Batman #23.1 Review: No Smiles Here
Andy Kubert has given the Joker, the clown prince of crime, the psychopath with a perma-smile, a sympathetic origin story. Get ready for another run-of-the-mill title with a clown, a monkey… and absolutely no smiles.
Flashing back to several years ago, we see the Joker (with his face still attached) and his gang terrorizing a man in a zoo. Joker grows attached to a baby gorilla and raises him like the child he never had, giving him the childhood he always wanted.
It’s important to reiterate that it’s my
opinion that the Joker shouldn’t be humanized. Some people may want to see the clown prince of crime in a more sympathetic light. But they do that with every single Batman villain. What always made the Joker stand out to me was how he was (seemingly) psychopathic for the sake of fun. He would often make up stories about his parents abusing him but they were never true. Here, Joker relives some memories from his childhood, particularly how cruel his Aunt was to him. Since it’s the Joker thinking these things and not telling anyone, it suggests these events really happened and I can’t stand it. Usually, I would be saying the reverse: a villain that is written about more in-depth is more interesting, right? But with the Joker it just doesn’t appeal to me. If it weren't the Joker and I were to base the flashbacks on their own merit, they aren't very original but are somewhat disturbing.
The relationship between Joker and the gorilla (which he named Jackanapes because he was trying to be “clever”) is also pointless. It continues to humanize the Joker and the gorilla has very little character. Kubert makes it clear at one point that Jackanapes is not a bad animal since he’s crying at the thought of turning people into apes (yes, Joker went “Gorilla Grodd” on us this issue). But his character couldn’t get an in-depth analysis out of anyone and the end of this issue makes it pointless to try anyway. The issue felt like a big waste of time and the 3D cover didn’t really make up for it.
The only real “positive” here is, if you’ve been missing seeing the Joker with his face still attached to his skin, you can see him with it here. Andy Clarke draws him as the classic Joker many people know and love with his vibrant colors intact. The rest of the artwork is solid, especially during Joker’s so-called childhood. The odd brush strokes and Blond’s colors during those scenes fit the dreary and twisted mood. Blond uses shadows very effectively. These panels filled with grey, black and blood red are contrasted well by Joker and his ape child, which have brighter colors that are supposed to represent happier times.
It feels like Kubert broke an unwritten and sacred rule: don’t reveal Joker’s origin. In a way, it diminishes the character and makes him like every other sympathetic Batman villain out there – and we have more than enough of those. The artwork may be good, but even that didn’t get me to crack a smile in this joyless issue.
What did you guys think about Joker getting a sympathetic past? Let me know in the comments below.