Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

No Laughing Matter

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 4th, 2013

Batman #23.1
“Time to Monkey Shine”
Writer: Andy Kubert
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colors: Blond
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artist: Jason Fabok
Editors: Katie Kubert & Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Yes, I bought one of DC’s 3D/lenticular gimmick Villains Month comics from DC. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this comic book, but after seeing what these 3D covers are selling for on eBay this week, I figured I’d check it out and if I didn’t enjoy it, I could always unload it for a tidy profit. Given the popularity and high profile of the Joker thanks to the recent “Death of the Family” storyline from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, I thought the two Andys (Kubert and Clarke) might offer something in that vein. To my surprise, this story has absolutely no connection to the faceless Joker. Instead, we get something more akin to the Joker from The Killing Joke. Ultimately, what’s most interesting about this comic book isn’t the interpretation of the Joker, but rather how Andy Kubert fares as a writer rather than as an artist. It turns out, he’s got some chops, and I’ll definitely pay attention the next time he turns up as a writer on another DC title.

What warped the man known as the Joker into becoming the most sadistic psychopath the world has ever seen? It might have been a childhood of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a demented relative. It’s clear he couldn’t have had a normal childhood, and as he and his gang wreaks havoc through Gotham City one day, the Clown Prince of Clown is struck by a sudden longing for the normality of family — or at least as normal a notion of family as he’s capable of achieving. One quick kidnapping grants the grotesque criminal a chance at parenting in the most bizarre way, as he rears a new sidekick to follow in his chaotic footsteps.

There’s one aspect of this comic book that’s quite refreshing: it stands on its own, unconnected to any other story, recent or otherwise. There’s no reference to “Zero Year,” “Death of the Family” or even The Killing Joke. There’s no connection to Forever Evil or “Villains Month” in general. It’s just a self-contained Joker story — and by that, I really mean Joker story. Batman doesn’t even turn up in these pages. I’m pleased DC Editorial didn’t dictate something that would capitalize on its event branding or marketing, instead allowing for something smaller, weirder and character-driven.

Now, this is a $3.99 comic book with only 20 pages of story. The extra buck is clearly to pay for the lenticular cover, and I’ll be honest, it’s kind of cool and eye-catching. My wife, a short time ago, walked by as I was writing, glimpsed this comic book out of the corner of her eye and asked, “Did that move?” But the good news here isn’t the cover gimmick. Instead, it’s that these 20 pages of story art seem like more than that base standard.

Andy Clarke demonstrates a versatility of style here that serves the story and characters pretty well. Whereas the main action is highly detailed and more realistic in tone, the flashbacks of a horrifically abusive childhood are slightly more surreal. For those scenes, Clarke seems to adopt an approach reminiscent of the styles of Humberto Ramos or Chris Bachalo. For the Joker scenes, Clarke seems to be channelling his inner Arthur Adams. The detail with which he conveys some of the Joker’s atrocities is brutal at times, and I found myself wishing he’d hint more at the twisted notions and crimes rather than show them so overtly.

Kubert’s plot incorporates some gruesome methods of murder, so over the top and cruel that they were somewhat off-putting. This is far from the first time we’ve seen this sort of torture porn in a Joker story, so there’s definitely a certain consistency at play here. Furthermore, the awful darkness of the Joker’s crimes is clearly there to serve as a balance between the surprisingly humanizing elements that the writer brings to bear in his story. Unlike what we saw from Snyder a few months ago, this is a vision of the Joker who has some small shred of humanity within him. That the story pulls me in two directions about the central figure (one can hardly call him the hero) is definitely the strongest bit of storytelling to be found in this comic book.

When all’s said and done, I have this to say about this comic book: I’m not going to sell it on eBay. 7/10

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4 Responses to “No Laughing Matter”

  1. Captain Jim Says:

    Don said:
    “Ultimately, what’s most interesting about this comic book isn’t the interpretation of the Joker, but rather how Andy Kubert fares as a writer rather than as an artist. It turns out, he’s got some chops, and I’ll definitely pay attention the next time he turns up as a writer on another DC title.”

    That would be Damian: Son of Batman, first issue on sale Oct. 30.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks, Captain Jim. I knew DC had announced another project with Kubert writing, but it didn’t jump to mind as I was writing the review.

  3. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    Has thefourthrail.com been hacked?

  4. Dwight Williams Says:

    A good question. Just took at look at the old home page myself, and it looks like the text that was supposed to be the bulk of the “End of the Line” announcement’s been replaced by spam-boilerplate of some sort.

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