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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Joker

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Lee Bermejo
Colors by Patricia Mulvihill
Published by DC Comics

The team of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo never ceases to amaze and entertain me with every work they've done.  Their insightful take on the mind of Superman's greatest foe Lex Luthor in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel was impressive, and I loved the fact that they avoided telling a boring origin story and instead,  attempted to "break-in" into the mind of the genius bald-headed villain by telling a story through  Luthor's perspective.

This one is no different. 

Joker is released from the bars of the dreaded Arkham Asylum after many years and though glad that he out of the penitentiary, the clown immediately realizes that the people he trusted took everything that he has thinking that he was dead for good. Frustrated, he goes on a mission to take back what is "his" and begins the journey of rebuilding his criminal empire together with his newest recruit - a man named as Jonny Frost - who also serves as the narrator of the novel.

The novel introduces some interesting re-interpretations of Batman's classic rogues gallery that I really liked, namely Two-Face, The Penguin, Harley Quinn, The Riddler and Killer Croc. Croc in particular, is depicted as a muscular, African-American guy who has a normal physique which is totally different from the half-human/half-crocodile monster that we see in today's comic books.

The Riddler is a tattooed and crippled weapon-arms dealer in Gotham, while Harley Quinn is a stripper in one of Joker's establishments and is suggested as to having a sexual relationship with the mad Clown. Azzarello clearly has put much thought into redefining these characters and made them as real and believable as possible - a necessary ingredient for the crime-noir elements that he incorporated in this novel.

But the real treat, arguably, lies in the fact that this novel's Joker was seemingly inspired by the late Heath Ledger's portrayal in the 2008 summer blockbuster The Dark Knight. 

The close resemblance of this Joker to the man is eerie, but at the same time, awesome enough to make you feel shivers down your spine.

Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in that film is the most humane of them (and the best) all in my opinion, and Azzarello and Lee's version is very much... well... just like that. The Joker in Azzarello's world is a really disturbing and kind of vulnerable, as he is an an alcoholic and one that heavily relies on drugs and pills to get a day by. 

He is also shown to be afraid of the Batman, as suggested by him when he said that he thinks he is following him all the time.  But despite the tweaks in his personality, he is still the same maniac, crazy psychopath clown that would do whatever it takes to see the world and everything around him crumble. 

I read somewhere that the novel was created way before The Dark Knight was released on the big screen and that Azzarello nor Bermejo had an idea on what he would look like or how he will be portrayed in the movie.

If that is indeed true, I would say that this was very impressive of them. They somehow made a "blueprint" for what would become a tool for one of the most memorable acting performances in cinematic history. 

Lee Bermejo's stunning and vividly detailed art is a winner as usual. Its truly dramatic, and Bermejo captures the chaotic and murky aspects of of Gotham so well, especially its dingy and foul-stenched alleys.

And combined with the beautifully toned-down an grimy colors of Patricia Mulvihill, the overall result is a dark, dirty world that makes a great background for all of the Joker's craziness. 

And though the title of this book is "Joker", that doesn't mean that you won't see "the goddamned" Batman. Its just a matter of time for the Caped Crusader to join the show, and Azzarello doesn't disappoint. He gives us the inevitable showdown between the two freaks, masterfully drawn  by Bermejo up until the last page. 

If there was one thing flaw that I have to point out, that would be the use of one of Joker's henchman as the narrator for the story. Jonny Frost doesn't really stand out as a character and Azzarello totally forgot about giving him his own "identity" in his novel.

Jonny doesn't do anything of importance to the plot and it would have been great if he was made to be more than just a dog who follows his master wherever he went. Plus his fate down in the tale is as predictable as it could possibly get. 

As a whole, "Joker" is an entertaining 128-page read that is gorgeously hideous in its own insane way. This graphic novel has the makings of a cult classic as time goes by, something that could possibly compare to (or even surpass) the other all-time-great Joker story - Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.

If that ever happens, I think Azzarello and Bermejo has Mr. Ledger to thank for. 

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