Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are doing some of the finest work on Joker over at DC Black Label, but sadly it comes to an end this week. Dr. Ben Arnell is the main character of Joker: Killer Smile, and has slowly gone mad after trying to treat the Joker. Now with a family gone and a job pretty much destroyed, what else is there to do but go all-in with the Joker’s plans? Witness a visual feast as the creators show us what it is like to go truly mad.
This is a pretty good finish to an otherwise perfect masterpiece. I say this because this final issue doesn’t quite meet the same level of visual delights, gripping drama, and absorbing narrative as the first two issues. Maybe that’s because it’s more interesting to see a man’s descent into madness than it is to see them fully mad and not quite loving it. It’s still a great work, but I saw a few of the story beats coming, which is a surprise since the first two issues had me shocked and on the edge of my seat every step of the way. I was hoping for a bit more of a compelling reason for Ben’s descent into madness too, but instead, we see it’s yet another means to an end for Joker. Whether or not that’s my fault for putting too much into the narrative I’m still trying to wrestle with.
This issue gets the storybook element perfect, though. This series introduced a kid’s book that was cute, but ever so slightly twisted and in this issue reality melds with the book. Lemire and Sorrentino utilize the captions that look like the storybook over the real world to help convey the total craziness Ben is now going through. This adds a layer of false positivity that conveys the backward nature of Ben’s reality.
Fans of Batman will dig his appearance in this issue. This issue has the most superhero and DC Comics identity of the three issues further showing other villains as well as a more traditional Joker.
Visually there are, of course, a few standout layouts and pages especially near the back of the book. There is one page that shows us Ben’s confusion as he is fully into his madness that does well to capture the conflicting worlds inside his own head. In another, he sinks into one of these worlds and it’s like he’s drowning. There is also quite a lot of interesting framing going on with extreme close-ups, red filter panels used to draw attention to hits, and more. I always find myself wondering how long it’ll be before folks research Sorrentino’s plethora of visual ideas since he seems to add to the comic book art medium in everything he does.
This is a good finish, although it does all a bit flat for me due to some rather obvious turns in the story and I was expecting bigger surprises. That said, it’s hard to not see this as one of the greatest works featuring Joker ever made.