DKN Spotlight Review: The Joker #1

“The Joker”, “Punchline” – Chapter 1
Writers: James Tynion IV and Sam Johns
Artists: Guillem March and Mirka Andolfo
Color Artists: Arif Prianto and 
Romulo Fajardo Jr
Letterers: Tom Napolitano and Ariana Maher
Review by Kevin M. Gallagher, Jr.

The idea of giving one of Batman’s greatest villains his own title is incredibly interesting. We’ve seen it work before, but with Catwoman, as the titular character operates in grey. She’s a villain yes, but also an anti-hero. A Joker title? When I first heard the announcement, I was curious if it was something that could be pulled off. While seeing Joker across several pages in an issue or story arc is always a treat, having him as the starring focus left me with the question: will it work? He has so few redeeming qualities, how can we root for him? The Joker #1 answers that question…

We can’t.

Boogeymen

It’s immediately made clear that, for this issue at least, the driving force won’t be the titular character, but one of his major adversaries – Jim Gordon. The opening pages, set in the past, have nothing to do with the clown prince of crime, but everything to do with showing us where Gordon’s headspace is, in the present day. These pages are set up to explore a part of the Joker that’s often overlooked, due to his lunacy and obsession with Batman; the evil part.

While The Joker #1 spends its time with Gordon instead of the Clown Prince of Crime himself, that doesn’t mean the villain doesn’t play role in the story. Quite the opposite. The after-effects of Infinite Frontier #0 loom large, but it’s the legacy of a career dealing with the Joker that looms larger. Gordon can’t escape the clown, even in retirement. It’s in these scenes that we, the readers, truly understand the weight that the former commissioner has carried, ever since he stepped foot in Gotham.

Call it a Day

James Tynion IV is no stranger to these characters, as he’s been one of the leading writers involved with the Bat side of DC Comics for years now. He understands them in an intimate way, that very few other writers do. Neither my first nor last guess would be that The Joker #1 would be a noir story. Of course, when thinking of Batman, noir goes hand in hand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this will work with all the characters that surround the Dark Knight. The decision to put the focus on Jim Gordon vs. the Joker makes it an easier genre to set this issue in.

It comes as no surprise that Tynion’s writing is top-notch here. There’s a reason he’s involved with so many high-value titles, and event storylines. I will say that he leans a little too much into the noir for my tastes; evoking many tropes in just a single issue. That said, he doesn’t lean as far as to take you out of the story. As for that story? I’m loving it.

The only reason I shaved a point off my final score is that The Joker #1 is a Jim Gordon story first, and a Joker story second. The title’s a little misleading, and I could see how it may ruin the entire experience for someone. For me, those opening pages set the tone Tynion wanted, and established my expectations going forward; all of which the creative team nailed.

All That Glitters

Admittedly, this issue doesn’t contain my favorite art style, but at the end of the day Guillem March’s work matches the noir tone of the book, and the character. March and Tynion complement each other, the way a great creative team should. Just like the writing, March’s art leans into the noir, perhaps more than it should, but not enough to take me out of the story. With this being a tale about the evil of the Joker, March captures that malevolence with some truly scary imagery. My favorite images of March’s Joker in the book are those that pay homage to some of the character’s great stories we’ve had over the years.

Punchline, Chapter 1

The backup story, in which Tynion partners up with Sam Johns, touches on Punchline’s side of recent events. My biggest issue with this strip is that it assumes a lot about the reader knowing just who Punchline is. While the chances are that anyone who is reading The Joker #1 will know her backstory, Punchline: Chapter 1 only touches on it just enough to get the ball rolling.

What I do love about it is that it plays off the noir genre from the main story. It’s a procedural tale, with strong Law & Order vibes. I think this was a smart move; assuming that the rest of this Joker series continues down this noir path. Mirka Andolfo’s art contrasts the main story’s, allowing Punchline to stand out. It may feel a bit more pop-punk than it should, but Andolfo’s style falls a bit more in line with my tastes.

The overall story in Punchline is fun too and, unlike the main tale, actually features the titular character in a way that makes sense. Curiously, the star of such a high-profile case seems to have a lot of support from Gotham citizens. This isn’t necessarily an unprecedented step, as we’ve seen it happen in real life… just not to the extent that is pictured in this first chapter.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row handle this, going forward.

Conclusion

The Joker #1 makes it a point in the title, and on the cover, to make you think you’re going to spend a lot of time with the clown prince of crime. However, the interior does almost everything to make sure you don’t. It’s that choice that answers my original question: will it work? Yes, it does.

I believe that telling a Joker story by way of Jim Gordon is the best way to make it work, without making it feel like a Batman story too.

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment


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