Yes, that’s the entirety of Batman 23.1, also known as Joker #1 for this month’s big DC Villains Month event. Shipping in standard and very limited 3D lenticular covers, Villains Month puts the spotlight on the villains of the DC Universe.
Joker, being the most arch of Batman’s rivals, gets first crack with the .1 of the various Batman books releasing this month, and the end result is a head-scratching story that gives the Joker a bit of an origin story that actually manages to work against him.
It isn’t the first time a writer’s tackled Joker’s motivation by way of origin, and the closest readers have come to getting a true origin story was Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which Joker explained away as a possible version of what happened.
In Batman 23.1, the Joker looks back on his distant past, coping with horiffic memories living with his abusive Aunt Eunice. Memories of being scrubbed with bleach, underfed, and physically beaten have taken their toll, and the Joker sees fit to start a new family by stealing a newborn gorilla from the zoo.
Joker names his adopted protege Jackanapes and raises him to be a mischievous terror over the years. The issue culminates with a hit on a council-woman working to close the Gotham City Zoo. After hijacking the dirigible, the Joker and Jackanapes gas the councilwoman and her security detail, which backfires when the mutated passengers fight back.
The Joker manages to land safely, but Jackanapes disappears over the bridge when he fails to pop his glider wings. The Joker moves on, planning to one day adopt again, though he admits his newer proteges may never live up to the legend of Jackanapes.
It’s an issue that works to develop a new villain for the Batman universe, but it feels so ridiculous and unnecessary because of what it essentially does to the Joker’s character. The Joker as an absolute has worked well — he exists, he is, and he does. Humanizing him does little for his character, and giving him a backstory filled with childhood trauma and abuse does the worst thing to the Joker — it lowers his stature by making him like all the other villains coming from broken homes.
The story of the Joker adopting a gorilla doesn’t seem too far of a stretch, and that’s not the main problem with the issue. The biggest thing working against this month’s story is that it doesn’t go far enough. When it does manage to crack a laugh, it’s unintentionally funny — check the page where Jackanapes looks super serious as a mercenary sidekick in clown suit.
It’s a difficult issue to read because Kubert’s direction and execution works against the overall story. There’s gore and some horrific moments, but the lack of a punchline — or even the joke — effectively kills the issue. There’s a dearth of glood and doom, especially when Jackanapes begins to show signs he might not be cut out for murder and destruction, and the giddy glee of the Joker finding someone to relate to actually deflates his character because he’s the one character no one should relate to.
The brightest spot this issue is the artwork. Andy Clarke’s scratch and sketch for the Joker’s backstory looks great and would be a great fit for a horror story. Clarke also draws a great Joker who personifies the sad businessman type. Action is fluid, and Clarke knows how to tell a story through illustration.
The colors by Blond give lighting to the panels that really makes the characters pop. Blond uses vignettes to bring the eyes to the center and highlight what’s important on the pages. It’s great work with spot-on colors that fit the story and characters.
It’s a shame that the Joker’s story fails to deliver on the goods. For a character as prankish, devoid of morals, and insanely funny, Batman 23.1 feels like the kind of story idea left on the drawing room floor that writers bring up on occasion.
Remember that one issue we were going to do? That would have been weird.
Well, they did the issue. It just wasn’t weird enough.
Next Issue: Batman #23.2 Review