Riddle me this? When is a Joker comic not a Joker comic?
When the star of the show is Jim Gordon. Sure, the Clown Prince of crime appears throughout the issue, but it’s in flashback, or he’s an eerie figure haunting Gotham’s recently retired police commissioner. Joker #1 is a terrific study of Gordon, laying out his relationship to the villain and giving us someone to be a hero figure, because while the Joker of the short-lived Seventies series was basically a fun fella, today’s sadistic psychopath isn’t anyone to root for.
The issue opens with Jim remembering an encounter with a fellow cop on his last night in Chicago, before his anti-corruption crusade saw him kicked over to Gotham.
Ryan tells Gordon of the night he faced a cannibal killer, an encounter he’s never been able to forget. He wonders, does Gordon have his own bogeyman?
The answer would be, not yet – but within a few years that’s all changed, as the Joker begins to stalk Gotham, tormenting and murdering not just strangers but Gordon’s loved ones.
Gordon is reviewing his history as he’s called to the scene of a tragedy – a series of bombs planted at Arkham Asylum have killed hundreds of staff and patients. Some of the city’s most dangerous psychopaths have escaped and the new mayor has a proposition for Gordon.
Soon, though, he’s approached again… but not by the authorities.
Gordon still isn’t inclined to allow the Joker to dominate his waking hours in the same way that the ghoul haunts his sleep, but the people Cressida represents offer something the Mayor doesn’t – a much-needed, rather massive, retirement fund. There’s one catch.
Gordon is given until the end of the week to consider the offer.
Meanwhile, in Belize…
And so the first chapter ends, with Gordon looking set to take up a new role as Joker hunter and hitman. But who would he be working for? Gotham’s most powerful criminals? Or the Joker himself, ready to play a new game with the man whose life he destroyed?
I’ll certainly be back next time to see if we get any answers. I wasn’t going to try this series, being plum Jokered out, but Friend of the Blog Rob Staeger recommend it based on a preview, and I’m so glad he did. This is writer James Tynion IV at his best, crafting a compelling character study using established history while moving forward into new territory. James Gordon is Batman’s oldest supporting character and Tynion shows that despite what the man himself may think, there’s a lot of life in the old dog yet. The narrative tone is spot on, revelatory without being too self-conscious, and the dialogue works throughout.
Guillem March’s gritty illustrative style is just right for this story, his imperfect people easy to empathise with. The only ‘perfect’ person in the book is Cressida, which fits with her status as temptress. And even she has a wounded knee. The detailed backgrounds anchor the story’s wilder elements, there’s a nice nod to classic artist Jim Aparo in March’s Gordon, and his Joker is suitably horrific. Also, keep an eye out for the Edward Hopper cafe. Arif Prianto’s colours help evoke the sickness at the heart of Gotham, while Tom Napolitano’s fonts add to the creepy feel of the pages.
March and colourist Tomeu Morley’s cover is suitably inviting, although the looming Bane is lost behind the logo; still, it’s a decent clue that as Gordon suspects, Bane hasn’t died in the Arkham bombing.
This issue has a short back-up centred on the trial of Joker acolyte Punchline. It’s less compelling that the lead feature, with characters clumsily introduced and Punchline herself deeply annoying – there’s no obvious reason she looks set to rule Blackgate Prison, where guards seem not to lock the cells. But there she is, punching out a member of the Royal Flush Gang as other prisoners look on in awe.
As for why so many people in Gotham seem to be on the side of a known murderer, no idea.
Written by Sam Johns with Tynion, decently illustrated by Mirka Andolfo in scratchy style and with colours by Romulo Fajardo Jr and letters by Ariana Maher, Punchline doesn’t punch up this debut issue.
Take out the back-up and Joker #1 would be a five-star spectacular. As it is, it’s still worth your time and money as a brilliant look at Jim Gordon.