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!

SUMMARY

Pros
It’s a kinder, gentler Joker
Cool holographic cover
Cons

Insulting insinuations
Plot is nothing spectacular

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

READER RATING!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 2.40 out of 5)
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BatmanCoverBATMAN #23.1
Writer: Andy Kubert
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Blonde
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

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.

BOTTOMLINE: SO-SO

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.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

The Author

Danielle Luaulu

Danielle Luaulu

Danielle Luaulu lives in San Francisco where she constantly toes the line between nerd and lady. As a teenager, she fell in love with Sandman’s Morpheus and started wearing lots of black. Now, she's a graduate of SFSU where she studied creative writing and lives vicariously through her level 10 drow bard. She has a love and fascination for all things super and natural, as well as supernatural. Comics are her life, as well as playing games in which she gets to be the hero or villain or a combination of both. Depends on her mood.

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5 Comments

  1. September 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm — Reply

    I prefer not know the Joker’s origin or the Killing Joke version. Victim of child abuse? Meh…seems like an easy shot at making us sympathetic to the Clown Prince of Crime.

  2. Frank
    September 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm — Reply

    Just how many villains have been created retconned to be victims of child abuse.

  3. September 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm — Reply

    I actually enjoyed this issue and was surprised by it. It gave a different look at the Joker and I think the whole child abuse angle was used to give a reasoning for the Joker wanting to start a proper “family”. Sure, the use of child abuse as a reason why a villain becomes a villain is overused and there are people who were victims of such abuse who are normal people, but it is also true that the majority of real life “psychos” (for lack of a better term) have had some form of abuse as a child. I agree though that it is much more disturbing to see a pure individual become corrupted by evil.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    September 17, 2013 at 7:42 am — Reply

    I thought it was very effective when child abuse was retconned into Harvey Dent’s backstory to explain his dark side. It made the character even more tragic and frightening.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t work for the Joker. Explaining away why the Joker turned rotten – especially by making him more sympathetic – does the character a disservice and robs his insanity of any power.

    Aren’t we in danger of abuse (or bullying) becoming shorthand used by lazy writers to explain away a villain in much the same way that suffering a parental tragedy has become shorthand for the creation of a dark hero?

    I can’t help but thinking about the Terra saga in the Teens Titans where the writer and artist showed Terra climbing out of bed with Slade. In a few panels she went from bubbly little cheerleader to smoking a post coital cigarette with the main villain – now that was shorthand done right!

  5. Tonny
    September 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm — Reply

    The way i read this issue, it wasn’t nessesarily the one real truth about the jokers upbringing that was revealed in this book.
    I think the Joker is just so far gone into insanity that at any moment he might dream up a whole new origin for himself. And this one just happend to be a lost boy who wanted to do better by his “son” than he imagined was done to him.

    That aside, I agree that this issue was a bit on the average side. A few WTF moments, but it was definately creepy in places, and as a standalone story that might not fit hugely into the canon, I did enjoy it.

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