Once upon a time, The Joker was just another man who had a bad day… Your Major Spoilers review of Batman #142 from DC Comics awaits!
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciller: Giuseppe Camuncoli & Andrea Sorrentino
Inker: Stefano Nesi & Andrea Sorrentino
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez & Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.99
Release Date: February 6, 2024
Previously in Batman: The tragic death of the leader of the Red Hood Gang in a vat of chemicals has become the subject of myth… but what is the heartbreaking and gruesome tale of the monster who walked away from that violent birth? And how does it affect Batman’s distant future?
MANY HANDS AT WORK
After last issue’s defeat(?) of Zur and/or Failsafe, Batman opens this issue trying to autopsy the corpse of The Joker. Or rather, a corpse that seems to be the Joker, as the real thing has once again escaped his final repose. We get a flashback to the moment after The Joker’s origins, as seen in The Killing Joke, with all three of the Jokers from the post-Flashpoint reality present, thanks to the actions of Red Mask a few months ago. Cut forward a few months, and we find The Joker desperately trying to regain his life, still overwhelmed with fear at his new predicament, until he meets a man who says he can help. And also, who says that he helped to train Batman. As for the present, Batman’s investigations lead him to believe that answers can be found in the chemical plant that created Joker, but there’s a small obstacle in the way of getting there.
Namely, the virus that has transformed everyone in Gotham City… into a Joker.
THE WORLD IS THE JOKER
There are a number of very confusing moments in these pages, especially as the story jumps from the past to what may be the future to a time that I believe is the present. It’s really hard to tell, and Zdarsky doesn’t have any intention of telling us yet. That’s nothing new, as his entire run on Batman has cascading moments like that, from the first appearance of Failsafe forward. There are a lot of cool visuals and ideas expressed in these pages, but it’s not really a story in the traditional sense. For one thing, I’m not sure how the Joker’s memories are being expressed or to whom, and for another, Batman’s age in the opening and closing sequences doesn’t seem to match modern Bruce Wayne’s. Visually, the issue is full of references to previous comics, with the iconic Brian Bolland “Joker kneeling in the rain” moment, as well as clear parallels to the art style and events of the Arkham Asylum graphic novel by Dave McKean and Grant Morrison.
BOTTOM LINE: WELL-DONE, BUT A BIT CONFUSING
Having made it through the Multiverse arc last year (featuring the Adam West and Michael Keaton Batmen, Terry McGinnis and his elderly Bruce, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and more), I am inclined to give Batman #142 the benefit of the doubt, as it sets and maintains a tone of menace as it gives us pieces of a mystery, then goes for the jugular on the shocking final page, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Based on what we’ve seen from Chip and company so far, I expect that the complete Joker: Year One story will be satisfying enough that my disorientation with this issue will be overshadowed by the payoff.
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Zdarsky references 'Batman: Year One', 'The Killing Joke', 'Arkham Asylum', and more in a tale that seems designed to explain the unexplainable. Despite my reservations, it's working, and the ending is a gut-punch.