Background: In keeping with my “jumping from one thing to another” theme I’ve been having in books lately, I decided to read a graphic novel. This one had been staring at me for a while on my to-read pile – and really, you can’t help but notice it with a cover like this – so I gave it a go.
Review: This is the first book that I’ve read that’s entirely devoted to Joker – I’ve never read Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, which seems to be lauded as the best in the subject. And even though I’ve read a few Batman comics, I have to admit that my biggest experience with Joker before this was Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight. I loved Joker’s character in the movie. It’s up there with my favourite villains of all time. So, going into the book, I was keen to delve deeper into his mind.
Did the book succeed to do this? Overall, I have to say, unfortunately, it didn’t. The premise seemed interesting – Joker being mysteriously released from the Arkham asylum, eager to get control of the city back from those who had usurped it while he was away – and the artwork grabbed me immediately. We see the story told through the eyes of Jonny Frost (though there is at least a couple of scenes we get to look at where he isn’t present), who at times seems a bit too simple as a character, almost verging on straight-forward, but actually, towards the end of the book, he was probably the only character whose actions I understood. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t get the rest.
Joker especially was a disappointment (it was, after all, a book about him). I expected, of course, a sociopath, but his actions in the movie, while horrifying from everyone else’s point of view, made sense inside his own world. He was ruthless while still managing to outwit everyone. In this book, he is released from the asylum and goes around killing people and trying to get money, supposedly to wrestle control of the city back into his hands… And he does only that for most of the book. There’s no finesse in his actions (which is interesting since later in the book he accuses Jonny Frost of being too obvious and having no finesse). He seems to be no more than a deranged lunatic who likes killing people.
Maybe I was wrong to base my expectations on the movie. But the book does nothing to get one’s mind off Heath Ledger’s rendition of Joker – the design seems to be based on him, actually. And the dark, haunted look of the city also bears an uncanny resemblance to the movie.
I didn’t get Batman’s actions either. He’s dormant for most of the book, only reacting when Harvey Dent asks him to. I won’t get into the reasons Dent asks him for help to avoid spoilers, but it all seemed a bit too loose to me. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that nothing is explained in this book – not the reasons why he was released, nor his actions, nor why he seems to be taken by surprise when Batman strikes back – which would be fine by me if the book offered some kind of psychological exploration of the characters. It doesn’t. The only character where it succeeds at this somewhat is Jonny Frost.
However, the book did keep me interested to the end, and the main reason for that was the artwork. Beginning with the cover (which made my mother systematically turn the book face down – literally – because, she claimed, it creeped her out) to the beautiful panels inside, I thought it was great throughout. The style goes from clear-cut inks to a more painterly look, and does this without seeming disconnected, but instead adding a strangeness that was lacking in the story. There were also a couple of moments that stood out for me, even if the story didn’t; one of those happens in the meeting Harvey Dent has with Jonny Frost, in which he tells him, regarding his loyalty to the Joker:
You know you are involved with a sick man who will see you die? He will stand over your body, with your blood on his hands and I promise you he will laugh… Not because your life means nothing to him. But because death, for him… Is the punch line.
Overall, I chose to give it three stars because I liked reading it, and even though it fell short of my expectations (except for the artwork), I don’t consider it to have been a waste of time.
What’s Next: Since everyone seems to have great things to say about Alan Moore’s book, I added it to my wishlist. I’ll also definitely be checking out other works by the artist, Lee Bermejo, since the book got me curious.
I don’t know what I’ll be reading next. I’m undecided between reading one of the short Penguin “Great Ideas” books I have laying around, or an art book. Or maybe both. Next week I will be a bit busy work-wise, so I’m not sure when I will write another review… But stay tuned for other book-related updates.