Well, DC certainly got themselves a good amount of buzz going into Forever Evil, and the Joker is sure to be a big ticket book in week one of their event. DC has put a great deal of faith in Andy Kubert, a creator with not a heck of a lot of writing experience, to helm Batman #23.1: Joker. Perhaps DC should have turned to a more seasoned scribe to guide the adventures of their most enduring villain as Kubert fails to make this issue into anything more than a caricature of the Joker.
It’s hard to imagine the word “restraint” when discussing a Joker tale, but think back to the recent brilliant work by Scott Snyder, where the Joker’s presence was enough to create an atmosphere of growing tension and horror. When he struck, the results were brutal and hard to look at, but Snyder saved these moments for when they meant something. Kubert, on the other, has the Joker commit atrocity after atrocity in nothing more than a series of violent vignettes.
There is no narrative focus to the mayhem, and the Joker seems more like a mean-spirited child rather than the mastermind agent of chaos he has been portrayed as in recent years. The story centers on the Joker rearing a baby gorilla named Jackanapes (get it?) as his child and criminal cohort. It’s as silly as it sounds. The Joker decides to test his hand at parenthood because he is suddenly preoccupied with childhood memories of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his crone-like Aunt Eunice, who for some reason dresses like Olive Oyl.
First off, tales of the Joker’s past are never a good idea. One does not need to know the origin of the hurricane that wrecks lives, just the fact that the hurricane is coming. The Joker is the same way, a being of pure chaos who lives to destroy the happiness and safety of others. To show his past, particularly his past sufferings, casts the Joker in the role of a victim and gives him an excuse for his criminal acts. Chaos needs no excuse, and to find one is to dilute everything that makes the Joker special. Secondly, the whole thing is an ill-conceived cliché embellished to the point of meaninglessness. Maybe, it’s all another origin the Joker dreamed up for himself…at least let’s hope so.
There was no purpose to the violence of this issue: a guy slowly being eaten by a giant snake, the Joker somehow (there is no explanation) transforming a councilwoman into a some kind over muscled ape-like freak, and the torture the young Joker must endure at the hands of Aunt Eunice are all just noise that serve no real story purpose. There’s actually a flashback sequence of the young pre-Joker being fed three peas for dinner by Aunt Eunice juxtaposing with the Joker feeding Jackanapes a big ice cream sundae, and the Joker as a pathetic Dickensian orphan just doesn’t ring true. The art by Andy Clarke is beyond gorgeous as he draws the mishmash of violence with a gritty style that is suited to the character. He would be the perfect Joker artist for a book that actually understood the character and showed a modicum of restraint.Batman #23.1The Joker in “Time to Monkey Shine”Writer: Andy KubertArt: Andy Clarke