It’s testament to the Joker’s popularity and iconic status that DC Comics have put out an 80th anniversary special celebrating everyone’s favorite psychotic, mass murdering madman in clown make-up. Not all bad guys will be getting this treatment. And, yes, I know Catwoman did, but I’d argue that’s more to do with her recent elevated status within the DCU thanks to the work of Tom King than anything else. The Joker, on the other hand, has always been popular, premium criminal even when going through his comedic post-Wertham phase that effectively castrated this fascinating character. But, unlike previous anniversary specials, the Joker’s is not to be taken too seriously. No dour faced seriousness here, and it certainly makes for one fo DC Comics better celebratory issues as creative teams go wild with the Clown Prince of Crime and offer even the most casual of readers a great experience as we are witness to the many sides to this criminally insane crook. Although, most of those sides are still bad to the bone. Just with flair.
The opening story, ‘Scars’ from Scott Synder and Jock, is a timely reminder of Synder’s horror writing roots and it’s a truly creepy story reuniting the team behind The Batman Who Laughs. It’s a bold move by the editing team, given this is arguably the most chilling story in this 100 pager, and again Synder plays with the suggestion that the Joker is something more than just a mere mortal. It would certainly explain a lot about his death-defy past, that’s for sure. And, in a way, he is something more than mortal. He is whatever a creators wants him to be. This is the cold, calculating Joker we first really saw emerging from the 70s, courtesy of the legendary work of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, and while Adams wasn’t around to contribute to this book, O’Neil was with the help of José Luis Garcia-Lopez. Not a bad substitute for Adams, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Together, this dynamic duo deliver a story that seems like the most un-Joker like story in the whole issue, but isn’t. It’s one of the more fun inclusions in this anniversary issue too with The Joker thinking of talking a break from it all and doing something very unlike him and go save hostages in Guatemala alongside a violence-free humanitarian team. See what I mean about this being a very different flavoured Joker story. hat’s right… rescue hostages!? The Joker playing at being the hero? That’s new joke on me.
But, within this fun concept, O’Neil runs riot with references to the classic Death in the Family storyline (he mentions he know people at the United Nations, which he sat in on during this tragic storyline that saw Jason Todd murdered) as well as the Joker chasing to wear the same outfit he notoriously wore in The Killing Joke, even picking up a camera along the way. That’s right… rescue hostages!? The Joker playing at being the hero? That’s new joke on me.
Along the way we get a key moment in the evolution of Batman’s newest femme fatale joining his ever-expanding rogue’s gallery from James Tynion IV and Mikel Janin as we learn something of her transformation into this, what, clown princess of crime? It’s a moment Batman fans, fanned on by the DC Comics’ PR machine, won’t want to miss. It’s just a shame that some genuine readers may now miss out on a copy of this comic because of speculators getting in there first. But, it’s a great story and a reminder that the ‘Joker Wa’r is coming. It’s also a strip that’s in keeping with other anniversary specials too, acting as a prologue to the forthcoming Batman title-wide epic.
Other notable mentions include Paul Dini and Riley Rossmo’s ‘The Last Smile’ and a look into Joker’s biggest fear, as recounted by Harley Quinn sharing a drink with Poison Ivy. If only Batman knew his secret fear, the upcoming ‘Joker War’ would be over without a single drop of blood being spilt. And he called himself the world’s greatest detective! Now, that’s some joke. But, it’s another great strip from a writer who alway manages to say something new about Batman’s characters, particularly the villains.
And, an honourable mention must surely go to Brian Azzerrello and Lee Bermejo’s closing story, ‘Two Fell Into The Hornets Nest’, a truly bonkers story that’s as mixed up as the Joker’s scrambled mind, with a knowing nod to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratchet and all! It’s a pulpy, Dick Sprang influenced comic strip highly appropriate for a celebration of the Joker. And, is that Azzarello throwing shade onto his own infamous work on Batman: Damned and THAT panel, when the Joker imagines a near-nude Batman naked in his cell and clutching his family jewels? Another nice punchline in a comic book full of ‘em. An apt tale to finishing off the party with, methinks.
Speaking about parties, I think everyone will get a kick out of Tom Taylor and Eduardo Risso’s ‘Birthday Bugs’, which answers the question no-one has ever asked: what happens when you get the joker to organise your birthday party? It’s one of the creepier stories too, right up there with Snyder and Jock’s opener, with a great menacing, intense tone permeating tthough the whole strip. Brilliant!
After reading this, and the others stories within this one-shot special, you’ll be reminded why the Joker is still one of the best, and more malleable characters that’s come out of any comic book. He may be mad, but who’s the more insane? The mad man or the man (or woman) who reads all about him?
The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super-Spectacular #1 is available now from DC Comics