gotham heap. This allows for lots of reader-friendly guest-shots: Penguin, Two-Face, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, and the Riddler are plugged.

I was mildly curious about why anyone would let the Joker out of the madhouse. That’s covered with the caption “He was a disease that somehow … had convinced his doctors he wasn’t diseased anymore.” OK, assuming that’s the case, shouldn’t he immediately go into the regular prison system? At least to await trial for something? (See, I am a closet geek.) That caption demonstrates Azzarello’s love of the metaphor tortured beyond its weight to bear.

I did try to read some of the book, because Lee Bermejo’s art is some of the best of the superhero-realist school. (By which I mean, trying to look photo-realistic when drawing over-muscled freaks and killer clowns and similar fantasy characters.) However, on page five, the new character introduced to narrate the book is talking/thinking about how scared he is to see this legendary villain as follows:

Seein’ him in person for the first time, I felt that instinctual “clench”… you know, “down there.”

I started laughing. That’s the problem with these prestigious superhero projects. This one wants to be all tough and “brutal”, and then they play coy about words like “asshole” because they’re trying to keep a PG-13 rating. That same page features the Joker “saluting” the city by raising his middle finger, which isn’t actually visible because of a panel border. How adolescent, to sell a work by promising an “ugly… violent” look inside the mind of a crazed killer and then backing away from things urban dwellers see or hear every day because they’re afraid of actually offending some teenager’s parents. That’s the point at which I gave up. It wasn’t for me anyway.

The writer was interviewed at Publishers Weekly. I found it interesting that he points out how rare it is these days for DC to release original, non-continuity graphic novels — he’s right, they’ve backed away from the format after a number of earlier experiments. In this case, the driving force was the blockbuster movie.

The book is due out October 28. You can view a five-page preview online. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

15 Responses to “Joker”

  1. Brian Wood Says:

    “In this case, the driving force was the blockbuster movie. ”

    The timing of the release of the book was affected by the film, but as stated in the interview, the book had already been completed, and actually was greenlit several years ago. The film couldn’t have been a factor in this book happening in the first place.


  2. Johanna Says:

    I was speaking of the format, not the content, in that paragraph, as the previous sentence to that quote should indicate. But thank you for clarifying that in case it wasn’t clear.

  3. Anthony Says:

    >>”an even darker and more disturbing side to … The Joker.”<<

    *Darker*? His whole character for the past 15-20 years seems to be nothing more than “a brainless killing machine who’s killed enough people to put Idi Amin to shame” (plus stuff like what happened to Batgirl in “The Killing Joke”); how much “darker” can he possibly be? About all that comes to mind is having him do stuff akin to what happened to Matthew Shepherd (or other such hate crimes)… not that I want to give DC any ideas…

  4. Alan Coil Says:

    As to hiding the finger, there was no reason to do so. I got the finger in the middle of the LCS today. In fact, 3 of us did. It’s something many adults and teens see every week.

  5. Sean Says:

    I started laughing. That’s the problem with these prestigious superhero projects. This one wants to be all tough and “brutal”, and then they play coy about words like “asshole” because they’re “trying to keep a PG-13 rating.”

    I gotta agree but unfortunately alot of parents aer funny that way. It’s ok to let little billy play grand theft auto where he can car jack all day long but a soon as “Hot Coffee” comes into play or anything derived of sex and cuss words they go through the roof.

    I understand that need to have your comic be available in Wal-wart and not behind the counter unlike the family pack of 12 gauge shot guns. Dudes and dudeettes I get it but take the mature rating once in awhile. Let us start the tradition of buying comics for younger audience as we bough heavy metal for the little kid that wanted to see Frank Frazetta drawn breasts with wonderment and discovers hey…Frank Frazetta rocks and damn…no a bad story.

  6. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 16, 2008: No goodwill in the markets Says:

    […] Bermejo and Mick Gray. Related: The New York Magazine Blog presents an excerpt from the book, and Johanna Draper Carlson offers a review. (Above: excerpt from the excerpt, ©2008 DC […]

  7. Johanna Says:

    Sean, yeah, it’s kind of an American fetish: violence just peachy, bad words oh no no no protect the kiddies!

    And it’s also a problem when you’re trying to sell kids’ characters to adults with no clear distinction.

  8. Solo500 Says:

    Let’s all hope that the backlash has begun with The Brave and The Bold cartoon. Giant oversized typewriters and homages to Dick Sprang, that’s what Batman needs.

    Transposing this expressionist character into a faux “realism” (which you nail in your review) OK in the right hands.

    But enough. Bring on the anti-shark repellent.

  9. Suzene Says:

    “I understand that need to have your comic be available in Wal-wart and not behind the counter unlike the family pack of 12 gauge shot guns.”

    Is Wal-Mart actually selling comics again?

  10. Mark S. Says:

    I am so over the Joker. He’s almost as annoying as amplified nails on a chalkboard.

    On steroids…

  11. J Says:

    I don’t know. I found the review of the book (which I can’t get my hands on yet) over at IGN Comics and it was mostly praise for Azzarello’s writing; sometimes even comparing this work with the much lauded Alan Moore Joker story.

    It seems like you can’t read this book without thinking of the recent Batman movie, and that works to its detriment in this case.

    I’ll still pick it up, it’s an easy buy for me. The Joker is the “in” villain this year (well, unless you include the bad guys on Wall Street), but my interest in the character did not originate with the Ledger interpretation, so I’m not tired of Joker yet.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Oh, if you like Azzarello’s style and usual subjects, I’m sure you’ll like this. I still haven’t seen the latest Batman movie, so that wasn’t an issue for me, but it is a profitable coincidence, and good for those who want more, that this work, done before the film, does match so well.

  13. jack napier Says:

    Seriously, everything about the joker is brilliant. The carnage, mayhem, etc. is what life is all about. And the Matthew Shepherd thing in itself was hilarious. It would be funny if DC put some more hate crimes in their world. HAHA
    Killing women and children? What better way to rid ourselves of what annoys us? That sounds like a great time to me, just make sure you are leaving a name for yourself. Later B@#$hes.

  14. A.M. Says:

    This book falls to the problem with the joker. Any book in which he is the main character is just boring. Its just an excuse for him to be crazy violent. Hes not interesting because all he does is ultra-violence. TDK was the best interpretation of a dark grim joker because he wasn’t trying to be “unpredictable”, he was very mentally competent, which makes him all the more interesting.

  15. Alfonso Says:

    I enjoy this book. I see that person that was suppose to review did not even read it. I can’t believe why someone would pick up this book if he or she are not batman fans. The joker is one of the most disturb characters in the batman universe so expect nothing less in this book. This book is collection of short stories. two tumbs up and a middle finger to the guy that wrote this article.




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