This two-issued story arc about the crazed Joker fanatics in Gotham wrecking havoc is the very first John Layman piece I read for New 52 Detective Comics and I absolutely had fun with it. I have to credit the plot device featuring a mass of Joker protesters roaming the streets to Tony S. Daniel, however, but that never made any sense unless you read how Layman decided to interpret and use it as the narrative that drives his next two issues starting with this one.
In Nothin' but Smiles, Layman dared to tell a Joker story that doesn't include the Clown Prince of Crime at all, but instead focuses on the aftershocks of his over-hyped return; the ripples in the stream as one may call it, that produced a disturbing effect on a great number of individuals who idolized the Joker, and are more than adamant to express just how much through a series of crimes perpetuated by gangs dressed up in any clown-esque uniform. Batman, of course, had to clean up this garbage and he definitely has his work cut out for him. I thought that it was a pretty refreshing take on how influential a magnetic character like the Joker is, regardless of his crazed mania. He certainly has the power to accumulate the most devoted and insane of followers, there's no arguing that. Also, anyone who is terrified of clowns should not read this because Fabok knows how to play up those fears with the way he drew close-ups of several characters in clown make-up and gear. Even I thought it was gruesome enough to pause and...admire. I liked 'em scary clowns, I'm not gonna lie.
I personally never had a problem with the physical terror that clowns seem to have on most people, and that's probably because I've always associated clowns with...the kind of creepy I really can't get enough of. I understand the phobia though, especially when you get stories like this. What is it about clowns that people with mental disorders like the psychos seem to latch onto as a readily available persona for murder and mayhem? Layman explores that quite tangibly for this issue especially when he introduced the League of Smiles and the Merry Maker at the end of the page.
Overall, this was an issue that had enough creeps and upsetting imagery for the faint at heart. Batman apprehending several clowned-up gangs was a fun ride in itself, but the revelation that there are truly messed up individuals out there who embraced their inner Jokers and are ready to kill and enjoy their way in Gotham was a high note to end this issue in. The Merry Maker villain looks badass, by the way! It's becoming rare to come up with a villain for New 52 who looks this damn good. With that atrocious beak-mask reminiscent of what the doctors and medical examines use to wear during the plague in the old times, the Merry Maker is a nightmare in flesh form. As for the backup story, it was once again about Emperor Penguin and his quest to take over everything Oswald Cobblepot has built. I'm not sure if I like this character yet but I certainly don't hate him. I think his motivations and schemes are clear and clever enough but I do hope we get more from him and Cobblepot once Layman has settle the Joker sidestories for the next issue or so.