THE JOKER YEAR ONE, REVEALED BY CHIP ZDARSKY AND GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI! 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? "The Joker Year One" begins here!
Trying to square continuity after endless reboots is a difficult task for the best of storytellers. It’s not an impossible task, but often one more suited as a mechanical versus artistic. Batman #142 – written by Chip Zdarsky with pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Sorrentino, inks from Stefano Nesi and Andrea Sorrentino, colors by Alejandro Sánchez and Dave Stewart, and lettering by Clayton Cowles – detours from the Zur-En-Arrh plot to explore another retconning of the Joker’s early days. Building on elements from both The Killing Joke and Zero Year, a recently turned Joker(s) wanders through Gotham, intent on finding his place. He passes through fractured memories, twisting reality to fit the punchline of his disturbed set-ups.
Zdarsky’s scripting for the issue does its best to weave existing elements of mythos into a compelling story, yet falters in the final execution due to the strict adhesion to continuity. The ups and downs of this run correspond with the oscillating levels of references to existing history. Every time Zdarsky hues closer to playing on the familiar beats of past Batman runs, like the allusion to Tower of Babel, or Morrison’s run, or even Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s Three Jokers, the more the book suffers from the weight of comparison. Here, Zdarsky tries his best to channel the air of the New 52 era of Batman, using Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Zero Year retcon as a foundation.
That evocation of quite possibly the modern interpretation of the Dark Knight, and one of the more mixed retcons, doesn’t quite work. In the pursuit of that atmosphere, the scripting drops its origin edge and comes off as a poor imitation of the original. Every element of this mini-arc reads as a hollow pitstop, a way of padding time before concluding the Zur-En-Arrh plot. It also feels off that Zdarsky circles right back to the Joker after using a multiversal version of him in the second arc of the run. Instead of serving as an organic escalation of the original backup by Zdarsky and Leonardo Romero or an interesting foil to Zur, the inclusion of Joker here is empty box-checking.
Camuncoli’s art in the past is a jarring shift from the moody, hyperkinetic linework of Jorge Jiménez, creating a dissonance that could work in theory, but instead comes off as inconsistent. Lacking the bombastic, blockbuster panel layouts and explosive action of the typical style, Camuncoli invites comparison to other Batman artists by existing in a specific time like post-Zero Year. The anatomy of Batman and Gordon feels off, especially in the depictions of the Dark Knight with the iconic purple gloves. It is a close match in terms of design but plays on the page as a hollow imitation. Even the twisted visage of the Joker and his sprawling madness falls flat in the issue under Camuncoli and Nesi’s artwork.
Adding to the muddled tone of the issue is the use of past and future filtered through the Joker’s perspective. The last issue’s cliffhanger established that Joker is telling his story to Batman while in Failsafe Zur’s prison but the issue makes random jumps to an alt future that feels incongruous with the rest of the story. Switching in both narration and art styles, these flashforwards to the future utilize a dialogue cadence and tone that resembles the early days of Tom King’s run. These beats try to play in mystery and intrigue conveying a narrative vagueness that struggles to make the flashes compelling.
Echoing Zdarsky’s script in these future moments, the artwork feels disconnected from the essence of the better parts of the run. Sorrentino attempts to channel the moody atmosphere of the Mindbomb storyline and take it two steps further for the alternate future. The art direction moves into a darker, more impressionistic style resembling a watercolor painting. It also works to stray from the gritty, harsh style that Sorrentino usually utilizes. It’s less of Batman: The Imposter and more of Dave McKean’s art on Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. It was a surprise shift that required double-checking the credits page, and it’s a shame that Sorrentino’s break in form has to occur with this lackluster story.
The coloring for this issue is in lockstep with the other elements, trying something different while stripping away what made this series so engrossing. Losing Tomeu Morey’s coloring, which has clearly defined the trajectory of the palettes of this run, is a massive hit to the story. Stewart’s coloring in the future stories comes closer to channeling the typical hues of the run, working in darker and moodier tones to sell the dystopian future. However, they carry a washed-out quality that pushes them from the neo-noir aspect of the book into a more psychological tale. In another run, it would be a great choice, but in the context of the ongoing story, it becomes a distracting, incongruous choice.
Batman #142 brings the current story arc to a screeching halt to tell an out-of-left-field flashback Joker story. In doing so, the book burns all narrative momentum to deliver a hollow issue more interested in squaring continuity than telling a story. The switch in art, both within the issue and from the mainline artist, undercuts the atmosphere of the book in the pursuit of the past. With the coloring on display, the book removes a consistency and aesthetic that made it a compelling read paired with the bombastic art. If this issue is the best foot forward for the Joker: Year One story, then it’ll probably be best to take a break until the Zur plot resumes a few issues from now.
Batman #142: A Secondhand Joke
- Writing - 3/103/10
- Storyline - 2/102/10
- Art - 3/103/10
- Color - 3/103/10
- Cover Art - 1/101/10
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