An unforgivable masterpiece... but a masterpiece nonetheless.
Where to begin with this slim little 46-page comic? It might be the most iconic Joker comic today, and its presence is guaranteed on most "Best Batman stories" lists. The late Heath Ledger
's endorsement alone probably sent thousands running to order it online.
First off... this isn't a pretty story. Some fans rightfully chew out Barbara's crippling as one of the most gruesome scenes in comic-book history, and for no other reason than to generate drama
- to say nothing of Jim Gordon's torture. The only defense I have on that count is that this book was written in an age where such things had not become a trope in and of themselves, at least where comics were concerned.
And actually, that's something that plagues most of the book. Most every Joker story
since 1988 has relentlessly picked this story's bones clean, with ever-escalating degrees of violence and nihilism and Foe Yay
dialogue with Batman that becomes less and less subtle every time. It was interesting, even revolutionary, the first time (perhaps second, if you think The Dark Knight Returns
is what really got the ball rolling) around, but the thirtieth? Given that most Batman fans will have read at least one post-1988 Joker story beforehand, no wonder so many of them call this comic overrated
when they finally read it.
But that's not to say this book isn't worth reading in and of itself. Alan Moore is rightfully called one of the masters of the comic-book medium, and even if you don't care for the book's content, the execution alone is a work of art. It's rich with Watchmen
influences: Moore's trademark nine-panel grids, laconic (or even silent) scenes, and symbolism galore. Some of the dialogue might sound a bit hokey, but other bits - especially the Joker's first scene - are goldmines of Gallows Humor
that most writers today couldn't dream of matching.
And if nothing else: pretty pretty Brian Bolland art. Bolland is one of the few artists who can blend Uncanny Valley
levels of realism with the cartoonish energy of Batman's world near-seamlessly. Every page is lush with detail, and his Joker in particular can go from terrifying to tragic to downright likable
in the same page, or even the same panel
I suppose I should conclude with something about the ending. I think that...