It’s been 20 years since DC gave us their most bizarre and divergent fifth week event yet…  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Tangent Comics/The Joker #1 awaits!

TANGENT COMICS/THE JOKER #1

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciler: Matt Haley
Inker: Tom Simmons
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Dana Kurtin
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in Tangent Comics/The Joker: “The Tangent Universe tells the story of an Earth greatly influenced by the presence of super-powered beings. While the DCU Earth is essentially the same as our own, no more advanced in terms of technology or communications despite the existence of those qualities within the super-powered community, Earth Tangent is greatly influenced by all of that. Earth Tangent’s economic, geographic and political landscapes are defined by the superhero community, whereas in the DCU those aspects exist unaffected by the superhero community.”

In other words, it’s alternate universe time, and things may not be what we expect.  We open in the city of New Atlantis, as police officer John Keel takes a much-needed break from his activities…

…only to be interrupted by the city’s new vigilante/pest, The Joker!  In this world, a nuclear attack in the 1960s obliterated Florida, leaving the world to rebuild into a futuristic quasi-utopia, but The Joker has issues with the more authoritarian elements of Keel’s cohorts on the New Atlantis police force…

1,000 points for the Krazy Kat reference!  As he and his partner Mark Moonrider (another example of the Tangent Universe premise that familiar names from the DCU take on different roles in this alternate world) try to give chase, they find The Joker heading in the exact opposite direction she was traveling moments ago, as if there were somehow more than one of her!  Keel and Moonrider’s chase comes to an abrupt halt when she flattens the tires of their prowl car, but even that seems to be by design…

Instead of finding their morally ambiguous quarry inside, the officers find a dyed-in-the-wool menace, in the form of the captured and bound criminal mobster called Doll Man.  Moreover, as they take him into custody, Keel discovers that their apprehension of the criminals is being broadcast to the general public…

The mysterious Joker retreats to her lair to do some Google-fu on Keel, who is new in town, while Officer Keel’s keen detective skills alert him to the fact that the camera used to broadcast Doll Man’s demise belongs to World’s Finest e-magazine (another indication of the story’s 90s origins), but more specifically to ace reporter Lori Lemaris!

Lori may or may not have something to hide, but she doesn’t seem to have any obvious ties to Joker.  In fact, she provides Keel with some important background about the vigilante harlequin.

Of course, none of her theories (including one where Joker’s parents were murdered and a playing broke through the window of her manor home) are particularly helpful to Keel’s investigation, giving him cause to wonder for a second if Lori IS The Joker.  Cue the distraction!

Snagging his sidearm, The Joker takes some (intentionally non-lethal) shots at the two police officers, only for Keel to reclaim his Terminator (which I’m taking as a Deathstroke reference, because I can) and take a shot at her as she flees…

If you take a look at the cover of any Tangetn book, you’ll find that it is designed to feel cyberpunky futuristic, with simulated displays and computer readouts, and the interiors reflect that as well, with New Atlantis featuring high-tech geegaws and such on every corner, something that artist Matt Haley excels at.  Strangely, his figure work is oddly stretch-and-squashy, which sort of fits the Bug Bunny stylings of Joker’s M.O., but can be distracting as well…

The Joker once again has the upper hand on everyone, monitoring the police officers remotely as they try to figure out her secret, with references once again to the idea that she seems to be in more than one place at the same time.  We spend a few moments with the mysterious Mary Marvel, who may know something about The Joker, before a protest at Mary’s university turns…  weird?

The leader of the rabble, one Brother Power (whom Joker dubs a “geek”), turns his mob on Officer Keel, leading Joker to intervene on his behalf, saving Keel from the rabble.  ‘Course, she does this by knocking him out, and he awakens in a strange dream world, believing it to be the day that the bombs went off in Florida…

The bomb is dropped, but before he “dies”, John is awakened by Madame Xanadu, well to-do owner of virtual reality arcades across the city, one of which he has been trapped in.  She, too, seems to have some sort of connection to the new hero in town, but once again he finds the Joker seconds after leaving her.  This time, though, they have a conversation, wherein Keel admits that it was his father who triggered the fatal attack all those years ago, and that he and Joker have the same intentions: Make the survivors in their post-apocalyptic world safe, make them smile for just a moment…

Their shared moment is interrupted by Doll Man’s partner/moll, Big Barda, who has a bone to pick with the cop that took in her man…

Running for his life, John Keel is nearly killed, but Joker takes out Barda with a giant boxing glove, explaining that timing is the secret to humor, and giving away another bit of her schtick: The source of her gags and gimmicks!

The Joker tosses him the soda that he was trying to buy on the very first page, escaping into the night and leaving John Keel with more questions than answers.  Is she hero or villain?  Is she one woman or somehow more?  Is she human or is she dancer?

…okay, probably not that last one.

FYI, the masks on those pedestals bear the faces of Mary Marvel, Lori Lemaris and Christy Xanadu, raising the question for the readers of whether any of them are real or not, but leaving the question wide open as the issue fades to black.  Among the many Tangent characters, The Joker is possibly my favorite, eschewing the blood-soaked 90s nonsense of Metal Men and Doom Patrol, but also avoiding the Mary Sue problems that plague The Atom, who is clearly Tangent mastermind Dan Jurgens’ pet character.  Tangent Comics/The Joker #1 may not be perfect, but it is a hoot to read, with a wild-and-random character who manages to be funny and tragic at the same time, with a mostly solid art job and some excellent costume designs, earning a better-than-average 3 out of 5 stars overall.  Ironically, though it is one of the better books of the first phase, the sequel that appears in the second wave of Tangent books muddies the waters TOO much.  Either way, this issue is a perfect example of how engaging and intriguing a mystery can be if they writers don’t actually have to do anything to solve it…

[taq_review]

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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