Three separate crimes, three separate sighting of the Joker. And the Bat-Family take up the pursuit.
And so beginnings the highly anticipated three issue DC Black Label mini-series that has been hit with delay after delay. Well, you know what hyped up expectation can be met with, don’t you? That, my dear friends, is the dilemma Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok faced when Batman: The Three Jokers #1 finally saw the light of day. The great expectations were never going to match the reality. But, even trying to cast this aside, this first issue just isn’t that good and by ‘homaging’ The Killing Joke it only draws attention to the fact that this is nothing but a pale imitation of a far superior work. I simply can’t see this becoming a classic Batman story DC Comics wants it to become no matter how big a deal DC Comics want us to believe this series to be.
The 9 panel grid, the slow paced, close-up movements captured across panels, the colouring and even the weather; there is so much of this book that owes a gratitude to The Killing Joke it goes beyond simple homage and feels more like aping a style for the sake of it. But for what narrative reason?
When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons made use of this restrictive old-school layout to pages there was a reason, a symbolic one that made commentary on comics as they were back in the mid-80s. And, what they could become if they could break away from such conventions. It ushered in a new era of comic book art that did see artists play more with the blank page. Here, it’s just copying for the sake of it. I don’t see any other relevance.
A voyeuristic slow-mo recount of Batman’s many wounds inflicted in battle and later repeated with a similar scenes involving Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd feel old hat and slows the whole book down. Violence as porn.
Again, trying to ape the pace of The Killing Joke and again another reference to the quintessential text that seems to inform this book more than any other. In fact, all the Bat-Family seem to have the Joker on their minds. But, which one?
Johns is a spent force at DC Comics these days, and so this book gets shoved over to the DC Black Label so, one imagines, it can always be dismissed as an imaginary story and not cannon, just as The Killing Joke once was. Although, as we know, elements of that have now become cannon. Juts not the origin of the Joker as depicted in this classic.
Meanwhile, in the regular Batman titles, the Joker has grow beyond anything Johns can throw at us in this much delayed series. A comic book that, sadly, missed its moment, and set in a DCU that has long since changed. Dn’t forget, this is a book that should have come out half a decade ago. That’s a long time in comics and the excitement of DC Rebirth has long past waned in favour of a different path and a very different DCU that came from both back room politics and simply better ideas by the likes of Scott Snyder.
Fabok’s art, however, is its only saving grace. While no-one will match Brian Bolland, Fabok’s art style is of the same school of art as Bolland’s, and a great fit for this sorry saga. And, while the colour palette is intentionally borrowed, Brad Anderson does a marvellous job in applying it to Fabok’s art. The one stand out moment, narratively, that I do have to give credit to Johns for including is a scene shared between Jason and The Joker as they discuss THAT scene from “A Death in the Family” (from Batman #426 – 429) and what Todd has now become. It’s a very clever twist on a story that’s seen its far share of twists, including – and especially – the resurrection of Jason Todd!
Ultimately, its a first issue that’s juts far too derivative and far too slow to be anything but a dull debut. And this is coming from a Geoff Johns fan who loved what he achieved with Green Lantern, Blackest Night and more. But based on this book and Doomsday Clock, I can see why Johns’ star is no longer as bright.
Batman: The Three Jokers’ #1 is available now from DC Comics/DC Black Label