It’s the conclusion to the long-awaited prestige format story in which Batman solved the riddle of the Three Jokers. He’s learned that there’s not one, but three Clown Princes of Crime; for years they’ve been sharing the job of making the lives of Gotham citizens miserable with their twisted sense of fun. The Joker who crowbarred Jason Todd to death, the Joker who crippled Barbara Gordon…. they’re not necessarily the same fiend.
For perhaps the first time, they’ve been in town together. By this issue, though, one is dead, shot by Jason Todd, back from the grave and – isn’t it ironic? – operating under the Joker’s old name of Red Hood.
The remaining two have been cracking on with their plan to kidnap solid citizens and ‘Jokerfy’ them, the idea being to make a ‘better Joker’. Batgirl – Barbara Gordon, up and swinging after her time as a wheelchair user – asks the question that seems to have struck no one until now.
Nobody knows. Really, the point seems to be to mess with the heads of Batman and friends. Certainly, pushing Jason into murdering the most light-hearted Joker – nicknamed the Clown – has brought tensions in the Bat-family to a new high.
Jason is very annoying. Constantly whining about how Batman just got on with his life after the second Boy Wonder’s demise – what was he supposed to do, kill himself? Jason conveniently ignores the fact that it was his own arrogance and stupidity that got him killed. He does have a point, though, that Batman never avenged his killing. The Joker – or Jokers – continued to wreak havoc on Gotham, with Commissioner Gordon’s wife among his victims.
There’s also tension of the romantic kind, Jason and Babs having kissed as she was comforting him following his being stripped naked and tortured by a Joker (didn’t that also happen to Babs’ pop in The Killing Joke’?).
The issue centres on attempts to create the Ultimate Joker by building him on not just anybody, but someone who means something to Batman.
Yes, Joe Chill, the smalltime hoodlum who killed young Bruce Wayne’s parents in a random act of violence.
Oh. Maybe not so random then. But as Chill’s confession goes on, there’s a surprise.
Chill is dying of cancer, but even before his diagnosis he was writing letters to Bruce Wayne asking for forgiveness.
The man who made Batman. The Batman’s greatest foe. Putting them in one story seems obvious, but I don’t recall seeing it previously. It’s a shame, then, that the story ultimately feels so empty. Bruce forgives Chill. A Joker dies. The third goes back to Arkham, ranting all the way. Jason’s puppy dog feelings for Babs go unresolved via a corny bit involving a Post-It note.
And the big revelation?
That does make some sense. He is a great detective.
So how come he never realised there were alternate Jokers for all these years?
I do like his reasons for keeping the knowledge to himself. It’s just a shame that the empathy that caused him to keep Joker’s name secret, the humanity that allows him to forgive Joe Chill, isn’t on display when dealing with Babs and Jason. Even for modern Batman, he’s particularly emotionally closed for most of this mini series.
Maybe that’s the point; a hero driven by the loss of his birth family can’t be true with the family he’s built around him.
That would be a terrible point. So there’s probably a point I’m missing.
Meanwhile we have three great-looking issues that didn’t deliver on the promise of the opening chapter. I was expecting multiversal shenanigans to explain the presence of three Jokers of varying shades of madness. That would fit the set-up in Justice League, five ruddy years ago, which had Batman learn there were three Jokers during a cosmic adventure.
But no, it seems the first Joker – presumably the man in the flat hat who’s a visual match to the murderer from Batman #1 – really has been making seconds from the first. Which makes not just Bruce, but his squadron of sidekicks and the Gotham police department, look appallingly dumb.
Oh, and we do learn why the Jester of Genocide wanted to make a ‘better Joker’.
I cannot tell you how much I hate the modern cliche of Joker being in love with Batman. What the heck is wrong with ‘undefined chaos’? That’s the perfect challenge to the control freak Batman of today.
Let’s accentuate the positives. Writer Geoff Johns kept me turning the pages, keen to see what would happen to Bruce, Babs and Jason on this latest Joker journey. Complementing the plot momentum were characters beats that mostly made sense… Jason imprinting on Babs, no. The action sequences were suspenseful. The army of pseudo-Jokers was creepy as heck.
And it’s all elegantly drawn by Jason Fabok in a style reminiscent of the work of Brian Bolland and Gary Frank. There’s a sense of control to the drama that grounds the Joker’s hysterics. And the characters look fantastic, especially Batgirl. And while I’m still not terribly sure about the differences between the Three Jokers – the Criminal and the Clown, I see, but the Comedian seems pretty darn similar to the Criminal – the visual dissimilarities are apparent. The compositions, the panel-to-panel storytelling – this is as beautiful a Batman book as you’ll see, with the colours of Brad Anderson and letters of Rob Leigh two further factors in its success.
It’s a shame that the covers have tried so very hard to evoke The Killing Joke, but I can’t deny Fabok and Anderson achieve that aim. And they do look really good.
The Three Jokers left me feeling a tad flat – the Joker’s contention that the conflict between him and Batman will never end goes unchallenged, and Batman writes off Babs and Jason’s chances of happiness – but it’s a good-looking, meaty read. If you’re in the mood for yet another ultimate Batman vs Joker confrontation, you could do far worse.