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Comic Book / Batman: Three Jokers

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"It said there were three..."note 

Batman: Three Jokers is a DC Black Label three-issue mini-series featuring Batman and The Joker, The Joker and The Joker. Made by Geoff Johns, it was released from August to October of 2020.

During the 2016 story arc Darkseid War prior to the start of DC Rebirth, Batman, riding on the Mobius Chair, sought to learn the identity of the Joker. To his horror, Batman learned something more — there were three active Jokers. Now, together with Batgirl and Red Hood, Batman will seek out the answers to this strange riddle and find out how they all come together.

Tropes featured in Batman: Three Jokers include:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: A particularly tragic one — while held at gunpoint by Jason, the Clown gloats about how Todd had begged for his life as he died, even promising to be "[his] Robin". Jason isn't happy to be reminded
  • Ambiguous Situation: The Criminal claims in issue #2 to have been the first Joker - but the Comedian implies in #3 it might have been him. The Clown and the Comedian's dialogue also leaves it vague as to which one was responsible for originally crippling Barbara and killing Jason.
    • However, this may only apply In-universe, as book one specifically introduces, through flashbacks, the Comedian having paralyzed Barbara and the Clown murdering Jason. Promotional material also shows the Clown holding the bloody crowbar while the Comedian is seen holding his fingers in a circle around his eye (as a callback to him taking pictures with the camera).
  • Artistic License – Medicine: In the first issue, Batman states that the Joker Venom used at the Ace Chemicals attack breaks its victims' jaws, corrupts their DNA, and burns off their fingerprints. It's implied this is also true of the Joker(s)... except none of those make sense.
    • These "broken" jaws clearly leave at least half the teeth intact, per the victims' smiles. Even assuming the chemicals damage the teeth in ways we can't see, that just makes the dental records harder to verify, not impossible.
    • While it's unclear what Batman means by "corrupt" DNA, it's unlikely that it'd completely ruin their DNA structure without killing the Joker(s) or the victims. The DNA would presumably be rewritten, but short of constant and complete mutation, any subsequent DNA checks would work from this point on. Since the victims here are also clearly recognizable, some of the DNA is likely untouched.
    • The burning of fingerprints would still leave fresh scars, which would be easier to trace than mere fingerprints.
    • In short, even if the Joker's initial mutation had caused all of the above, Batman's never previously mentioned this, nor does it make sense that nobody would notice the Joker's fingerprints and DNA don't match his own record if, as implied, all three of the Jokers have been arrested at some point.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Also doubles as an Armor-Piercing Response. After Jason shoots "The Clown" in the head, Barbara gives him a What the Hell, Hero? for doing so. However, Jason quickly points out that she barely even tried to stop him. His response rattles Barbara to tears.
    "When was the last time you missed?"
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The surviving victim of the Joker Venom that Jason Todd attacked and attempted to interrogate while in an ambulance. Even though he risked their only witness having a heart attack, Jason justifies his actions by revealing that the man is a criminal who was arrested for assaulting his child.
    • Both the Clown and the Criminal are shot dead before the end of the story - the Clown by Jason, the Criminal by the Comedian. Given all they've done, it's hard to say they didn't deserve it.
  • Big Bad Triumvirate: The three Jokers, though the Criminal seems to acts as the leader. However the finale issues reveals that the Comedian set the events into motion.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Comedian gets away with everything he wanted to achieve, Jason is still just as alienated from his family as before, and the Comedian will presumably be able to corrupt others into Jokers all over again if it ever suits him. However, the Clown and the Criminal are removed as threats, Joe Chill and Bruce make peace so the former can pass on after his Heel Realization, and Comedian's wife and son are revealed to be alive and happy away from his influence.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The fate of "The Clown" Joker in the first Issue, "The Criminal" also receives this fate in Issue #3.
  • Break Them by Talking: "The Clown" Joker does this to Jason Todd, with his words noticeably (based on Jason's facial expressions) beating on him, leaving Jason in tears.
  • Canon Discontinuity: While Johns said not long after it was released that it might not be canon, Batman (Chip Zdarsky) confirm it isn't with "Joker: Year One" walking back the "three Jokers" idea to be the Joker being a guy with three different personalities, not literally three different people.
  • Characterization Marches On: The story seems to serve as an exploration of this trope in regards to the Joker and his appearances over the years. The Comedian breaks it down in the final issue, describing how each of the three Jokers in the story embodied one of the Joker's major character traits; the Clown delighted in causing the suffering of others then laughing at it, the Criminal was obsessed with being Batman's Arch-Enemy, and the Comedian was chaos personified.
  • Collective Identity: This story clarified that the three Jokers are this, not a case of Legacy Character.
  • Continuity Snarl: Oh, boy.
    • The order of the three Jokers seems to be Criminal, Clown, and Comedian, but does not explain why the Criminal is obsessed with Batman, how he was disfigured, or how he arranged for the Clown and Comedian to get the same treatment.
    • Similarly, the series itself can't seem to decide whether the Clown killed Jason, or intentionally let him live.
    • As referenced above, each of the Jokers should have a variety of ways to tell them apart, most notably their unique scars. This is faintly referenced, but not answered. Given the many near-fatal injuries upon the Joker(s), it's a tough sell to say they all copied them and survived.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: Non-videogame instance. In the climax of The Killing Joke, the Comedian admits that due to how utterly warped his mind is, the backstory we're shown may not actually have happened and even he doesn't know. This book, published 32 years later, reveals that the origin we were shown was the true one, albeit with some self-serving embellishments. The man who would become the Comedian was actually abusive towards Jeannie and she actually faked her death to escape him.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Clown sneers in the first issue that the Criminal only thinks he's the boss. The final issue reveals he was right, and the Comedian had been playing them both all along.
    • The Comedian's hallucination about enjoying a meal with his wife and child foreshadows the reveal they're alive and protected by Batman in the final issue.
  • Deducing the Secret Identity:
    • It's common in most versions of the Batman mythos for the Joker's identity to be a complete mystery even to Batman, and the series even references that with the Joker Venom rendering its victims impossible to identify. This series, on the other hand, shows that with Batman's detective skills and resources, he figured out the Joker's (at least the Comedian version) identity a week after their first meeting.
    • Given that her Batgirl costume doesn't hide her identity the way Bruce's or Jason's does (especially the long red hair), it comes as no surprise in the final issue that Gordon knows it's Barbara; it's his daughter, of course he would recognize her (build, voice, mannerisms, etc.).
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite the implication he was abusive to Jeannie, book two opens with the Comedian Joker daydreaming about his wife and son being alive and having tea parties with them, indicating he does genuinely miss them.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Given that her Batgirl costume doesn't hide her identity the way Bruce's or Jason's does (especially the long red hair), it comes as no surprise in the final issue that Gordon knows it's Barbara.
  • Faking the Dead: The end of the comic reveals that the Comedian's wife and son are alive. Even before he became the Joker, the Comedian's wife still feared his unstable attitude, so the Gotham Police helped fake her death so that she could start a new life somewhere else.
  • Fan Disservice: Jason, then Bruce and Barbara later, come across a pool of guys the Jokers infected with Joker Venom who are also in the nude.
  • Freudian Trio: Each Joker brings something different to the table and likewise their views about their rivalry with Batman.
    • The Comedian is a Sadist and a Psychopathic Manchild that just wants to hurt Batman and everyone else (his design in the novel seems to be based on his appearance in The Killing Joke). There's nothing deeper to it than that and embraces an undefined Joker while sneering at the idea that there is some specific purpose to Joker or meaning behind the Joker's actions. His acting on impulse and having almost no motivation for what he does beyond hate and spite makes him the Id.
    • The Clown is the showman who is an Attention Whore that loves the limelight playing a Monster Clown while planning out all of his crimes into a kind of performance (his design is identical to his Silver Age comic appearances, as well as A Death in the Family). While he only wants to have fun and bask in the attention his crimes give him, he also makes sure there is a punchline or reason behind every caper and a theme for every spree while also being able to create elaborate set pieces, amazing locations, plan out every detail of the performance. His desire to show off how amazing he is while making complex plans and gadgets to go with his shows makes him the Ego of the three.
    • The Criminal is a Diabolical Mastermind that believes in being the counter to Batman and that the Joker should be Batman's greatest opponent (his design recalls the Joker's debut in Batman #1). He is far more pragmatic than the Psychopathic Manchild Comedian or the Attention Whore Clown. He is well organized in his work and his crimes have practical ends like money gained for more resources, taking care of opponents and people who are in the way, and beyond Batman, has no problem with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? with any other person that gets in his way. His is far more considerate about the borderline suicidal Comedian or the Fearless Fool Clown and though he has no problem dying so long as Batman dies too, will also make sure he covers his bases and has contingencies in place for if he's captured or in a bad spot. (In the second appearance of the Joker in comics whom the Criminal is based on, he escapes prison by using 2 false teeth in his mouth that have 2 separate chemicals that when mixed cause an explosion and allow him to blow out his prison wall) With a pragmatic and thoughtful disposition while also believing that the Joker should have a deeper meaning, the Criminal is the Super-Ego of the group.
  • Fridge Logic: In-Universe, Batgirl lampshades how unlikely it is that the Jokers could pass as one person.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Batman and Batgirl are attacked by an army of naked, crazed Joker-Venom victims.
  • Genre Deconstruction:
    • It's common in most versions of the Batman mythos for the Joker's identity to be a complete mystery even to Batman, and the series even references that with the Joker Venom rendering its victims impossible to identify. This series, on the other hand, shows that with Batman's detective skills and resources, he figured out the Joker's (at least the Comedian version) identity a week after their first meeting.
  • Heinousness Retcon: In a possible backstory before becoming the Joker, The Killing Joke shows him to be a loving and caring husband and one of the key things that caused him to snap was the loss of his wife and unborn son and Alan Moore's notes state he didn't think of the man Pre-Joker as abusive. Three Jokers presents this backstory as true for the "Comedian" Joker —and that he was indeed abusive to his wife, resulting in her faking her death, so she could leave him and raise their son without him.
  • In-Series Nickname: The Three Jokers are referred to as "The Criminal," "The Clown" and "The Comedian" to better distinguish them.
    • The Criminal is the leader, the most serious of the three and is obsessed with the idea of the Joker being Batman's Arch-Enemy, wanting to make Joe Chill into a Joker worthy of being Batman's main enemy.
    • The Clown is the most sadistic of the three, inflicting pain on his victims both physically and mentally for laughs - including shattering Jason's composure by telling him of the events surrounding his death.
    • The Comedian is chaos personified, loathing the idea of being defined by anything and loving the idea of being everything (his Arch-Enemy) and nothing (his identity) to Batman at once. The comic's events turn out to be his effort to both get rid of the other Jokers and show Batman just how broken he actually is.
  • Last of His Kind: The Comedian takes his place as the only Joker by series' end, having ensured the deaths of the other two, as well as the failure of the Criminal's plan to create another Joker in Joe Chill.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The cops taking bets on which is the real Joker sounds very much like a discussion by readers and writers on what really defines the character, with each person's interpretation varying to various degrees.
    "The Clown" (about "The Criminal"): He only thinks he's the boss.
    "The Comedian": Well, one of us has to be.
  • Legacy Character: The Joker, and the Red Hood. The intersection of the two becomes a plot point in issue 2, where the surviving Jokers attempt to remake Jason Todd in their image.
    • Also the major motivation for the Jokers in this series, as some of their victims are failed attempts to create another Joker.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Comedian claims to be this in the last issue, having convinced the other two that Joe Chill would be a perfect next Joker, and also to leave clues for Batman to make the grand reveal more fun - all in an effort to both get rid of the other Jokers and show Batman how broken he really is.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: In-universe, the Comedian and the Clown seem to have difficulty remembering which of them committed which heinous act, with both claiming credit for each of the attacks on Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd as Robin. May double as Leaning on the Fourth Wall as both characterizations overlap some; notably, the Killing Joke features Joker's practical joke weapons as a downplayed element in the Comedian's arsenal, when this series implies these tricks were the Clown's; in contrast, the Joker in A Death in the Family used almost none of his gimmicks other than Joker venom.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The "Criminal" Joker's pose when he first appears is similar to his Golden Age appearance.
    • The Jokers fill the water in Gotham Aquarium with chemicals that causes all the fish to gain Joker-like grins, a reference to "The Laughing Fish" from Strange Apparitions a 1970s Detective Comics story arc by Steve Englehart.
    • The "Criminal" Joker's first reference is shortly after Batman's flashback to the deaths of his parents, and thematically ties the Criminal's Moxon victims to the deaths of the Waynes. This seems to be a nod to The First Batman a Detective Comics story from 1956 written by Bill Finger, which reveals that Joe Chill was working for the Moxon family.
    • In Blackgate Prison, the prison numbers of Joe Chill (0331939), Rupert Thorne (04691977), and Alexander Sartorius a.k.a. Doctor Phosphorus (0197705) reference their comic debuts; Chill in Detective Comics #33 (1939), Thorne in Detective Comics #469 (1977), and Sartorius/Phosphorus in the same 1977 issue on page 5.
    • Just as in A Death in the Family, Jason catches another brutal beatdown with a crowbar from the Criminal and Comedian Jokers (though non-fatally this time).
    • The Criminal boasts in issue #2 he ran Gotham before Batman - something broadly in line with the backstory presented by Paul Dini in "Case Study" from Batman: Black and White, where before his transformation the Joker was a mob boss who had a vast criminal empire in Gotham.
    • The climax of Death of the Family had Batman turn the Joker's mind-games back on him by claiming to know the Joker's real name and history. Here, it turns out he really does know the name and backstory of the "Comedian" Joker.
    • The Comedian Joker's plan is to have Bruce and Joe Chill achieve a peace so he, not Chill, can take his place as Batman's greatest pain. This is reminiscent of Jeremiah Valeska's plan in the last episodes of Gotham, where he was so outraged at some random mugger being more important to Bruce's history than him that he was willing to recreate the Wayne murders (with Jim Gordon and Leslie Thompkins as victims) just so he could be bonded to Bruce as his Arch-Enemy for life.
  • Not So Stoic: While Batman gets riled up throughout the story, his visit to Joe Chill in Blackgate is clearly personally hard on him, causing him to stammer and fumble over his words when he tries to greet him.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Batman somehow uncovered the Comedian Joker's true identity a week after meeting him, but also discovered his family's survival, even tracking down their location in Alaska.
    • This is a Call-Back to The Killing Joke. In it, the pre-Joker Comedian is a former Ace Chemicals employee, and shouts at one point that Ace used to not have security guards. Upon Batman realizing he's dealing with a former employee — and the Joker(s) making no secret of their ties to Ace Chemicals — it's likely Batman used this throwaway line to tie everything together.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: "Comedian" Joker reveals that he orchestrated the events of the comic so that Bruce would forgive Joe Chill, purely because he could not stand the idea there may someone Batman hates more than him.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: "Clown" Joker takes sadistic glee in gloating over how Jason, scared as he’s being beaten to death way back, begged to be spared, that "he’ll be his Robin". This is what pushes Jason over the edge.
  • Retcon: Depending on whether you view the series as canon or not (Geoff Johns deliberately left it up to the reader to decide, though as noted above, Batman (Chip Zdarsky) officially said it isn't), there's a few:
    • The nature of the Joker's acid baths now seriously alters people's physiology, rendering them all but unidentifiable with their prior appearance and completely impossible to identify with forensics.
    • While Joe Chill remains in jail for the Waynes' murder, it's strongly hinted that he was a fall guy blackmailed by the Moxon crime family and/or the Criminal Joker. Issue 2 confirms Chill's still the killer, but also has the Comedian call out the claim that Chill did it as a random mugging. Issue 3 confirms Chill did it under his own direction, but this time out of a misplaced sense of revenge on high society hurting the poor, rather than an ongoing criminal life.
    • The Clown implies he intentionally left Jason alive, as opposed to Todd being killed and resurrected.
      • Oddly, issue 3 has Jason refer to his own death and even the Clown and Criminal at certain points claim that Jason was indeed killed.
    • And, of course, the general premise of three Jokers coexisting. Batgirl lampshades this, saying that his appearance and methods have changed constantly.
    • Issue #2 retcons the Darkseid War reveal of the three Jokers, with the Jokers now intentionally revealing the secret to Batman at the Comedian's request.
    • A massive one from the final issue; not only has Batman known the "Comedian" Joker's true name since a week after their first meeting, but his wife from The Killing Joke faked her death with the help of the policemen from that story, and now lives in Alaska with their son.
  • Scars Are Forever: The first issue showcases the multitude of scars Batman has obtained over the years, as well as Barbara's gunshot wound and where Jason's head was smashed in.
  • Secret Identity Apathy: In their final conversation, the Comedian reveals to Batman that he's fully aware of Bruce, Barbara and Jason's real identities, but has no intention of ever revealing the information to anyone. If he did, Bruce might stop being Batman, thoroughly ruining Joker's fun. In turn Bruce reveals to Alfred that he knows Joker's true identity, but will never reveal it either since doing so will endanger the latter's alive wife and son.
  • Secret-Keeper
    • In a warped way, the Comedian. He knows the real identities of Batman, Batgirl and Red Hood and explicitly tells Bruce this, but won't reveal it out of fear Bruce might give up being Batman if he does.
    • Batman turns out to be this for the survival of the Comedian's family, knowing if they were ever exposed the press would hound them relentlessly and the Comedian himself would hunt them down.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Jason's storyline. While he kills the "Clown" Joker, he's still left an outsider in Bruce's Batfamily, and his attempts to genuinely connect with Barbara are viewed as a mistake by her, with his letter professing his desire to be better for her accidentally hoovered up by a passing cleaner. Even worse, the Comedian's dialogue in #2 indicates he might have been the one that killed Jason originally, meaning Jason may have killed the wrong Joker.
    • The whole story. We never see any special explanation for how the Three Jokers pull off their trick, we only have the faintest hint as to the Criminal's motivation for creating multiple Jokers — and no explanation for how he arranged the Comedian's transformation, much less when and where he and the Clown got theirs. At the end, only the Comedian survives, so we see no real reason for the Three Jokers' existence, either in-universe or as a meta-explanation.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mixed with a smidge of Canon Immigrant, as The Clown's henchmen are all wearing the costume ensemble (sleeveless sweater with nametag, colored dress shirt, slacks and flat cap) of many of The Joker's goons from Batman (1966). Bonus points in that three of them are named "Biff", "Zap" and "Pow"...
    • A reference to Tim Burton is made with the Clown-Joker wearing a baseball cap labeled "Large Marge Trucking".
    • One of the most famous Batman memes gets a sly mention in issue #3, because he really has done something ridiculously impressive; work out the Comedian Joker's true identity a week after meeting him.
      Bruce: Not to sound like people think I do, Alfred, but I'm Batman.
    • The glimpses of a snowy, Alaskan landscape as Bruce discreetly drives toward and past the isolated home of the Comedian Joker's escaped wife and son brings to mind Walter and Jesse's separate fugitive relocatings to Alaska.
    • Joe Chill being a random criminal who recognized the Waynes and targeted them because of who they were, is nearly similar to the (implied) motive of the Waynes' faceless and unnamed killer in Joker (2019).
  • Status Quo is God: Not totally, as Batman is aware of the Joker's identity, and the Joker's family turn out to be still alive, but the story still ends with the three Jokers being reduced to one (the Comedian), who promises to continue his eternal war with Batman despite being confined to Arkham. Furthermore, despite the prospect of a relationship with Barbara, Jason ends the story as an outsider to the Bat Family once more.
  • Villainous Rescue: As Barbara is overpowered by two Joker goons in book 3, they are shot dead. She assumes it was Jason but it turns out to be the Comedian Joker.
  • Wham Line: Bruce drops an epic one at the end of the series, shocking even Alfred.
    Batman: I knew the Joker's name one week after we first met.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Barbara tries to give one to Jason, but it doesn't work at all.
    • Barbara gives a better one to Bruce, who admits he failed Jason.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: "The Clown" does this to Jason Todd in spades. When Jason notes how he overcame the Joker's attempt at killing him, "The Clown" shuts him down by saying he let Jason live because him dying would otherwise mean he couldn't hurt him (or rather Batman with Jason as the proxy) anymore. He reminds Jason that he begged for his life and that he will become his Robin if the Joker spares him. He then gleefully cackles as that by becoming Red Hood, killing people, and making Batman's life miserable, Jason has indeed become his (The Joker's) Robin, his accomplice in hurting Batman. This breaks Jason as he is reduced to tears and shoots him.