Batman #23.1: The Joker Review

(w) Andy KubertBM_23-1-Joker_js43a0q4ji_

(a) Andy Clarke

I don’t know if this is Andy Kubert’s first foray into writing. I’ve enjoyed his artwork for years now, but I’ve never followed the man enough to know if he has any writing credits. But artists-turned-writers are not that uncommon now at DC Comics. The ‘New 52’ started off with big-hitter David Finch co-writing Batman: The Dark Knight, Francis Manapul co-writes The Flash while also providing the artwork most months, and Chris Burnham added Batman Incorporated #11 and a short story in Batman Incorporated Special #1 to his resume. It’s a good time for artists to take a stab at writing.

 

That being said, Batman #23.1: Joker is not terribly interesting. Maybe it’s because we got such an in-depth look at Joker during “Death of the Family”, or maybe it’s because the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin will — most likely — be featured in the current “Zero Year” arc, but this issue doesn’t add a lot to Joker’s mythos.

** SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION **

Batman #23.1 focuses on Jackanapes, a young gorilla Joker “adopts” and raises as his sidekick, more or less. The concept is meant to humanize Joker a bit, presenting a side of him that desires structure and familiarity of some sort. “Family” is, in practice, a tool of social order, which is something we’re not used to the Joker understanding. Unfortunately, it feels like Kubert didn’t go far enough. Obviously, the Joker is still insane because he murders the mother gorilla in order to secure the baby. Yet, we also see him genuinely invested in the life of his adopted gorilla son. It almost works until the final pages when Jack doesn’t pop the escape wings in his backpack and seemingly falls to his death in the river below.

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Joker seems upset; he frowns and wonders quietly to himself “Why Jack? Why didn’t you pop your wings?” But that sentiment quickly fades away when Joker does what he does best and makes a sick joke about wanting a refund for swimming lessons. Normally, I’d say this kind of behavior makes sense for Joker, but in Batman #23.1, it feels forced, like Kubert didn’t know how to end the story, so he fell back on the Joker’s penchant for compartmentalizing his emotions. It’s a bit cheap and unsatisfying.

As far as the art goes, Andy Clarke does a bang-up job on this issue. Joker’s facial expressions and Jack’s final pages are mesmerizing and full of emotion.

Batman #23.1: Joker is a missed opportunity to give the Joker more depth. Introducing the character Jackanapes may have sounded good on paper, but by the end of the issue, it didn’t feel like a Joker comic book much at all. Mostly, it felt like DC wanted to introduce Jackanapes and didn’t know how else to do it, which is not a good enough reason.

GRADE

4/10

BATMAN #12

STORY: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
ART: Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke,  and Sandu Florea

Scott Snyder is slowly turning into the Christopher Nolan of the comic book industry – in more ways than one, Snyder has influenced not only Batman’s world, but the DC universe at-large. Even before the ‘New 52’ reboot, Snyder was toying with Gotham City as a focal point of Batman’s stories. Though this might seem cliched and overused, Gotham as a part of the story has become less and less pertinent to Batman arcs over the years. Really, the last time the city itself was the focal point was during the incredible “War Games” story that turned Bruce’s hometown into a raging warzone in the battle between Gotham’s criminal organizations. Snyder has revived Gotham City as a sort-of tertiary character that has a part to play in the story beyond the setting. As the first issue not having to do with the Court of Owls, Batman #12 is a phenomenal stand-alone issue that excellently blends deep comic knowledge with more well-known, broader ideas that all work together to successfully introduce a new character, Harper Row, into the Batman mythos.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like. I was immediately put off by Becky Cloonan’s artwork, and also Andy Clarke’s later on. After 11 great issues with Greg Capullo’s unique style, Cloonan’s work looks like Japanese manga, and sloppy manga at that. When Harper’s younger brother, Cullen, is harassed and beat up, the kids cut his hair awkwardly, yet until Andy Clarke took over, neither Cullen’s – nor Harper’s after she cuts it to match out of solidarity – looks terribly bad. Sure, the kids at school laugh at them, but it’s not really evident why. Once Clark takes over, his overly-realistic technique finally conveys the sentiment behind the head-shaving, but sacrifices any beauty in character faces.

Beyond the art, this issue is superb. Harper Row showed up briefly in issue one and seven during Bruce’s ‘let’s change Gotham’ speech where he unveiled his plans to upgrade the city, and she’s back as the focus of this issue. Snyder is one of the few select writers who strikes an amazing balance between showing and telling audiences what is going on in a given narrative.

Batman #12 sets the gears into motion concerning the expansion of Batman’s supporting cast. While unmemorable figures, like Bruce’s girlfriend over in Batman: The Dark Knight, have started popping up in a bunch of the Bat Family books, Harper Row is already one of the most interesting ones in the group. Harper and Cullen live in the Narrows, which you’ll remember as the run-down part of Gotham that was heavily featured in 2005’s Batman Begins. Harper works for Gotham’s electric company, spending her days below ground surveying and maintaining the power grid that runs through the entire city. After a run-in with the Batman, Harper realizes that the Dark Knight has a system to hack into the grid and use it for his own purposes. Because of the grid’s age, Harper knows it can’t be remote access, so she takes to the sewers to find evidence of Batman’s tinkering.

While not an exceptionally flashy piece of tech, Harper finds a ‘Batbox’, one of many such devices that old Bats has placed at strategic junctures all over the city’s grid. While it’s primary use seems to be making sure images of the Batman stay off security feeds and the such, Harper also discovers that they are also sapping power from Wayne Industry buildings and reappropriating it for Gotham’s grid – in effect, they’re helping keep Gotham’s energy infrastructure afloat.

The fate of Harper Row is still to be determined. Though she’s just been introduced, she already has a (somewhat) direct line to Batman, something not many people can claim. It’s almost as if Snyder is setting the stage for Harper to put on a cape and become another ally in Batman’s army against crime. In interviews, Snyder has hinted that Harper will be a big part of Batman in the coming months along with the “true” debut of the Joker in the ‘New 52’ universe.

GRADE
B+

(NIGHT OF THE OWLS) BATMAN AND ROBIN #9

STORY: Peter J. Tomasi
ART: Lee Garbett, Andy Clarke, Ray McCarthy, and Keith Champagne

First off, I want to apologize for not writing up reviews for Batwing and Detective Comics last week. I know I said I would be covering all issues of DC’s ‘New 52’ connected to Batman’s “Night of the Owls” event, but those two issues were downright boring. I understand the desire to want an Bat Family-wide crossover to it’s fullest, but those two titles felt soooo forced, I just couldn’t write enough about them – good or bad – to justify a review.

That being said, Batman and Robin #9 is a much better (if not great) chapter in the “Night of the Owls” saga, one that sees Robin on his own in a surprising new light: commanding officer. Damien’s role in the counteroffensive against the Talons takes him outside Gotham city limits to find and protect Major General Benjamin Burrows, and it just so happens Burrows is running night drills with his troops.

Damien goes into military mode, barking orders and setting precise formations to best defend against the undead assassin. It’s a little confusing, how Batman and his allies so readily put others in the line of fire to protect others. Basically, Robin is forced to outrun the Talon by leaving foot soliders behind to slow it’s advance – a decision Damien knows will lead them to their death. I understand that Burrows is a target and that his status makes him a key player in Gotham, but it seems negligent to allow soliders to be slaughtered in a scenario they weren’t ready or trained for. Of course, this could be exactly how Peter J. Tomasi wanted to play it.

The story falls apart, somewhat, when General Burrows’ family history is injected. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington promised a large sum of land to Edwin Wilkins. When Wilkins was taken by the British, this specific Talon was called upon to murder Wilkins and his family to secure the promised land for the Court of Owls. The Talon was successful with all but the youngest Wilkins son, who somehow survived and was adopted by the Burros family, making General Burrows the last surviving descendent of Edwin Wilkins. Now, this Talon asked to come after Gen. Burrows to finally complete the mission he was given over 200 years ago.

This connection between the Talon and Burrows would make a whole lot more sense if Burrows still owned the land, or anything like that. In the flashback, the Talon even says that the Court eventually took control of the land, so why does he care so much about killing Burrows? It doesn’t make much sense and pulls down a book that was pretty damn good up to that point.

GRADE:
B-