In my quest to read as many of the great graphic novels that I can before I die, I came across this little beauty with the wicked grin.
Written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and art by Lee Bermejo (Batman: Noel), Joker gives readers a look at the forever grinning villain and strangely, a whole new set of emotions to deal with. It’s told from the point of view of one of Joker’s low-level henchmen, Jonny Frost (whom Joker likes to call “Jonny Jonny”).
The tale begins with Frost picking up Joker upon his release from Arkham Asylum. After Frost introduces himself as “Jonny. Jonny Frost,” Joker immediately takes a liking to Frost and takes him under his wing, making him not only his number one guy, but also (I dare say) his only friend, doling out advice and other things you would consider odd for Joker to be doing…IF this weren’t set in an alternate reality.
Once he’s sprung from Arkham, Joker sets out to reclaim his goods that others stole from him (they thought he would never get out of Arkham). The pair meet up with Killer Croc and head over to Joker’s former strip club, “The Grin and Bare It,” where Harley Quinn (disguised as a stripper) helps Joker kill the new owner. When he asks the stunned crowd if they wanna help him “take his city back,” Frost happily stays by his side while Joker goes about doing what he does best: causing chaos.
What’s so mesmerizing about this Joker is the reader is made a little uncomfortable with the fact that sooner or later, you’ll find yourself genuinely liking the guy – he’s like the friend in your group you’re always a little nervous to hang out with in public because you have no idea how your night’s gonna end. At times, we forget he could still end up killing anyone at any time if the mood/moment suits him. When Frost catches him in a private, vulnerable moment with Harley, it’s both shocking and heartbreaking all at once.
And Frost himself goes through some serious buyer’s remorse as well…but I’ll leave it to you to find out why!
That said, Joker’s still Joker – cruel as hell (to everyone, including Frost), robbing banks, killing anyone who took his stuff or (in his mind) slighted him in any way. His interactions with the likes of The Penguin and Harvey Dent are things I wish had come to fruition in one of the Batman films. Someday, I hope someone takes a stab at this novel for a film because Azzarello and Bermejo’s vision of The Riddler is friggin’ AWESOME.
There’s just something about Bermejo’s artwork that I love. Joker’s face looks like a crumpled piece of paper that someone’s attempted to smooth out (which, strangely enough, is how I view Joker’s mental stability) and there’s a genuine starkness to it all, even when the page is FILLED with color. And Joker actually focuses on the life of Joker – there is no “B-story” like you would find in other graphic novels like Alan Moore/Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, so You Know Who’s presence in this story is very small.
If you’re envisioning Heath Ledger’s voice and mannerisms from The Dark Knight inside your head as you read, don’t panic: their character make-up designs are indeed similar – right down to the “Glasgow smile” and (IMHO) they look AMAZING.
All versions of Joker have been amazing in their own right and while The Killing Joke (which Ledger read in preparation for his role alongside Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth) is STILL hands down my fave of the Joker stories, this Joker has made its way to the number two spot in the space I’ve reserved in my fangirl heart for villain stories.
If you’re ready to explore this crazy and yes, still frightening world that is Joker, head on over to your fave comic book store (or if you prefer, go digital) and just look for the cover with the rotten smile.
Rating: 5 out of 5. This story will stick with you after you’ve closed the book and something you’ll be proud to have in your library.
Have you read Joker? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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