Author: Brian Azzarello
Illustrator: Lee Bermeja
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Frank L. Ocasio
So here it is--the graphic novel that single handedly fueled Halloween. I don't want to hate or anything, but seriously, did you not see at least 30 Jokers on your outing? I have two sources that stopped counting at 30, and as early as 3 PM, I rode with a guy dressed as Heath Ledger Joker for a good forty minutes; him sitting directly across from me on the 2 train, eating chips and staring at everyone, content in his certainty that he was cool because he must've been making everyone uncomfortable, and me, dressed as Bullseye, reading Ultimate Spider-Man (Volume 9), shaking my head at his total lameness. This was New York after all. I've been on a train car with old men pretending to be space aliens (wearing outfits complete with tin foil and goofy, party sunglasses) and asking for change to repair pretend space ships before angrily cursing out all of us for not ponying up. In comparison, this Joker kid just looked like exactly what he was--a completely uncreative fanboy.
And in retrospect, I'm sure that this kid thanked his lucky stars that Christopher Nolan created the Joker we saw in The Dark Knight. I'm sure of this because I'm just as sure that this kid had no idea that Christopher Nolan did not create that version of the Joker. Actually, ask most hardcore Heath Ledger/Dark Knight fanboys about Brian Azzarello's Joker, and I'm sure most of them would stare vacantly before resorting to "Wanna see a magic trick?" again.
And that's a shame, because Joker is a good read. To be completely honest, I'm not a big fan of Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets,Lex Luthor: Man of Steel), but his take on Batman and the nightmare of Gotham City is truly inspired. Following the path of one Johnny Frost, a nearly reformed criminal who decides to join the Joker after he's released from Arkham Asylum and finds "his city" divided among various gangsters, we get a very personal look at what being present for a Joker killing spree can be like. Mind you, this is a Joker who's extremely cruel and more violent (I can't say "more demented", because it's not true) than your average Joker. The result is an odd journey into the corrupt underbelly of a very realistic Gotham as you probably haven't seen it (and no, not even as represented in either of Christopher Nolan's movies). Grit is paramount here; the Penguin's a money launderer, the Riddler is a doped up, hipster crime lord, and Two Face is competing with the Joker for control of the city. Batman lets Joker kill his enemies just so they're out of the picture... Are you getting the hint here? All of this creates a very interesting, very enthralling read; you'll be pulled into the world Azzarello creates and the grotesque, filthy (and completely appropriate) mood artist Lee Bermejo (Hellblazer covers) infuses it with.
And in the end, if the read isn't good enough to make you scar your own face, or (logically) put on Joker makeup and sit on trains for hours at a time, staring at everyone because you think you're cool, it should at least keep you interested for a while. In my opinion, Joker really should just keep you interested; it does a lot of awesome things, and, as I said, is a very interesting read, but it won't change your life (as The Dark Knight supposedly has).
That being said, I think Joker has more ambitious and more (thankfully) checked writing than The Dark Knight did. And seeing as it's basically Christopher Nolan's meal ticket, it deserves a lot of respect and a ton of attention. Especially because it's such a daring take on the greatest villain of all time. At the very least, any fan on the Joker should at least give this a look and, even if you don't think this version of the Joker is the best, you should really give Brian Azzarello some credit for making Christopher Nolan filthy rich and getting no attention for it. Oh wait--I'm sorry! I meant "for actually being creative."
One more thing before I quit:If you want to see an honestly terrifying, really insane Joker, read The Killing Joke by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta). Seriously, you probably think Heath Ledger's Joker is terrifying and insane, but that's because you haven't read The Killing Joke. Alan Moore's Joker will honestly make you really want to stop reading.
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