THIS WEEK: The long-promised Batman: Three Jokers series finally hits shelves, about four years after it was hinted at.
Note: the review below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Batman: Three Jokers #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Jason Fabok
When DC Rebirth came out four years ago, one of the big mysteries presented by it was the revelation that the Moebius Chair had given Batman that there were in fact three different Jokers. It was a thread that Geoff Johns had left for himself, and as such has gone mostly unreferenced and untouched for the ensuing four years while Johns has worked on other projects. What was once considered a big point of the new continuity is now relegated to a Black Label book with no actual impact on canon.
Had Johns been able to get this book out more timely, I feel like the impact would be felt more. Instead, it’s coming out after several other Joker stories have been told, including one that’s ongoing in the pages of the bat-books right now. As it is, this feels less important than Joker War, it feels less important than Death Metal, it feels like it’s just there to get the story out there and nothing more.
There’s an over-saturation of the Joker in media right now, and it’s something that feels at a tipping point. How much is too much? Joker fans are always going to buy the things he’s in, that’s true, but fans like me? I’m absolutely sick of him. I didn’t bother seeing the movie in theaters, and only watched it when I was on a plane. I’m elated that the villains in The Batman are going to be Riddler and Penguin. Joker War hits me as an overwrought mess, but hopefully, one that might be the character’s swan song for a bit in the comics. So now just seems like the worst possible time for this series which hinges on too much Joker.
The art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson is stellar throughout the issue, with my absolute favorite bit of art in the book is in the opening pages, as we see Bruce’s horribly scarred torso. This is a thing I will never tire of seeing in Batman books, as it emphasizes the humanity of the character. It’s a visual reminder of the hells he puts his body through, and the pages that open this book even more so. We’re given memories of the events that have led to several of these scars, from Bane to Catwoman, and finally to several inflicted by the Joker himself. It’s a motif that we also see repeated with Barbara and her spinal injury, and Jason and his head trauma. But these memories also serve as an example of one of few setbacks with the art.
For a comic that hinges on three identifiable versions of the same character, that’s not something that really comes through in most of the art. The only one of the Jokers that has an easily discernable look is the “Comedian”. That one at least is identifiable by his beady eyes, while the only real difference between the “Clownish” and the “Criminal” are that the “Criminal” looks older. When you’re not putting them right next to each other, this is next to indistinguishable. For Barbara’s flashbacks it’s easy to tell that her trauma came at the hands of the “Comedian”, but for both Bruce and Jason, it’s next to impossible to visibly tell which Jokers are responsible for their scars. The text names them, but we are given reason to doubt the text later on when Jason is unsure that he had confronted the right one.
I’ve talked before about how tired I am of revisiting The Killing Joke, and that sentiment has not changed. There’s also an added ickiness as we revisit that trauma in that our point of view coming into the scars opens with a sensual shower scene, before recalling the implied sexual abuse and distinct violence that the Joker had inflicted on her. This feels gross and exploitative, in ways that have been covered all too often (and incredibly recently). This coupled with the ongoing plot in the Joker War, and with the plot point revealed in the upcoming Gotham Knights game (Babs healed her back through sheer force of will), its just a story that DC refuses to let die.
Three Jokers is built to play on nostalgia, both good and bad. Obviously, both Killing Joke and A Death in the Family are revisited, but the character designs also play to nostalgia. Batman looks like the one from the 1990s, yellow oval, and all. Batgirl is in her classic costume, complete with the yellow bat-headed boots. Fabok and Anderson do a great job of evoking the atmosphere of the books we grew up with, while still looking distinctly modern too.
While the art is strong for the most part, the writing is a bit more lackluster. Part of this is due to that same nostalgia, in that since it’s heavily relying on an Alan Moore story, it too sticks to his traditional grid. There are times when this format makes the story feel repetitive and iterative. There’s one page with a raccoon that really feels like it’s just there to take up space, nothing of value is added with that page (other than a very nice drawing of a raccoon). When you’re sticking to a format just to stick to a format, the story feels secondary to the format.
There are also several moments in the script that just fall flat or pull the reader out of the story. Rather than utilize blocked sound effects, during fight scenes (because gosh that’d be too silly for this very adult comic book), Jason instead says, “Pow. Bam. Biff. Nice name tags.” Rather than embrace comics as a medium, and have fun with itself, the comic works to actively make you feel bad for liking comic tropes. There’s also a line with Jason intimidating a Joker victim that reads a lot different than I think Geoff Johns intended it to. “What’d the Joker say before he bleached your ass?” I don’t think Johns meant to drive the reader to think of a particular cosmetic procedure, but my mind definitely went there, and I had to stop reading for a bit to get my brain back to a not horrified place.
While I’m definitely not going to be buying Three Jokers, I’m giving it a browse just for the catharsis that comes with the last six pages of the issue. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but that alone may be worth a read or purchase for some.
- The Flash #760 was another punch in the gut for nostalgic ’90s Flash fans. Williamson’s last arc is picking up speed.
- Still not a fan of the villain reveal in Suicide Squad, even more so now that his motivation is revealed.
- The jam issue of Legion of Super-Heroes was absolutely fantastic, and it was great to see more of so many of these characters. I especially love this take on Dream Girl.
- Joker War continues in Batgirl and Red Hood. It’s fine, but nothing really special.
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