Joker by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo Book Review By J.K. Tares of a Clown Way back in the good ol’ days of yore, the clown prince of crime would squirt someone in the face with a cream pie from the flower on his lapel, dance a little jig, steal a couple diamonds, and get arrested by the Batman. Then some kooky psychologist (psychiatrist?) convinced everyone that comic books are evil and are corrupting our youth with desires of dressing in spandex to battle bicycle thieves, so they created the comic book code. And much like Brody in Mallrats, we were left with sanitized heroes & villains, shallow plot lines that kept secret the big mysteries of the comic book world (like since Ben Grimm is made entirely of orange rock, what’s the deal with Thing’s thing?). But now we’ve reemerged in the rock ‘n’ roll era of pop culture where the Kingpin can decapitate someone by repeatedly slamming their head in a car door until the head isn’t there anymore. A “good dose of the old ultraviolence,” as my droog Alex would say. Also the Joker can pop pills, drink & drive, cut fat lines of cocaine, skin a man alive, shove pieces of broken glass into his fingertips as a hidden weapon to slash someone’s wrist, and bang Harley Quinn in a gorilla costume. She’s in the monkey suit, not him. And I might be mixing a couple scenes together, but you get the idea: this is a very adult-oriented comic book. I’d say “mature content,” but it’s all pretty juvenile. And the Riddler dresses like a pimp with belly button sun tattoo. This beautifully drawn & sadistically written book is told from the perspective of Jonny Jonny Frost, the recently hired henchman/chauffeur of the titular Joker. It’s an attempt to follow close and get inside the psychotic mind of Joker, right after he’s released from Arkham because, apparently, he is cured. Somehow, as Jonny Jonny moves up the ranks of Gotham’s criminals, he reaches the conclusion that Joker isn’t crazy or insane, he’s a disease. He is madness incarnate. Even though the thought bubbles are Jonny’s, this is Joker’s story. Batman doesn’t show up until the end, so this thick single issue hardcover book is chock full of random acts of violence and atrocities against man(and croc)kind. Things get pretty dark for everyone involved, and there are parts that almost go too far. But this isn’t part of the regular Batman universe, this isn’t a story that takes place after Damian Wayne or before Knightfall, this is supposed to be a generic “what happens when Joker is out on the streets.” This could be any or every time Joker is released from Arkham. Azzarello & Bermejo are the same creative team behind Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, another exploration of the world of heroes from the super villain’s point of view. However, Luthor is able to paint Lex in a somehow-benevolent light. He is a very smart and powerful man concerned for the safety of his entire species as they face the constant threat of a godlike alien invasion. The reader is able to feel his fear & hope for humanity, it almost makes sense to be terrified of Superman. The problem with Joker is there is nothing to redeem. Which makes the story a lot of fun but not as impactful or thought provoking as Luthor’s. Ultimately the wild events and luscious art work make it worth the read, but I can’t help feeling the finished product is slightly… off. What makes the Joker so terrifying is we never understand him or ever even think he has motives for what he does. Thankfully this story doesn’t attempt to make him a relatable character, but then I don’t really know the purpose of the book. Other than telling a really bad ass Joker tale with frickin’ incredible pictures. Seriously, Lee Bermejo knocks it out of the park, especially the pages & panels he inks himself (no offense to Mick Gray who’s majority of the inks give the characters an unsettling jagged & scarred quality). As far as I can tell, this was the first instance of them making the Joker’s grin the ripped holes in his cheeks, Heath Ledger’s Glasgow grin. The original title for this book was going to be Joker: The Dark Knight, but they didn’t want people to think it was the same as the film. I think it can be strongly argued that we wouldn’t have had as awesome a film without the inspiration this book generated. I’m excited to see what this demented duo comes up with next. I’m sure fellow Screwhead Derek would love to see a Gorilla Grodd: Fastest Ape Alive, but I think these guys would create a super kick ass Friendly Neighborhood Venom!