Comics Review: The Joker #1 Explores the Power of The Joker as an Idea

Between last year’s mega Bat-crossover in Joker War, the Oscar award winning film, and an abundance of appearances in various DC media including Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the Joker’s notoriety has never been higher. It is no surprise to see DC capitalize on that cultural cache with a new solo series. The premiere issue is a surprisingly chilling exploration of the Joker as an idea.

Written by James Tynion IV with art by Guillem March and Arif Prianto, the Joker #1 finds the title character the most wanted man in the world following one of his deadliest attacks, shown in the Infinite Frontier one-shot. This new series establishes Joker on the run while his shadow looms large over Gotham City. The villain is physically absent from most of the issue which instead focuses on Jim Gordon looking back on his career in the police force and the way the Joker has haunted his family. Tynion establishes Gordon’s place in the new Infinite Frontier status quo and positions the newly-retired commissioner as worthy of an adversary to the Joker as Batman. 

Tynion admirably weaves a staggering amount of history into the issue without bogging down the narrative. Building from stories in other books is a tricky proposition but he captures the horror of Joker’s attack on Gotham that feels both like an evergreen Batman story and a uniquely horrific escalation. 

The physical absence of Joker from the story is a surprising choice that allows the character’s reputation to imbue the entire issue with a genuine sense of dread. By focusing on Jim Gordon, the most human of Batman’s supporting cast, the stakes and mental toll of Joker’s evil stings in a way that feels fresh despite the character’s exposure.

March’s art effectively channels the suspense of Tynion’s script, with deep shadows and erratic line work that feels as if Joker’s psychosis is seeping in around the edges of every panel. Joker appears as a specter taunting Gordon throughout the issue. Joker is not just a clown or a killer here—he is an all-consuming madness. March is aided by Arif Prianto’s colors which are a mix of gaudy pinks and greens that pointedly clash with the dark tone of the narration and add to the off-kilter feeling the Joker provokes.

The issue is rounded out with a Punchline back-up story by Sam Johns and Mirka Andolfo that is far less effective and mostly impenetrable for new readers unfamiliar with Tynion’s Batman. It is especially disappointing after the strength of the lead feature.

Overall, the premiere issue of the Joker is a moody and cerebral look into the impact and force of the character’s reputation. It remains to be seen whether the series can run with these same themes, with Joker at the center even as other characters propel the story. On its own this is a strong issue that provides a compelling view of Jim Gordon as a man and proves Joker has become a powerful icon in his own right.

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