Batman: Three Jokers #3
At long last... what is the mystery of the three Jokers?
Batman: Three Jokers concludes with a quiet revelation that codifies the answer to the longest-asked question in the character’s eighty-year history: Who is the Joker?
The question is, though, will Three Jokers even have an impact on larger DC continuity now that it’s all said and done? Or will it be confined to the same little “Geoff Johns bubble” as Doomsday Clock and the author’s recently-concluded Shazam! run? Stories that, while structurally solid and urgent in their relative scopes, seem to exist in a relative vacuum despite setting up major plot points that are largely ignored throughout the rest of the DCU. After four years of waiting for the conclusion to this long-dangling mystery, readers would be justified in their bitterness if the answer were to be swept under the rug. However, that’s a scenario for another day and future circumspect. Today, the question at hand is a bit more straightforward: How does the Three Jokers issue three stack up?
And despite all of the best storytelling intentions, astonishing art from Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson, pitch-perfect lettering from Rob Leigh, it’s impossible to weigh any other considerations of this comic without first addressing whether or not it stuck the landing of its central mystery. Fans will no doubt be divided on this; the sacred ground upon which Three Jokers issue three dares to tread will create a stir no matter what a person’s opinion of it is. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the internet to break.
And – just this once – that breaking may have some merit.
Comics intelligencia will no doubt take sides, and prognosticate on whether or not Geoff Johns should have gone where he went. There are key comics and stories throughout the format’s history that are, by and large, considered so sacrosanct by fandom that any attempt to even touch the hem of their cape (so to speak) is met with shock and outrage. DC’s current utilization of Watchmen within the bounds of its modern continuity is prompting a similarly loud response from fandom writ large.
But for me, as a reader who generally enjoys when writers kill their darlings (or fandom’s), and believes no cow is too sacred, the boldness of Johns’ move here is a refreshing bit of ballsiness. Not a lot of writers would be granted the leeway to attempt what Johns has here (although being a DC bigwig probably meant he had very little resistance, which creates a whole different dynamic to the question of, “Should he…?“). Frank Miller might have been in his prime; Alan Moore or Grant Morrison too. I honestly can’t think of very many other writers with the clout to make this story happen through sheer Hal Jordan-esque force of will. So, if nothing else – regardless of a reader’s personal answer to the Should he? question – credit should be given to the fact that Johns even made the attempt.
Who is the Joker, then?
The answer to that question – and what on earth is happening with these three iterations of the character – comes together in a haunting, emotionally resonant way. The inclusion of Joe Chill last issue brings an unexpected dimension to the story that may or may not have been necessary, but the impact of its subplot is undeniable. Joe Chill is a tricky nut to crack on a good day; writers for decades have gone back and forth on how much he should directly affect Batman’s tale or if he should even exist at all, rather than be a faceless nobody. His inclusion here certainly merits further discussion for a more spoiler-friendly summation.
Then there’s the issue of Jason Todd’s fate, emotional and otherwise, after his actions throughout this series – not to mention his relationship with Batgirl or dynamic with Batman. In a lot of ways, Red Hood winds up being the emotional center of Three Jokers. Both he and Barbara have suffered mightily at the hands of the Joker, but Jason was killed. The PTSD he’s been suffering since his resurrection has not been addressed in very healthy ways in-continuity; DC’s all-too-frequent response to his trauma seems to be, “Look how cool he is with his attitude and his guns! He’s the bad boy of the Bat-Family!” That isn’t very responsible, nor does it take Jason very seriously as a character. It instead casts him as a sort of ersatz Bat-Punisher, treating trauma as something shruggable to be ignored in favor of a juvenile, aesthetically “cool” approach. In the years since Joker paralyzed her, Barbara has been defined by her determination to overcome her adversity. Jason has ignored it, with DC’s encouragement.
Geoff Johns seems to recognize that fact, and throughout this miniseries has strived to make amends. We have finally seen behind Jason’s bad boy façade, and peek at the severely wounded boy behind it. He allows himself to open up to the possibility of healing through bonding over shared experience with Barbara, and he at last expresses the regret for his actions we’ve hoped was there all along. How that subplot resolves itself is genuinely moving and heartfelt, but again, opens the question very wide to whether or not it will be further explored outside the “Johns bubble.”
Once again, Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson have raised the bar higher than one could reasonably expect as possible with their art this issue. There’s a heavy reliance on nine-panel grids a la Johns’ Doomsday Clock that brings a brisk pacing to the story, but then a breakout from that format as needed. Fabok paces every page flawlessly as a result. There’s rainfall throughout the entire issue, which is a cliché to be sure, but works in its intended purpose and creates just the right sense of noirish mood. Anderson’s colors are equally beautiful, and rise to the occasion exactly as intended. There’s a gloom hanging over these pages, but at no point is it too dark to make out what’s happening.
Three Jokers has a lot going for it, but it’s also not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve. Stylistically, it owes a great debt of gratitude to Alan Moore and The Killing Joke, proudly standing on the latter’s shoulders but unafraid to chart its own course. As to whether or not the central mystery is resolved – Johns wisely leaves that up to readers to determine. The answer is there, and – if Johns’ moonshot is to be taken at face value – has been there for quite awhile. Whether or not it will ultimately matter is up to DC and editorial; but as for Three Jokers in and of itself – this comic has been an absolute master class in sequential art. Geoff Johns’ latter-day writing may exist in a bubble, but it’s a bubble worth hanging out in. Comics like this simply don’t come along very often. Hats off to everybody involved; I’ll be seeing you at the Eisners.
Batman: Three Jokers #3 is a master class in sequential art storytelling that dares to tread on some extremely sacred ground to bring its mystery home, and succeeds. DO NOT miss this comic!
Batman: Three Jokers #3: Trauma (SPOILER-FREE REVIEW)
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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