Joker/Mask (2001)

“Wait! Where’s the SWAT team? I don’t see the SWAT team! I don’t even rate the SWAT team anymore.”

Joker/Mask is the collection of a four issue series from DC and Dark Horse. The story was written by Henry Gilroy with art from Ramon F. Bachs and Howard M. Shum. I have not seen the work of any of these creators before but Gilroy is a co-writer on the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series among other animation series credits. Bachs is a Spanish artist who has worked on a number of Star Wars comics as well as some titles for Marvel and DC.  Shum is a writer on a number of titles as well as an artist.

The Joker decides to go to a museum and blow up an exhibition featuring frowning clown masks. However his day does not go well as the head henchman has sent the other henchmen to the wrong location and Harley Quinn has removed the detonators from all the explosives. But the henchman discovers a mask that gives the wearer a manic energy and superhuman powers. Wearing the mask, the Joker is able to beat Batman severely enough that he is out of action feared dead and the Joker is left free to pursue his insane agenda across Gotham while monopolising the television airwaves. Harley fears for the Joker and enlists Poison Ivy’s help to remove the mask from the Joker before he blows up Gotham for real.

This story features the Joker on maximum overdrive and overkill. Even Harley Quinn finds it hard to continue to love her Mister J and the Joker/Mask has to keep coming up with wilder and more extreme exploits to stop himself becoming bored with how easy committing crime is with super powers. While there is some really good comic moments in this book, the manic intensity of the Joker/Mask combination is sometimes too much for the reader as it is for the characters in the story. With the Joker/Mask as the main character throughout the book, the pressure to come up with gag after gag relentlessly is a perhaps a drag on the writing.

I liked the art from Bachs and Shum. It is very cartoony in style but fit in well with cartoon qualities of the Mask and the manifestation of his powers. There are even some lovely renderings of Poison Ivy as well.

A quick and cheerful read that won’t change your life but is worth a look if you can find it.

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.

Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 (2006)

 

Quote:
One son returns from the grave as another enters it. What a fitting ending this has become.

 

This book collects Batman 645 to 650 and Batman Annual 25 and was again written by Judd Winick continuing the story he started in volume 1. The art duties were carried out by a number of pencillers (3) and inkers (5).

Batman has come to accept that Jason Todd has returned from the dead – if he even was dead as the coffin appears unused. The trouble is that the Red Hood continues to spoil the Black Mask’s crime operations with little regard for the lives of the criminals involved. Batman must choose whether or not to help Jason when members of the Society are sent after him. Meanwhile, Jason is holding the Joker hostage as a pawn in a game where he confronts Batman about his moral code.

I loved the bulk of this book, the issues taken from the main series, and the continuing story of Jason Todd’s quest for answers as to why Batman has allowed the Joker to continue to live. I am slightly conflicted in the bringing back of characters from the dead. I was collecting the Bat-books back when the Death in the Family story line was running and there is a part of me that does not want the emotional investment that was made at that time discarded for a cheap thrill now. The portion of the story taken from the Batman Annual that explains how Jason is still alive is the weakest part of the book – there is a big Deus ex Machina involved and I never like that. I feel they could have come up with something better and, as they had to use a resurrection pit anyway, maybe Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul could have hatched some scheme that would have had the same result. Anyway I did enjoy the two books enormously – I just wish that the companies could commit to killing off characters permanently.

Batman: Under the Hood (2005)

 

Quote:
I think about when he was younger. When I was younger. It was a different time. Simpler. And … I miss it. I miss those days. For that … It’s hard to be around him.

 

This book collects Batman 635 to 641 and was written by Judd Winick who wrote the enjoyable Blood + Water for Vertigo. The pencillers were Doug Mahnke and Paul Lee with inks by Tom Nguyen and Paul Smith.

With the Black Mask settling down to rule Gotham’s underworld, a new player in the form of the Red Hood comes to town to disrupt his operations. Batman encounters the Red Hood and despite himself is impressed with his training while thinking that it looks all too familiar. His thoughts on recently deceased partners and colleagues cause him to seek out heroes that have returned from the dead in search of answers that he cannot accept.

Another great story from Winick featuring cameos from Nightwing, Green Arrow, Zatanna and Superman. It also has some cameos from the villains, Mr Freeze, the Joker and Amazo. If you don’t know who the Red Hood is before reading this book then you should know before the reveal as it is telegraphed pretty heavily throughout the book – with the themes of regret over lost colleagues and heroes returning from the dead. But despite that it is a fun story and well worth a read. The art is good too and reminds me at times of Frank Quitely and other times of Steve Dillon with a touch of Paul Gulacy thrown into the mix too.

Gotham City Sirens: Union (2010)

 

Quote:
“… I was livin’ it up as personal court jester to the Clown Prince of Crime!”

“You know he hates being called that.”

“I’m sure he prefers it to “Puddin'”!”

 

This book collects the first seven issues of this new series – one of a few started in the aftermath of the Batman R.I.P. storyline. It was written by Paul Dini who of course is no stranger to the Batman world having written Batman comics and been heavily involved with some of the Batman animated series. He is also the co-creator of Harley Quinn who is one of the lead characters in the book. The art is by a newcomer to DC, the Spanish artist Guillem March.

Gotham City is a strange place in wake of Batman’s death. Dick Grayson takes over as Batman with Bruce Wayne’s son as Robin. The Riddler gives up a life of crime. And Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn become BFF and move into Selina’s soon to be converted animal shelter. The story outlines how the girls run into each other and end up with Selina, a plot by Hush, posing as Bruce Wayne, to get revenge on Catwoman through Harley and a jealous Joker’s attempts to kill Harley for associating with Wayne.

I really wanted to love this book but it ended up being just OK. The action is a bit slow in getting going and is not helped by the third chapter, called Riddle Me This, that inexplicably only features our heroines on one page and details a story featuring a team-up between the Riddler and Batman to try and prevent a crime that has a puzzle element to it. The second half of the book is much better with Poison Ivy and Catwoman tracking down Hush and rescuing Harley before becoming targets of the Joker’s apparently insane jealousy. The final chapter in the book is another filler story. So it was disappointing that a new series had two seemingly filler stories in its first seven issues and that the whole did not really hang together as a storyline as much as it should have. The fact that the story improved in issues 4 – 6 is enough to give me hope that a second volume is worth investigating but the writing needs to be a lot more focussed on the central characters and have a stronger plotline.

Batman: Secrets (2007)

This book collects issues 1 to 5 of the mini-series of the same name. It was written and drawn by Sam Kieth – creator of the Maxx and Zero Girl. I love Keith’s style of drawing and probably first came across him on the Epicurus the Sage books and most lately on the Arkham Asylum: Madness graphic novel from last year. While I like his drawing I am not such a big fan of his writing.

A recently paroled Joker is photographed tangling with Batman. One of the photos causes a press sensation when it looks like Batman is threatening Joker with a gun. Inspired by this Joker courts the media and tries to orchestrate a media campaign to turn public opinion against Batman. He is aided in these endeavours by a love struck assistant DA and an old childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s who is being blackmailed by the Joker.

I think that Kieth asks for too much suspension of disbelief in this story. First we are expected to believe that the Joker has managed to gain parole from prison – it is not clear where this story sits in the continuity of Batman but it feels like Joker has committed several previous crimes. Also an assistant DA falls in love with him and assists him in the smearing of Batman’s reputation. And finally that that the public would be so ready to turn against Batman – taking the Joker’s word and evidence over Batman’s reputation and past actions. Having said that there are a number of nice scenes between Batman and Joker as the Batman tries to find evidence of Joker’s nefarious activities.

The art on the other hand is downright sensational at times. There are some fantastic depictions of the Joker where the art reveals his inner psychosis. However Batman is sometimes not so well drawn – looking out of proportion at times. Overall the book’s strengths outweigh its deficiencies and well worth a look.

Superman: Emperor Joker (2007)

[ Sleepy Mood: Sleepy ]

This book is a multi-part story spread across various Super-titles and collects Superman #160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman: Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and Superman: Emperor Joker #1. As the story is spread across the four titles and one special so the it and the art is also divided amongst the regular creative teams on each title.
In the story, Mr Mxyzptlk has been tricked into giving his power to the Joker who uses it to reshape the universe in his image and torment his enemies. In the Joker’s universe the JLA are made up of villains, the superheroes are all villains and Batman is tortured and killed every night. Superman is subjected to a groundhog day where he escapes from Arkham but is always captured and returned by Bizarro. Mr Mxyzptlk tries to help Superman break out of the cycle so that he can return the world to normal.
This was an OK book. I think the number of writers on the story and the fact that it was spread over several titles probably didn’t help the flow – there was too much time spent on Superman’s groundhog day for me (it wasn’t until the third chapter that it was broken). The Joker didn’t make his appearance until the middle of the book which I thought was way too long – it might be fine in the monthly titles when trying to build a mystery or suspense but in the collected edition the pacing doesn’t feel right. The Joker himself is in full deranged/deluded mode as he constantly remodels the universe as he sees fit for the maximum torment of the principal characters. The fact that it has taken me a while to get through it is not a good sign – though it was also over the holidays when I had other pulls on my time – but still it was worth a read to see the Joker go up against the boy scout (though he still needed help from you-know-who).

Batman: Dead to Rights (2010)

 

This book collects Batman Confidential #22-25 and 29-30. It is written by Andrew Kreisberg with pencils by long-time Batman artist Scott McDaniel. The writer is new to me but I enjoyed this story so I might look out for more books that he has written – as well as working on Batman Confidential he has written for the Green Arrow and Black Canary comic.

The book contains two related stories – Do You Understand These Rights? and Good Cop, Bad Cop. The first features Batman’s delivery of the Joker to GCPD for the first time. The Joker uses his right to a phone call to induce the wife of one of the detectives to commit suicide which leads to the breakdown of that character. Meanwhile Batman and the police slowly come to realise the nature of the new kind of criminal that they are faced with in the Joker as he continues his killing spree while in custody – killing a judge and an expert witness, on separate occasions, while sitting in the courtroom. In the second story, the former detective Shancoe breaks out of Arkham and attacks the police academy and threatens Jim Gordon’s life in an attempt to die in a blaze of glory than be remembered for his crimes when the Joker destroyed his life.

I really liked this book – especially the first story – it was a nice look into the start of the demented relationship the Joker has with Batman. The Joker was well portrayed as the totally psychotic killer who the police have trouble understanding and containing. The second story also had its nice moments with a cameo from Montoya as a recruit at the academy and a young Barbara Gordon acting coolly as her father was held hostage at the climax of the story.

TDK

[ Happy Mood: Happy ]
So it has finally opened in the UK and I am sitting at my computer for the first time since seeing it. I’ve got to say that I thought it was great! It was brilliant!! It was awesome!!! It was any superlative that you want to enter here …

Despite the name, I feel that was not a Batman film but a Joker one and as such it rocked my world to bits. Heath Ledger was outstanding as the Joker. For me he nailed a perfect portrayal of the dark and twisted clown prince of crime. He was psychotic. He was funny. He was a joy to watch.

Some people have expressed dismay or disappointment with the Joker’s makeup – I loved it. I think it fit in well with his fractured mind and the need to hide the irregular scarring around his mouth.

Finally, I also loved the makeup job on Two Face very much. All my attention has been on Ledger and his take on the Joker and I have missed any talk or pictures of Two Face. I wasn’t expecting something so graphically visceral. Excellent!