Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joker: the Graphic Novel

For some reason Joker is getting released from Arkham Asylum, and no one knows why. Joker –I know this is going to get confusing with the name of the book simply being called Joker, so I will specify it by italics -- Joker isn’t a tale of reform, or how Joker even managed to be released from Arkham. It’s about him taking back Gotham, the city he thinks is rightfully his. It’s a grim depiction of how corrupt Gotham can be, and how Joker goes almost completely untamed throughout his rampage in the streets.

Joker is a one-off graphic novel that has vastly different depictions for some of Batman’s most iconic villains. The story is narrated from the perspective of a man named Jonny Frost: a naive henchman who just wants to make it big in Gotham.

I've smiled like that before -- upon getting a few extra chicken-wings at a bar!

The real reason to read Joker is simply for the art alone. Everything in Joker has a hard-edged, shadowy overtone to it, and many of the landscapes are beautifully painted. It’s in a word, spectacular. Artist Lee Bermejo overhauls all of Batman’s nefarious foes. Joker himself is much more reminiscent of Heath Ledger from Dark Knight. And other characters like Killer Croc get complete facelifts. Bermejo tries to ground each character into something more believable; the aforementioned Croc is simply a very strong thug…who likes to each rotten food for some reason. Harley Quinn is a stripper—not much can be said there, so I’ll move on. And others are given not just stylistic alterations but personality changes through the story telling by Brian Azzarello. 

That’s where Joker kind of loses steam for me though, and outside of the art there really isn’t anything particular memorable about this story. Does Azzarello expect us to empathize with Jonny Frost; no. Does he truly give a different look at Joker; not really, Joker is insane…we get it! Does the book end with all the weight of The Killing Joke; not on your life!

Really if you strip away the art -- and the narration by Jonny Frost –Joker (the comic, not the guy) doesn’t really advance the villain to a different plane of understanding like The Killing Joke did. Joker doesn’t have a grip on reality so it’s hard to feel anything when you see him lashing out violently; correct me if I’m wrong but that’s what the Joker does, he’s a violent guy…because he is crazy, their doesn’t really have to be a deeper meaning to it. It even seems that towards to end of the book Azzarello was really trying to make readers feel sorry for Joker’s madness. I didn’t really feel anything though. How can you feel sorry for a person who rips the bare skin off a person’s body? – Yeah that sounds cool…but it’s something that I have come to expect from Joker anyways.  

Now you know what you're dealing with Jonny Jonny!

Another problem I have is with the narration. I understand that Jonny Frost’s narration is supposed to give us a deeper look into the Joker’s madness through the eyes of someone who is actually along for the ride. But I just didn’t really think it mattered if Jonny was there or not. There could have just had a disembodied voice narrating the story from the shadows and it would have had the same impact. That’s really what it comes down to, impact. The Killing Joke had an impact on me and how I went about thinking of the Joker. You got a glimpse, even only if it was just a tiny glimpse, into the mind of Batman’s greatest villain. The comic –Joker—just depicts a crazy few days on the town with Joker and his cronies. He believes Gotham is his, and he is going to take it back by any maniacal means possible. La-di-da, no matter what Joker does Batman is still out there, and that’s why I found myself just kind of bored towards the end.

That’s the whole point; Batman is just going to stop Joker in the end. You can see it coming. Batman only appears at the very end of the comic; by which point Joker has completely lost his grip on reality... well, his very, very, very, very lose grip on reality for what it is. You just knew by the end Batman was going to show up. So it’s simple: Joker does some crazy crap (like stuffing people’s bodies in trashcans… that happens!), then Batman shows up and spoils the fun. It’s a standard good vs. evil tail, and outside of the phenomenal art it’s a story that didn’t deserve to take up over 100 pages to tell.

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