Joker has always been one of the greatest–if not the greatest–superhero foe. He’s a madman with no regard for human life but he does it with a smile and usually, a ridiculously over the top plan to cause absolute chaos. What makes Joker such an interesting case study for comic fans and comic writers alike is that he doesn’t have to be over-the-top, and to make him more grounded is to make him more terrifying. That’s what drew me to read and review Joker.
Joker, written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, is a comic book that is entirely about a realistic Joker in a realistic Gotham. Joker stays the same, but his methods are more grounded–more real world gangster–than what we’ve seen of Joker before.
Azzarello and Lee have worked together a few times and their notable work within the DC Universe (aside from Joker) is Lex Luthor: Man of Steel which is a noir/pulp take on why Lex Luthor feels he needs to be a constant foe to Superman. Azzarello and Lee both have gritty styles that suit each other perfectly, and their comics are always intricately written and drawn.
The characters in Joker include Joker (duh), Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and Two-Face, with a brief (and Imean really brief) appearance of the Dark Knight in the last few pages of the comic. Surprisingly though, the story isn’t out of the perspective of any of these characters. The story comes courtesy of a low-level criminal named Johnny Frost that has the good luck (or bad depending on how you look at it) of becoming Joker’s right hand man. Having a new character weigh in on what’s happening around him is a really intense experience. He believes working for Joker will be a good thing, but as the story wears on and Johnny sees Joker for what he really is, that shiny veneer begins to fade and Johnny, along with readers, begin to see the Joker in a new light–no easy feat for a character with as many stories as Joker.
The characters are also given a small tweaking to make them more original to the writer. As an example, usually talkative Harley Quinn is silent: she never utters a single word throughout the whole comic.
The art style in Joker is gritty and realistic. There’s a lot of shadows, and a lot of sharp, square angles. For close ups, Bermejo softens his style and the sharp angles are replaced by smooth, regular features while the colours, that are stark and/or lacking in most panels, are more plentiful and blended together. Overall, the colour scheme is drab, but the excessive details–especially in clothing and cars–make up for the subdued colour palate.
Joker is a great comic book. It shows the crime in Gotham like crime in the real-world and that’s something you don’t usually get in comic books. Joker’s still bat-shit crazy, but also has his moments of weakness, and that’s also something that’s fairly original. The art style is unique and beautiful in it’s sharp-edged, drab colour way and the story is fantastic.
My final thoughts on Brian Azzarello’s Joker are that it is a terrific comic book. Read it more than once to really get it and let your mouth water at the art style. Keep in mind it’s incredibly violent and for mature audiences only, but for me, that only added to the charm. In Joker, Azzarello showed what Gotham would be like in the real world and it’s disturbing, but more than compelling enough to read this comic book over and over again.