The mystery of the three Jokers deepens... and no easy answers are forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the Red Hood as crossed the line, the Joker's plans remain as mysterious as ever... and what on earth does Joe Chill have to do with anything?
Nobody can accuse Batman: Three Jokers #2 of not having middle child syndrome to a certain degree. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – think Empire Strikes Back – but it definitely means that beginnings and endings aren’t in the cards. That means that middle chapters have less of a sure-fire narrative arc to follow, serving more as connective tissue between the beginning and the end. And that inherently means that without a defining beginning or end, second chapters in a trilogy often feel like less than the sum of their parts.
Three Jokers #2 has a lot of narrative weight resting on its shoulders. It must move forward the series’ primary narrative – unlocking its eponymous mystery – but also deal with the immediate aftermath of last issue’s cliffhanger, [WARNING! MONTH-OLD SPOILER ALERT!] the Red Hood executing one of the Jokers. And, let it also be said – the series itself has four years worth of built-in fan anticipation riding on it. Therefore, there isn’t much margin for error.
Thankfully, although the story isn’t nearly as satisfying as the previous issue (but still great in its own right) – and leaves far more questions than it answers – Three Jokers #2 is still a solid read. Probably the best comic released all week, honestly. Opening with a deranged fever dream version of a ’50s sitcom and segueing into the fallout from Red Hood’s act of vengeance, writer Geoff Johns moves the needle forward, though maybe not enough. There’s some forward momentum as to the how and what of the titular title characters, but nothing definitive. Pulling erstwhile Batman birther Joe Chill into the mix is a plot point I could do without at this juncture, though, as it appears to be less logical and more bending over backwards to somehow tie the Joker into Batman’s origin. I may be wrong, but the tea leaves indicate something of that sort in the offing. If – if that’s true – that’s the kind of backflip in logic that could derail the entire narrative, by trying to force a connection that doesn’t have to be there but is rather present for manufactured and contrite shock value. It’s definitely not time to judge on that particular plot point, though.
There’s a whole lot of positive emotional weight to this issue, though. One thing that’s never been satisfactorily dealt with since Jason Todd’s resurrection has been the emotional and psychological fallout of his demise, other than making him the resident bad boy of the Bat-family. As a reader who’s always felt that Jason was better off left dead but has reluctantly accepted it as cannon, I’ve had a hard time connecting to him. This issue goes a long way in repairing that gap by faithfully and emotionally portraying Jason Todd as a someone dealing with pain – most likely PTSD – on a fundamental level, and doesn’t know how to cope. He’s truly vulnerable this issue, letting his guard down – and to Batgirl, of all people, who knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. (P.S. to shippers – this issue will give you a lot to work with. Dick Grayson, watch your back!)
Batman and Batgirl struggle to cope with the fallout of Jason’s actions, too. Batgirl wants Red Hood brought to justice for murder. And one might assume that Batman would feel that way, too – but his response is surprising, not quite an admission of failure but tacit of the same. It’s a refreshingly human response from Batman, who is all too frequently portrayed as being so black and white in his code that there’s no room for any grays. Honestly, the emotional weight of this issue – carried by its three protagonists – easily supersedes any larger plot considerations.
But, same as last issue, artists Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson carry the day more than anything else. The attention to detail is astonishing but never overbearing and resulting in stiffness. Fabok’s sense of panel-to-panel progression is the stuff sequential art dreams are made of, and worthy of Scott McCloud-level discussion. While at its core, Fabok’s layouts are rooted in a Ditko-esque adherence to nine-panel grids, he knows how to bob and weave and manipulate as needed for the best desired effect. He also knows exactly how to manipulate his “camera” for desired effect, zeroing in on Red Hood’s face at exactly the right distance to perfectly capture the ache in his soul, or the solemnity in Batman’s expression as he feels the weight of failing his former ward. Fabok’s complementary inks know no bounds, either, drenching the page in black to convey the perfect mood but never so much that the visuals tip into Sin City territory. Ditto for Brad Anderson’s muted colors.
Although not as earth-shattering as its opening installment, Batman: Three Jokers #2 is nonetheless a master class in sequential storytelling thanks to jaw-droppingly compelling visuals. The real weight, though, isn't the inherent mystery but rather in the emotional fallout.
Batman: Three Jokers #2: Damage
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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