The Joker #1 (May 2021)

The Joker

Writer: James Tynion IV, Sam Johns, Art: Guillem March, Mirka Andolfo, Colours: Arif Prianto, Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Following the events of Infinite Frontier #1, the Joker is the most wanted man in the world! But the Clown Prince of Crime is several steps ahead of law enforcement—and he’s on the run overseas. James Gordon, facing retirement, realizes this is the manhunt of his life and the last piece of a storied career…but what mysterious and deadly forces are also in pursuit of the Joker?

And in the backup story, following the events of the smash hit Punchline #1, DC’s most controversial new villain navigates the infrastructure of Blackgate Penitentiary. While on the outside, Harper Row takes up the mantle of Bluebird to stop her brother from falling under Punchline’s influence.

DCCOMICS.COM official solicitation

Villain books are tricky.  How do you tell a story about the most villainous of villains and not soften the edges?  How do you get into the mind of someone who should be impossible to understand?  The approach that James Tynion IV takes here is to essentially tell a James Gordon story.  I’m guessing that if the book was titled ‘Gordon’ it would shift a lot less units.

What Tynion offers up in this first Joker ongoing in nearly half a century is a classic noir set-up.  Gordon is a tired, broke, world weary ex-cop troubled by the memories of his past.  Haunted by the boogeyman that he didn’t kill when he had the chance.  The Joker has tortured him, disabled his daughter, caused the death of his son (and possibly his wife but that’s unclear if it’s still in continuity) and Gordon sees him whenever he closes his eyes.

There has been a massacre at Arkham instigated by the Joker.  Hundreds have been gased, inmates and guards, and over one hundred criminally insane are uncounted for.  The highest profile victim is Bane, killed by Joker because of the event of ‘City of Bane’, but Gordon fails to believe it.  The ex-commissioner wanders the streets looking for a purpose.  He had been invited back and them rejected by the City Council because of his pro-Batman views.  He’s turned down an offer to set up a private investigation business with Harvey Bullock because he doesn’t want to look into human weakness (hopefully this is picked up at a later date because it would make an awesome book).  Batman is still confiding in him but due to his circumstances he has no outlet.

After visiting his son’s grave he is approached by a young woman with a hulking, scarred, and masked bodyguard (obviously Bane).  She works for a mysterious group and has an offer for Gordon.  Gotham has had enough of the Joker and if Gordon tracks him down and kills him they will deposit $25 million into Gordon’s personal account.

We are set us up for a battle for Gordon’s soul.  This was the formula for so many films of the 30s to the 50s and the kind of thing that is making a resurgence now with old man action films.  It also has the feel of horror noir like ‘Angel Heart’.  Traditionally Gordon would turn this offer down but he has been pushed to the limit.  He will accept the offer but can he follow through.

If you want crazy Joker action this might not be the book for you as he only appear on one page.  If you want something that looks like it is going to be a Gordon character study then this is first rate.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Punchline: Chapter 1

Tynion and Sam Johns try a similar trick in the Punchline back-up.  While Punchline does appear more than the Joker does, asserting her control while in prison, the focus is shifted on to Harper Row/Bluebird, a character barely touched since Scott Snyder’s run on ‘Batman’ finished.  The difference is that the Punchline story isn’t compelling.

Punchline was arrested at the end of ‘Joker War’ but has pleaded not guilty for her crimes.  Her trial has turned into a circus as she has been using social media to gain support.  Witnesses are turning up dead all over Gotham and Leslie Tompkins psychological evaluation alone won’t be enough to put her away.  Tompkins turns to her assistant, Harper, to investigate Punchline’s past to unearth new evidence.

The problem, for us the reader, is there is no doubt about Punchline’s guilt so there is no mystery.  Bluebird will investigate and will find more evidence.  Whether they can convict Punchline’s will be the story but not an interesting one.  A proper investigation and questions about her level of guilt would have been a better tale.

⭐⭐⭐

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