is a original graphic novel written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel) with art by frequent collaborator Lee Bermejo (Lex Luthor again and covers work on Daredevil and The Stand). Its a team that definitely has some great talent and brings with it some lofty expectations to be sure. Advanced reviews have been coming out comparing it with the classic Alan Moore story "The Killing Joke", not something to be thrown around lightly by most fans. With Heath Ledgers amazing performance as the arch foe in the Dark Knight film still forever engraved in peoples minds theres no doubt people should be very excited for a Joker centric book especially one released as a graphic novel instead of a mini series first, something rarely done for mainstream superhero comics.
Joker is 128 pages long btw
The plot of the book is simple. Joker is released from Arkham Asylum for reasons unexplained (because really... what explanation could make sense?) and goes around Gotham city trying to take back control of the criminal underground that he has lost while being in Arkham. Thats the story. Rather than try to delve into Jokers insane mind and tell the story from his perspective Azzarello instead chooses to tell the narrative through the eyes of Jonny Frost, a lowly hood working for Joker. I would say this is a wise choice because trying to show the thought process and reason behind Joker would most probably be disastrous as the Joker is usually portrayed as a powerful force of nature and chaos with no discernible reason to anyone not in on the joke (everyone). However the character of Jonny is pretty vanilla and uncharasmatic. He goes on a predictable path from someone who first marvels at the power the Joker has with delusions of grandeur of his own but soon finds out working with Joker is (gasp) dangerous to his person because the Joker is (gasp again) batsh*t crazy. I feel its safe to say that and not call it a spoiler. Everyone knows the Joker is crazy.
I would like to quickly address the idea that some are touting this book as a sort of pseudo sequel to The Dark Knight. It's not. While the atmosphere of the book is definitely that of a noir crime story and the Joker resembles Heath Ledgers scarred Joker from the movie there are appearances by many of Batman's more famous villains who haven't been in the movies. Also while the Joker resembles Heath Ledgers Joker physically, he does not act like him. Azzarello's Joker is surprisingly quiet most of the time though prone to outbursts of rage. He shows the Joker as more of a crime boss than an anarchist. He hangs out with his gang at the strip club. He drives around getting drunk and taking all kinds of pills. He even cries. Of course all that is offset by Jokers ultra-violence and general disregard for anyone but himself. Joker craves power. He's a bully, scaring everyone into giving him their lunch money. His moments of vulnerability are never expounded on and really don't come off as much of anything. I wish Azzarello would have taken a chance and tried to show a bit of whats going on in Jokers mind but he plays it safe giving us token "emotional" moments that really don't amount to anything. There are a couple really good scenes in the book including the idea that Joker feels Batman around all the time or as part of the city itself. But again these parts are either not explored enough or don't figure into the overall theme of the book and by the stories conclusion nothing amounted to much.
That brings me to my main complaint with this book and why I would not compare it to "The Killing Joke". I'm not a big fan of that story but at least it did some bold things with the Jokers character. Joker
by comparison is a very average crime story with only the titular characters depravity setting it apart. Now I know it looks like I must hate this book but I did enjoy reading it. Its well written it just isn't anything special and I had my expectations way too high. There's an appropriately dark mood throughout and seeing the villains as gangsters primarily is cool. Bermejo's art is great looking but shifts between painted and normally inked pages and I'm not sure what the desired effect was supposed to be but it didn't really do anything for me except show that some pages looked a lot better than others. If you end up reading it you'll probably enjoy it but theres not much there to make it essential.
An example of Lee Bermejo inking his own work. Striking.
As it comes out only in hardcover so far its hard for me to recommend purchasing it for $20. I would say borrow it from a friend or find it cheaper online. If you're a big fan of the Joker you'll probably enjoy this more especially if you don't come in with high expectations. Others might be dragged down by the mood and hardcore violence of the story. For some that will be part of the enjoyment. I fell in the middle. It didn't really do much for me.