Sunday, June 1, 2014

[New 52] Batman by Scott Snyder issue #14

I maintain that Nolan's recent interpretation of the Joker has influenced how the comic books after his trilogy franchise have portrayed him since, and Scott Snyder's own version is more faithful to it than what was established in the previous continuity pre-Nolan era. My Joker had always been and will always be Mark Hamill's cartoon version and though I was just as smitten with Heath Ledger's performance on screen, he simply did not speak to me in a deeper level, and so having a darker and less clownish Joker in the pages of Synder's two issues so far had been just as jarring.

But it's working well so far, seeing as this Joker had sacrificed his vanity when he had his own face ripped out which made him less comedic and more sinister in his set-ups and punchlines now that he's back. Somehow the old Joker--one whom Harley Quinn loved and whose flamboyant sense of terror tickled and sickened us in equal amounts--has been replaced by this jaded, take-no-prisoners psychopath with no trace of humor to be found. He even abandoned his trademark purple-striped and orange costume to favor something ugly and mundane like a janitor's uniform of some sort. Old Joker would rather spray acid all over himself than to be caught dead wearing that!

But Batman was right to assess that this Joker has changed, and drastically so. He's been raising the body count so quickly in just two issues in, and there are no buffoon henchmen with him so far and it feels so unnatural to see the Clown Prince of crime do his own dirty work.

I'm not sure I even like this Joker. Even in his most depraved moments, the Joker is charming and affluent, always with a ready handshake and cackle. This Joker is taking himself too seriously and even his flirtations with Batman felt coarse. There's always been a certain affection in the way the Joker treats Batman that is almost amiable in the most disconcerting sense but this time that affability feels forced. It feels fake. And the Joker, as crazy and random as he may be, has always been genuine in his madness and obsession with Batman.

I just have this unsettling feeling the entire time I was reading this issue. I can't believe the Joker went out of his way to abduct Alfred and to toy with Jim Gordon like that again (Alan Moore's The Killing Joke felt like it was only a one-time thing, and seeing Synder apply the same pressure Moore had decades ago was hard to watch). Snyder is a great writer but his Joker is a monster without the charmer, and it's just taking me a while to appreciate it even within the context of the story he's crafting.

The great reveal at the end of this issue was that the Joker knew who Batman is under the cowl and that is why he also knows who the rest of the family are. He wants to define territorial lines and destroy Batman's other means to be more human and less vigilante. And that's the main motivation for the Joker coming back into his life; to ground him and give him back his center before the Robins and Batgirl had corroded it with their dependence and relationships with him. The Joker felt like he owed this service to Batman because in his twisted mind he is the only one who ever loved and understood Batman the best.

For the Joker to be so blatant in his motives and confessions of love to Batman is something I find crude but still very intriguing. Something had changed in the past year when the Joker disappeared. Something in the Joker just became more broken than it already is, and made him believe he can fix Batman in spite of it. So as much as I don't like this version of the Joker, I like the direction that Synder's writing is going. In just two issues, I think the return of the Joker storyline is far better than what his Owls saga had delivered. I surely anticipate the upcoming punchline later on.


* The Joker spends most of the pages alternating between coy and vengeful in a schizophrenic way that doesn't endear him to me, but doesn't fail nevertheless to be an engrossing presence.

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