Sporting a smile that only a mother could love, the cover of Joker by Brian Azzarello has always caught my eye, even before I began reading comic books. Giving it nothing more than a glance for years, I finally decided to act on it for three reasons:
- I loved The Killing Joke
- Joker is written by Brian Azzarello, the same person who currently writes Wonder Woman
- It was half price at the book store
After reading it, I’m not sure what to make of a book that seemed like a sure-fire hit.
Things start off with the clown prince of crime being released from Arkham Asylum. Exactly how the Joker manages to demonstrate the fact that he’s presumably sane to the staff is never disclosed, though it’s clear from the get-go that someone inside messed up. Waiting for him outside is Johnny Frost, a two-bit thug that the Joker takes under his wing. Together, they try to take back the city of Gotham from others that have stepped in his place.
Frost’s primary function is to serve as the narrator of this tale. He himself doesn’t do much, but he works for the purposes of providing some context to the Joker’s madness. Many familiar faces also make appearances, such as Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Two-Face and even The Dark Knight himself.
Something about this story just didn’t resonate with me. The Joker here carries himself a lot like Heath Ledger’s take on the character in the movie, but I felt like the madness was largely missing a method. There were a few moments where this really comes through, such as his retelling of a story about a guy who tries to drive a car around the world in a day, but there were very few moments where I really felt like the Joker’s psychological terror really came through. The art, handled by Lee Bermejo, is dark and gritty. I’m personally not the biggest fan of it, though it does match the tone of the story.
Despite the critical acclaim and all of the other factors going for it, I wasn’t really feeling Joker. I felt like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character was missing a psychological edge to him found in The Killing Joke or Death of the Family. Also, without much opposition for most of this book, the Joker’s tirades sorely lack conflict as he steamrolls through everyone in his path. With a few other great Joker stories out there, you can leave this one for later.