Life In Four Colors: Book Review
Joker: Story by Brian Azzarello with art by Lee Bermejo
When this book came out a few months back it was hailed by many in the press as the "Best Joker story ever told." I disregarded that hype and wrote it off as nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the momentum created by the Dark Knight film and Heath Ledger's portrayal of a very dark and disturbing Clown Prince of Crime.
Claiming to be the "Best Joker story ever" was a very bold and somewhat ballsy move. Although I had no real intentions of reading Azzarello's Joker I was sure it couldn't come close to what I considered the best Joker story ever... Dark Detective by Englehart, Rogers, and Austin.
Or other classic tales like Alan Moore's Killing Joke with artist Brian Bolland.
...Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns...
Although I had read a few reviews that claimed the newest Joker book carried that type of merit with it, I figured this too had to be nothing more than self serving hype as well.
Another thing about the book that automatically placed it on a list of books I wasn't really interested in was the fact it was written by Brain Azzarello. I'm not a big fan of his work... I've never been interested enough to pick up 100 Bullets or his run on the Superman book.
I did pick up his Lex Luthor: Man of Steel limited series when it came out...
...also illustrated by Lee Bermejo. And I collected his "Broken City" run on the Batman book.
I didn't care for and was greatly disappointed in both projects and neither of them stayed in my collection for long. They both ended up being part of a trade at an Urbana Ohio comic shop where I walked out with the Guardians of the Galaxy run in Marvel Presents... now that was a good trade.
But yesterday I got a chance to read Joker. A friend of mine suggested I give it a try ...and also suggested that while he would lend me the book... I would lend him a certain rock opus fourteen years in the making. Sounded like a fair enough deal.
So last night I ended up reading what turned to be a very puzzling book. The storyline wasn't what puzzled me. What puzzled me was I couldn't figure out if I liked it or not.
I'm not sure if it was "intended" to be a story that takes place in the same "world" as The Dark Knight movie or not, but it sure comes across that way. The Joker has that same look here as he did in the block buster movie... with the facial scars and he's just been released from Arkham... after tearing through Gotham like a disease. The only thing that points out the fact that this story wasn't intended to be taken in that vein is the appearance of Harvey Dent/Two Face. As well documented all over the internet ...although many people thought Dent was still alive at the end of Dark Knight... director Chris Nolan assures us all that Dent is very much dead.
So even though this book could have been pushed and marketed as what came after the movie it's more of a dark, gritty, violent and realistic story only inspired by the movie which would explain Dent's presence and why he acts so much differently here than in the film.
The artwork by Bermejo is wonderful. No matter what you just can't take that away.
But from page one the story is a mixed bag of good moments and bad moments. After the Joker's crime spree (which I at least still like to think of as the events in the movie)... The Joker has convinced the staff at Arkham Asylum he's no longer crazy and is released.
First story flaw... crazy or not ... and based on the next chapter in the movie or not... the Joker has surely left a trail of murdered bodies he would still have to be accountable for. None of the criminal element in Gotham wants to be the guy to go and pick him up... except Jonny Frost. (what could be a play on the name Johnny Winter... classic, pale white rocker)This part of the story was pretty cool, as Frost would also provide the narration for the story.
Apparently while he was locked away the crime lords have squandered away all the Joker's money and split the crime syndicate amongst them once again. So with the help of Jonny the Joker sets about to get both his power and money back.
Along the way he enlists the aid of several other criminal's and Batman foes. Killer Croc... Now I have always liked how Azzarello writes Croc. Here he's a muscle bound street thug with a bizarre skin condition who sometimes eats the bodies of the victims he kills. Like that much better than the Lizard rip off version that dwells in Gotham's sewer systems. I also like the Penguin in this story who is portrayed as a shrewd business man and an investor that works in the criminal under belly of the city, but I don't understand why the Joker kept calling him Abner.
I hated how Harley Quinn was written in this book... she's a stripper with a serious drug problem (the Joker also seems to be strung out on drugs throughout the story as well, which in my opinion diminishes the character. When you use the drugs as a possible why Joker does the things he does... I just don't like it.). Harley never speaks through the whole story.
Another character I think was written poorly in the book was the Riddler who appears as a "drugged up" pimp.
There were other good points in the book. The Joker thinks the Batman lets him get away with a lot because he's actually helping Batman clean up the streets by killing off the criminal element that has done him wrong and showed him no respect. He also knows that eventually he will cross that line and do something that will draw Batman's attention.
That happens after a showdown with the "Two Harvey's" . Afterwards the Joker threatens to "find a way" to kill off only one Harvey , if they don't stay out of his way. This is too much for Dent and he contacts the Dark Knight... (by making a bat-signal out of paint and a search light... giving you the feeling once again this story could very well take place after the conclusion of the Dark Knight movie.)
The final confrontation between Batman and the Joker highlights the last good point of the book as the Joker asks Batman why he leaves his jaw line unmasked for all to see. Batman's one liner is cold... and spiteful and only works on this version of the Joker who is disfigured by those facial scars... but it really hits hard.
But that's it... the final fate of Jonny Frost is disappointing and the story itself feels more like a collection of good scenes and dark one liners with very little to hold it all together.
Glad I read it.
But even more glad I didn't buy it.
Bill Gladman - Bill is a writer and illustrator and currently working on several different projects including the first issue of an ongoing comic book series (Prodigy), an illustrated fantasy novel (The Book of Noheim), and the first of four illustrated science fiction/fantasy novels (Jack the Rabbit, Living Legend of the Purple Plains) as well as a light-hearted on going mini-comic (Three Wise Men). Bill also pens a column for Comic Related and will be doing a mix of regional convention coverage.
blog comments powered by Disqus