Batman: Three Jokers #1 Review: Send In The Clowns

Aug 28, 2020

There will always be the argument that the less an arch-nemeis is seen the more effective a threat they present when they eventually appear to confront the hero. The Joker, of course, is an ubiquitous presence in popular culture, and the last few years in particular have seen him regularly feature across various media in different guises, to the point where an announcement that he'll be the villain in yet another new story is perhaps met with an eye roll or a weary sigh.

It's inevitable, given the Joker's popularity and familiarity, that he'll be utilised as often as possible: like Holmes and Moriarty, or the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom, pitting the Joker against Batman is the ultimate conflict for both, everything else is secondary in comparison. And when you have a villain who's nearly as globally recognisable as the hero - and bearing in mind the lucrative nature of this particular IP - you have to accept that he's never going to be pushed into the periphery for any considerable length of time.

Of course, ubiquity doesn't necessarily equate to mediocrity. Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's recent Joker: Killer Smile may soon find itself nestled amongst the greatest Joker stories every told, while the 2019 film of the character resonated with audiences to a record-breaking and Oscar-winning extent. And now we have one of DC's premier writers turning his attention to the Clown Prince Of Crime with the long-awaited miniseries, Three Jokers.

The idea of there being more than one Joker was first posited by Johns in his Justice League story 'Darkseid War' around five years ago and various rumours went into circulation following that, with the speculation over who the three individual Jokers are only reaching the conclusion that one of them is clearly the version from Alan Moore's seminal The Killing Joke. That tale is a major influence on Three Jokers, from the cover design through to the grid layout; visually artist Jason Fabok seems to have taken much inspiration from Brian Bolland's iconic illustrations but has obviously applied his own commanding sense of structure, detail and dynamism, imbuing each panel with emotion and atmosphere (Brad Anderson's colours are essential in contributing to the latter aspect).
It's not a direct sequel to The Killing Joke but it does feel like Johns is taking the baton Alan Moore never intended to pass on in the same way as he did with Doomsday Clock (stylistically it feels very much in the same vein as the Watchmen 'sequel'). And, as with Doomsday Clock, there's the sense that Johns is applying a meta layer on top of the narrative that wants to act as a commentary or meditation on the superhero genre - here the obvious focus being the Dark Knight and his arch enemy where it was Superman in Doomsday Clock. There's a definite weight and depth to the storytelling and a genuine attempt to do something different with these characters - having them in an entirely new situation and confronting aspects of their existence that haven't been fully addressed before allows an opportunity to reveal profound truths about who they are and what they represent.

It's too early to say whether this is going to work - it's a risky conceit: the danger is that it could diminish past story arcs if we learn that it wasn't the same antagonist involved in each, but Johns has an incredible understanding of the minutiae of the DC Universe, so if anyone is going to pull it off, it's him (although whether it will actually be 'in continuity' - the suggestion has been that Black Label titles are akin to Elseworlds tales - is another matter). 

Involving Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd - two members of Batman's extended family who had their lives irrevocably changed by the Joker's machinations - is a smart move as it adds a heightened state of emotion, leading to almost inevitable moments of irrationality (Jason has always been a loose canon), and seeing the Caped Crusader in detective mode, uncovering a mystery, is always welcome. As with all Black Label books, it's a beautifully produced package and the art benefits from the presentation, leaping off the page with vibrancy and gravity. There are some incendiary moments in this debut issue, and more than enough intrigue to provide reason to continue reading the series, but, as with Doomsday Clock, it's going to be down to whether - and how - Johns sticks the landing. That will either indicate that Three Jokers will have a lasting resonance and impact or confirm that it's one Joker story too many. The early evidence is promising though.

BATMAN: THREE JOKERS #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson
DC Black Label $6.99

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