Friday, December 19, 2008

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Joker

A little late to the party, but classy as always, Collection Spotlight is finally back and ready to kick more ass then a Thunder God on steroids. This time, we’re going Graphic on you, with a Graphic Novel Spotlight as we take a look at the new original Graphic Novel following Batman’s legendary nemesis, the Joker.

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Artist: Lee Bermejo

Story Comments: One thing right off the bat that helps make this book work is Azzarello deciding not to make the Joker our narrator. Some villains just don’t work as the narrator, and the Joker has always been one of those villains. Rather Jonny Frost tells our tale as he is tightly held under Joker’s grip.

It starts out nicely, as we get a good sweep of Gotham City and its dark and insane streets and Jonny’s first confrontation with the Mad Man himself is priceless. From the moment Joker opens his mouth it soon becomes obvious that Azzarello has a strong respect for the character in that he doesn’t play up the annoyingly crazy ass nut-job that so many other writers affectionately do for him. Sometimes that works, other times it gets annoying very fast.

One thing this book is not is tame, Azzarello doesn’t seem to hold back from really going wild with what he’s given and while there are some annoying restrictions here and there that do hinder the overall mature tone of this book, we never lose sight of just how powerful the story can get.

It’s oddly nice to see classic Bat-villains in this odd more realistic portrayal, my favorite of course being Killer Croc as he’s a bit of an odd character here. He’s still stupid old Croc, but at the same time, Azzarello really portrays this odd…I’m not even sure how to put it, but this primal perfection to Croc. Something about him just really stands out nicely and I like it.

I should say this before I get too far in the review; the only character that was missing from this book was Catwoman. I can understand if Azzarello wanted to leave her out, or if it was one of the editor’s decisions, but seeing as Azzarello so brilliantly re-invents some of these characters and how well he uses them, Catwoman would have fit in perfectly here. But oh well, perhaps if there is a second volume to this tale.

Now the overall story has a great build of beginning, middle and end. Jonny’s narration is strong through and through as he’s made out to the be typical every man, but not to the point where he’s so “every man” that he’s un-relatable. Azzarello creates a strange character here really. We see good and bad to Jonny, but when push comes to shove, Jonny is just what every man wants deep down. Power. To be on the in. We can deny it all we want, but deep down, no matter how good natured a man is, all he wants in life really is the sheer power and ability to be free, even if a law hangs above him.

Still, Jonny dissolves his likeable persona near the end of the book and by the time the book is over, his fate is oddly satisfying for me personally as he soon paints himself out to be far more malevolent then he realizes. It’s almost like looking in a mirror, seeing how deep you can go before you get a gun to your head.

But I’m jumping the gun here, the story overall has yet to be fully covered.

The most powerful of all the plots that go along with Joker’s little adventure is a confrontation with Two-Face. I’ll say this, I was disappointed that Azzarello didn’t do a lot with good ol’ Harvey Dent. I felt there was more that he could have done with the character and what we get here was a little disappointing. However, the way his hostile attitude effects Joker was hauntingly well done.

After Joker gets yet another skipped call from Dent, he burns down his bar in rage. We then see him shaking and crying as he hugs Harley in tears. It’s one of those…hauntingly humanizing moments. With some characters, you just can’t make them more human it can’t be done. So rather then trying to paint Joker as a giant sap and cry-baby, we see him as, deep down, there is a scrap of emotion. It’s not all giggles and it’s rare to actually see the Joker of all people crying. I dare say it’s brilliant again on Azarello’s part in how personal and well done it is, yet there is no dialogue to this moment.

Another well reinvented character here is the Penguin, who is never called by that name but rather his real name Abner. This I have a problem with in that while I, a bat-veteran, recognize it but I seriously doubt newbies to the Bat-franchise are going to pick up on this and wonder what Joker is doing talking to some fat midget. Still, looking past that, Abner is nicely done here and his interactions with Joker where great.

I’d have to say my favorite part is when the Riddler makes a cameo. His conversation with Joker, short as it is, is incredible. As they converse, you can almost see these two trying to figure the other out. Though the moment ends with a spark of genius for our Clown as he solves the Joker’s riddle in a very creepy way.

The overall tale of Joker trying to take back Gotham is a strong one as we see his grand face off with Two-Face and his cruel tactics are exactly what he’d do. Azzarello truly understands something about Joker that too many people forget, the Joker does not think, he merely acts. That is what’s so wild about this villain, he doesn’t look before leaping, he merely leaps and if it gets him in hot water then tough shit. And trust me, the Joker get close to the boiling point plenty of times.

The final face off with the Dark Knight was great, a strong cap-off for the book, but I must say the ending (which no I will not spoil) was anti-climactic as all hell. While Jonny’s final say on the whole mess fits nicely, I felt there was a few more pages needed to really bring the ending home. Still, a great story for what it is, characters are all done incredibly well and I must say, Azzarello spares no fancy juggling act for us to behold.

Art Comments: Lee Bermejo is an incredible artist that much is obvious right as you open this book. But his art seems to do an odd transition from penciled work to painted art. It’s an odd transition indeed and can seem so random at first. But now…not to be one of those guys that analyzes everything to death but I think I have a slight theory.

More then often the penciled artwork follows how Jonny sees the world. He views it in a more dirty and simplistic looking world where the colors don’t pop out as much. But then we get several moments that are more from Joker’s perspective in how he sees a luscious world of darkly painted beauty. Now it’s not always painted with Joker I know, but I’m just stating a possibility here.

Still, I have to give Bermejo some serious credit as his work here is, through and through, stunning. Joker constantly looks great, no one ever has an awkward moment or look out of place and it conveys the already well written story very nicely.

Final comments: Joker is a strangely brilliant tale, but it’s obviously not for everyone. I doubt anyone who is fairly new to Batman can really enjoy this as there’s a lot of things that more seasoned fans will appreciate and enjoy. Still, I can’t deny it was a good read and the art was great. So while everyone may not love it, I personally enjoyed the hell out of it and highly recommend to all interested.

Must Buy

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