Jason Todd is the target of the three Jokers. Or, rather the two surviving Clown Princes of Crime, who want to relive crimes of the past. With Red Hood in the firing line. Another derivative issue with little in the way of action, but big on atomsphere. Fabok’s art saves this slow-paced story.
When I look back at my review of the first issue of this prestige format three-issue series I wonder if I was too harsh? After all, many other critics seemed to hail this debut issue as a great achievement, while I found it to be ultimately too derivative and too similar in its style of plagiarism – sorry, homage – to its source material. Having pretty much played the same trick with Doomsday Clock in aping the same tropes and conventions Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used it feels redundant playing this hand again. Like a comedian telling the same joke twice with the same diminishing returns.
So, putting these criticisms aside, how did this second issue rate?
The opening scene, that see’s The Killing Joke’s Joker return to the home we saw him come from in the Brain Bolland and Moore classic, is a mean and menacing opening to this issue. Tonally, it couldn’t get off to a better start. The twist given to this scene, is even better and reminds us that this arch-fiend is DC Comics’ biggest nut job. Fair play, Geoff Johns, you certainly had this reader fooled. But, this promising start doesn’t last long.
Jason Fabok’s unique style is in keeping with that of Brain Bolland’s on The Killing Joke and the sheer detail in each panel is testament to part of the delay in its release. It certainly saves this book from being simply a mediocre unofficial sequel to The Killing Joke, which is what I think Johns is really attempting here. After a few years in the wilderness working in this book, I do hope to see him return to more regular work now this series is all done. I am particularly taken by his presentation of Jason Todd here. After all, it seems this series is as much the Red Hood’s as it is the Dark Knight’s story. More so, really, once the Jokers reveal their plan. So, it helps that Fabok has worked hard on giving Todd a very definitive look when unmasked, and not just a Dick Grayson alone, which is how he is often portrayed, I’m afraid.
But, with Batgirl ever-present, we are reminded that she stands as a stark alternative of surviving an attack by the Joker. Unlike Jason, she did not allow herself to be eaten up inside. Can Jason learn from this, I wonder? There’s certainly a shared moment between them, that’s for sure. But, if you’ve read any of the spoilers, it’s a scene that;s most definitely been blown out of all proportion for the sake of click-bait.
As for Batman, it would seem the Joker’s return – and in triplicate – only goes to remind him of his past failings when it comes to his past partner. You know, the ex-Robin who shot one of the Clown Princes of Crime through the head last issue?
Meanwhile, Batgirl acts as this series’ Jiminy Cricket, calling out Bruce’s past actions and questioning his past behaviours. After all, here’s a man who has a track record of putting minors in great mortal jeopardy. I sometimes wonder if he wears his mask to stop social services for coming after him for child abuse?
But, in following The Killing Joke so slavishly only adds to another slow paced issue in places. Batman walking through the gothic hallways of Blackgate Prison as the prisoners’ recoil in fear may be mean and moody, but it feels like padding. All those pointless close-ups throughout the book may seem cinematic in Johns’ mind’s eye, but simply slows it all down for this reader. Any intended page-turning payoff just simply doesn’t justify the slower pacing. Not for the first time does it feel like the story dd not need so much comic book real estate to be told. Moore did it in one, but this new chapter takes three over-sized issues?
Batman does a lot of standing around and talking throughout this issue. More the detective than the action hero, following procedures and knocking down doors. But, still the most intelligent person in the room.
The three Jokers have Batman going down Memory Lane. But, as we know, Batman’s past is one pathed with pain, childhood trauma and loss. But, this is not his issue, it’s Jason’s and Barbara’s.
Whatever the final issue reveals, we all know that it can alway be dismissed as an alternative reality just as The Killing Joke was when DC Comics’ backtracked on that one-shot back in the day and when people weren’t satisfied with the origin give by Moore and Bolland. An origin again hinted at in the opening pages as simply being a figment of ‘the Comedian’ Joker’s imagination. And, if that does happen, it will have one more thing in common with its source text to add to the list. After all, this is a DC Black Label title, so they could always get the last laugh.
Batman: Three Jokers #2 is available now from DC Comics/DC Black Label