The Joker’s Last Laugh #1-6 (2001)

“Didn’t figure you for the prayin’ type, boss.”

“Why? Because I kill people and do really rotten things to puppies and kittens?”

My first digital comics read on my new tablet is this six part series from DC. The series writers were Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. There were numerous artists on the series: Pete Woods; Andrew Pepoy; Marcos Martin; Mark Farmer; Alvaro Lopez; Walter McDaniel; Andy Kuhn; Ron Randall; Rick Burchett; Mark Lipka; Dan Davis.

While incarcerated at the Slabside Penitentiary, the Joker is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. He reacts by inciting a riot and using the prison’s own defences to “jokerize” the other inmates – may of whom are super-villains. Having created his own super-army, the Joker escapes and lets them loose upon the world hoping that he will be killed by an old friend before he dies.

The annoying thing about this series is that it is not self contained. And for a series featuring the Joker there is not nearly enough scenes in which he appears. The chaos caused by the Joker ripples throughout the DC Universe and some of the action takes place in other comics. This would be fine if the main series told its own story consistently but instead there are scene and plot changes between issues that are just not explained and so the story has unsatisfying holes in it. This is the reason I tend to avoid crossover events, and don’t read too many modern Marvel books where there constantly seems to a crossover happening. I hate the presumption of publishers that either readers are reading all their books or that they will stump up the extra to follow the story beyond a central series.

As I have already stated, the story is less a story about the Joker than it is about the victims of his cruelty. Oracle and Nightwing are the ones to suffer most throughout the story. Their moral stance on the Joker and his continued existence testing them and their relationship to the limit. This could have been a great story in the vein of The Killing Joke or A Death in the Family if it had been allowed to develop within its own pages with a consistent art team but the disjointed nature of the series ruins its emotional impact for me.

As I said at the start, this is my experience of digital comics and using a tablet to read them. In general my experience has been positive. I bought a 10″ Samsung tablet and the size of the visible screen is only slightly smaller than a standard comic page – which is important as I don’t like the directed zoom way of reading comics that can divorce the words from the images. A big plus is the regular sales on Comixology and Dark Horse Digital and, as there is a lot of old stuff I have still to pick up, I can wait for issues to be bundled or sold for 99 cents an issue. For example, the collection for this series is out of print and  I picked it up for $5.94 rather than the $30 which is the cheapest second hand copy on Amazon UK or Abe Books (once shipping is included). The only downside is the price of new comics that tend to be same price as the print version which has never seemed right to me for any digital media.

The New Deadwardians #1-8 (2012)

“One day I recall, I had to re-kill my entire platoon.”

The New Deadwardians #1 cover

This recently finished 8 part mini-series from Vertigo was created by writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard. Abnett has had a long career as a writer of prose books, most notably a large number of Warhammer 40K novels, and comics books mainly for Marvel and 2000AD. Ian Culbard has illustrated a number of adaptions of literary works including  Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft stories and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars.

Set in an alternate history London of 1910, a curse has spread across England since zombies (known as the Restless) first mysteriously appeared in 1861. Attracted by the living, the only cure is to become a vampire (known as the Young) an option taken up mainly by the wealthy and privileged members of society. The rest of the human race (known as the Bright) live in barricaded zones surrounded by hundreds of the Restless pressing in attracted by the living. In this setting, Chief Inspector George Suttle is called on to investigate the murder of a Young aristocrat who death is made more mysterious by not being due to one of the three ways to kill the Young. During his investigation, Suttle has to cross into a Bright zone and deal with the reawakening of long dormant desires as well as secret societies and pressure to close the case quickly without any scandal.

Abnett has taken some very old (and possibly tired) supernatural species and managed to weave a fresh story full of intrigue. The zombies are mostly background threat with a couple of incursions in the living zones of London. The most interesting relationship is between the Young and the Bright and the simmering resentment that pervades the whole series. Suttle goes through a transformative experience when made to interact with the Bright that challenges the life (or unlife) he has been leading for nearly 50 years. I liked the art by Ian Culbard and the subtle colour palette used throughout the book. Worth a look for a different take on some classic horror tropes.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat (2012)

“Welcome to Hell, John …”

With this latest collection (#283-291), the regular creative team since #250 – Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini – are just one issue away from matching the previous longest run on the series. This was the peerless run in the early 1990s by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The book contains two related stories from the long running series -The Devil’s Trench Coat and Another Season in Hell. In the first, Constantine’s niece has stolen his old trench coat and sold it. But the coat being exposed to years of magic has a will of its own that it exerts on a series of new owners leaving death in its wake. Meanwhile John finds that he is more susceptible to wild magic and not as finessed in the spells he casts. All of which results in a Mafia hit man trying to gun him down while possessed by the coat. In the second story Constantine agrees to go to Hell to speak to his sister so that his niece, Gemma, can find out why she found her mother crying one day and free her soul from Hell. While John thinks he has out-smarted the First of the Fallen, the demon comes to Earth to enlist Epiphany’s consent to bind her father’s soul to him.

During his run, Milligan has done a good job of taking Constantine back to the basics of the character and gradually introducing a darker tone to the storyline. This book contains some of the darkest material yet with the dark magic radiated from his old trench coat to Constantine’s return to Hell and his revenge on his evil twin for raping his niece. Not comfortable viewing or reading at times but a must for long time Constantine fans and horror lovers.