In this Villains Unleashed installment, Andy Kubert and Andy Clarke present us with a kinder, gentler Joker, a Joker who tries his hand at raising a child, even if said child is a baby gorilla he stole from the zoo. What does being a dad mean to the Clown Prince of Crime? Major Spoilers finds out!
It’s a kinder, gentler Joker
Cool holographic cover
Plot is nothing spectacular
Previously in BATMAN: For all of Bruce Wayne’s attempts to level up and become the Batman we know and love today, his home was attacked by the Red Hood Gang, leading to his nearly being beaten and burned alive. After being patched up and having a brief moment of contemplation, Bruce Wayne figures out the perfect place for his base of operations. Also, the man who would become the Riddler offed his former boss, Philip Kane, and stole away into the night.
YET ANOTHER ONE WITH A CHILD-ABUSE RIDDLED PAST
The Joker’s past is slightly dissected as we see glimpses of both his childhood and his attempt at raising a ‘child’ (said child being a baby gorilla he stole from the zoo and named Jackanapes).
There is something slightly insulting occurring amongst villains and their back-stories. In this book, Kubert suggests that the Joker was the victim of child abuse, growing up in a home where his aunt scrubbed him down with bleach, fed him next to nothing, and regularly punched him. Plus, it’s suggested he may have been the targeting of school bullying on top of everything else.
Thing is, what does all this say about people who have survived child abuse or school bullying? Why is it that a number of villains come from such backgrounds? There are many people who have survived such instances and didn’t turn into murdering serial killers. Should someone who did have such a past pick up this issue—or any other issue pertaining to a villain’s backstory where the villain was abused growing up—it might be a bit off-putting.
If someone really wanted to give a villain a past that stood out—especially someone like the Joker—it might be a bit more unsettling to give him an average and even slightly loving childhood. It’d add a degree of depth that is too often passed over in an effort to garner sympathy for a villain or make a villain seem “edgier.”
Putting all of that aside, though, the book is fairly average. While the plot is off-putting, the writing is very good—with the foremost example being a verbally detailed account of a man being eaten alive by a boa constrictor. It was also sort of fun to see the Joker portrayed as an affectionate caretaker, potentially loving Jackanapes in as much as he can and having an ever so brief touch of remorse towards the end of the book.
HUH… THE JOKER BLEACHES HIS TEETH…
The heavily etched art of Andy Clarke gives this book a more realistic tone than some of the other villain books out there, pulling the reader towards something less cartoonish for the majority of the issue. Moments in the Joker’s present are more brightly colored and less heavily shadowed or distorted, while his moments of reflecting his childhood are considerably darker, with the coloring being more on the blotchy side than it’s regular tidiness throughout the issue.
Clarke has also managed to really catch the Joker’s emotive side, zeroing on moments of his reflection, love, pride, and even sadness, features that one doesn’t typically get to see in the Joker regularly. Since most artists prefer to focus on the horrible and insane when dealing with him, it’s nice to see a few different emotions on his face for once.
It’s important to note that, out of all the holographic covers, this is the cover you want to buy. It’s arguably the most detailed and most in touch with the villain it features. Most of the cover is distorted and heavily rooted in the insane, seemingly always caught somewhere in the Joker’s fractured psyche. The only thing that is clear is his face, emphasizing him as a whole. It’s a really good cover and plays with the holographic medium quite nicely.
This book is one of those stories that can be classified as “meh.” Other than the hurtful subtext of ‘victims of child abuse will become psychopaths’, the story is only okay at best. It’s not the best Villains Unleashed story out there, but it’s also not the worst. The holographic cover is very good and Clarke manages to create a more emotive character, but it’s really not enough to save the book. Overall, this is, disappointingly, one you could probably skip. Overall, Batman #23.1 earns two and a half stars out of five.