The last issue of The Joker ended with a shocking confrontation. Jim Gordon, fresh on the Joker’s trail, was face to face with his target.
Without much delay, this issue gets right back into the action. Gordon and the Joker’s other pursuers — the daughter of Bane and a family of cannibals from Texas — end up on their heels while back in Gotham, Barbara Gordon is keeping tabs on Cressida, the mysterious woman who paid Gordon to kill the Joker.
As a series that has mostly kept its title character at arm’s length, I’ve enjoyed it. Writer James Tynion IV writes Gordon well and has his narration colored by decades of continuity.
The Gordon of this story is enriched by the character’s history in Year One and The Killing Joke. You don’t need to remember every beat of those stories to enjoy this one, but Tynion rewards longtime readers by sprinkling in relevant details.
Artist Guillem March is skilled enough to veer from the story’s horrific moments to scenes that are more comic or zany. I especially like how he reflects the Joker’s disorienting effect on the narrative by occasionally slanting panels or inserting them atop otherwise finished grids. The bit of design trickery adds an unstable element to an otherwise orderly book, which Tynion has split into chapters with their own title.
SPOILERS AHEAD for The Joker #4!
The crux of this issue is a conversation between Joker and Gordon which, like most attempts by the Joker to explain his methods, falls a bit flat. “I’m going to show you how little everything you have ever done in your life matters,” he tells Gordon. “And it’s going to break you, Jim.”
Villain speeches are a necessary part of superhero comics and can work well when the villain has a particularly interesting point of view. The Joker isn’t saying anything new here, and — as Tynion convincingly argued in his early stories with Punchline — has no unique moral code or perspective.
He is just a cipher for evil, which makes him compelling as a counterpoint to Batman, but not quite as interesting as a standalone character. (Then again, two actors have won an Academy Award playing this guy and a movie titled Joker made $1.074 billion at the box office. So what do I know?)
The most interesting tidbit from the Joker’s monologue is him denying involvement in the attack on Arkham Asylum that was depicted in the Infinite Frontier one-shot.
To hear the Joker tell it, someone became aware of his dastardly plans for Gotham and framed him for the crime so he would have to flee the city and be pursued by people like Gordon. That all sounds a bit ridiculous, but sure looks like fodder for the Court of Owls to make their return to the narrative.
Tynion has already revealed that the shadowy cabal of Gotham elites — created by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo back in their New 52 run on Batman — has a connection to Cressida. If this issue is any indication, it looks like Barbara is about to be made aware of that connection.
Some other thoughts on the issue:
- The “Punchline” backup stories — co-written by Tynion and Sam Johns, illustrated by Mirka Andolfo — continue to delight. I love the back-and-forth between Punchline and the Queen of Spades. Johns and Tynion smartly find space for both the Harper Row and Punchline storylines by keeping one story dialogue-heavy and the other action-heavy. It is a nice balance.
- I like how the Joker had some begrudging respect for the patriarch of the Texas cannibal family. Checks out!
- Arif Prianto’s colors were a strong part of the main story, particularly in the scene where the Joker released several canisters of nerve gas. The resulting explosion looked like some crazy tie dye madness.
- Tynion continues to excel at bringing in different corners of the Bat-Family. We get a little bit of Steph and Cass this issue and — assuming Barbara gets into some trouble with the Court of Owls — I imagine we will see more of them.
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