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Comic Book / Joker

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"The Joker has been released from Arkham Asylum."

Joker is a 2008 one-shot graphic novel written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, focusing — just like it says on the tin — on the Joker, everyone's favorite Monster Clown. The story is done in a Darker and Edgier, Film Noir style and is told by a naive young criminal named Jonny Frost who yearns to be a big man in Gotham. So when (for reasons nobody seems to know) the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum and sets out to reclaim the city for himself, Frost decides he wants in. Carnage ensues! Along the way, they bump into the Riddler, Two-Face, the Penguin, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn and the B-man himself.

There's a lot of visual similarities between this version of the Joker and the one presented in The Dark Knight; Word of God chalks this down to coincidence. The original title of the comic was even Joker: The Dark Knight (in the same vein as the partnership's previous graphic novel Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, which is a fun companion to this work) but that had to be scrapped for obvious reasons.

If you wanted the page for the character, that's here. See here for the 2019 film.

Batman: Damned is a Stealth Sequel to this story.

This graphic novel provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Joker suggesting that Killer Croc give him a blowjob makes Croc and the other gangsters laugh.
    • Croc also lets out a laugh when Joker makes a jab at him for his looks.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Killer Croc appears as a strong black man, not the usual reptilian man that's often shown in the comics. His condition, epidermolytic hyperkeratosis, is also depicted more accurately as ichthyosis vulgaris.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: At the climax of the story, Joker is engaged in the usual brawl with Batman. During this, he engages in a "The Reason You Suck" Speech where he attempts to deconstruct Batman dressing up like a monster and inspiring fear. After going on about that, Joker asks why Batman leaves his chin uncovered, allowing a glimpse at the man beneath the suit and thus showing that despite the appearance, Batman isn't a monster. Batman responds, "To mock you." Joker immediately flips out. The response is made more powerful because this is Batman's only line in the whole story.
  • Art Shift: Pages change from a gorgeous painted look (usually for the larger panels) to a lower-quality colouring style continuously.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Killer Croc is the leader of his gang due to his strength and intimidation. When Jonny tries to give him orders, Croc quickly puts Jonny in his place by picking him up singlehandedly and then hanging him from a hook.
  • Ax-Crazy: Imagine all the murderous insanity that powered the incarnations of The Joker that Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill played. Now cram it all into one guy. He's that crazy.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: A cop points a gun at an out-of-ammo Joker, we see a BLAM and The Joker's shocked reaction, then Joker looks down and we see the corpse of the cop, now with a big hole in his head courtesy of Jonny Frost, who'd come up behind Joker just in time.
  • Batman Gambit: The premise is that Joker, somehow, gets out of Arkham through the front gate. It's suggested but never stated that he was legally released. Later, he intimates to the Riddler that this was a sham.
    "The best place to hide, Edward, is in sanity!"
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Joker to Jonny, accompanied by a punch to the face, when he's thoroughly tired of Jonny (but the same statement quickly shifts to their pursuer... Batman).
    "Uh... God. You disgust me. You have no charm at all, just... obviousness. Dumb, dull, disappointing."
  • Bodyguard Babes: In this story, Harley Quinn serves this role to the Joker. She's never seen speaking on panel, though presumably she can, Jonny just doesn't notice it.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Jonny shoots one of Harvey's cops in the face and saves Joker's life. The perspective makes it look like the hole takes up half his face.
  • Break the Haughty: Jonny, a good way to see it is in the artwork where at the start he is always standing tall next to Joker, smoking a cigarette, pulling his collar, smugly smiling and all but short to flex at people when he enters the room. Near the end he looks scared, aimless and depressed.
  • Break Them by Talking: Joker tries to deliver this lecture to Batman, calling him out on trying to look like a monster but leaving his chiseled, heroic jaw bare for all to see. Batman turns it on its head and sends Joker into an Unstoppable Rage. He did it with just three words: "To mock you."
  • Bullying a Dragon: Jonny tries to throw his weight around and give orders to Killer Croc. Predictably, it ends with Jonny being made to realize that he's not as important as he thinks he is.
  • Cardboard Prison: Lampshaded, since no-one understands why the Joker is being released.
  • Cassandra Truth: Harvey Dent sics one of his crooked cops on Jonny to warn him about the Joker, and then calls Jonny to his office to warn him some more: "you are involved with a sick man who will see you die... because for him, death is the punchline." Granted, the Joker's far from laughing by the time he shoots Jonny in the face at point-ouch range but Dent was close enough about the death part.
  • Character Title: This comic is called Joker. Yeah. As mentioned previously, it was originally going to be subtitled The Dark Knight to continue the theme naming of the previous Azzarello/Bermejo story.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gun that Jonny gives Joker at their first meeting is the same one Joker uses to shoot Jonny in the face at the end.
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: Oswald Cobblepot is never addressed by his real name or his criminal identity, The Penguin. Joker only ever refers to him as "Abner" as a sign of disrespect.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: There were two rather cruel murders Joker committed. The first involved skinning a man alive because he got on the Joker's bad side by insulting his club, eyeing his girl, and then insulting the Clown Prince himself. The second? He shoots a man in the head, while said man is sitting on the toilet. It might not be the most cruel death, but it's certainly embarrassing. Stay classy, Mr. J.
  • Curse Cut Short: A minor example:
    Joker: "I'd like your crew to run it for me still. They can be trusted, right? 'Cuz I get a whiff of skimmin', it's like my boogers are turned into sh—"
    Johnny Bang Bang: "—You ain't gonna smell boo from us."
  • Darker and Edgier: Oh yes. See Deconstruction below.
  • Deconstruction: The series was meant to make the Joker scary again, after all the anti-heroic and idealized traits he'd acquired by fans. Specifically, the book came out soon after The Dark Knight had come out.
  • Death Seeker: Jonny seems to be one as in one scene during the story's midpoint, he is standing on the roof of his apartment building, looking down with a sad expression on his face. He finds it during the story's climax.
  • Dirty Cop: Two-Face has several in his pocket.
  • Downer Ending: Jonny, dying of a bullet to the face, concludes that the Joker represents a disease older than civilization with no cure as Batman and the Joker have a punch-up in the background. Neither of them even notice his death.
  • The Dreaded: Joker. Word of his release travels through all of Gotham quickly, all the other villains fear him, and even the people that work for him are nervous if he isn't happy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As usual the supervillains, mob bosses, and Jerkass criminals are just as horrified by the Joker as the good guys are. Two-Face in particular is freaked out by the Joker and convinces Batman to intervene on the gang war when the Joker claims that he'll "kill" one of his personalities.
  • Evil Cripple: The Riddler walks with a flashy question mark themed cane but it's apparent he actually needs it to aid his mobility instead of fashion. He has a unique stance and Jonny's narration states that there's a hitch in his hip.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: This Joker's brand of humor is way more crass and sick than his usual depiction. Jonny also comments that there are times it's not clear if Joker is laughing or coughing so he might not even be making jokes.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Most of the book is Joker vs. Two Face's criminal empire. Batman doesn't even step in until Harvey Dent, terrified by Joker's threat to "kill" one of his personalities, makes his own Bat-Signal and pleads with Batman to intervene.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When the Joker goes to meet with a bar owner who formerly worked for him, they disappear for a few minutes... before the barman returns, stripped of all of his skin from the neck down.
  • Excuse Plot: How did the Joker manage to be released from Arkham? It's never explained and the Joker refuses to say, but it doesn't matter. The rest of the comic acts as a character study of the Joker from the perspective of an outsider, even if there is a story.
  • Flaying Alive: Joker pulls this on his lackey Monty, who had taken over the Joker's strip club
  • Flipping the Bird: First thing Joker does in the comicbook. To Gotham City.
  • Film Noir: This is pretty much GoodFellas starring the Joker.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Jonny Frost, or "Jonny Jonny" to Joker.
  • For the Evulz: The Joker, more gruesomely so than his canon counterpart.
  • Functional Addict: Subverted, it initially seems like Joker is this due to his implied addiction to his pills, but later when he breaks down crying in his room the table is covered with pills.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Joker's insanity, while in most continuity it makes him Crazy Awesome who clearly enjoys the mayhem, here it shows just how bad his psyche is and the downside he has, mostly depressions and anger issues, and how he is just as vulnerable as any men.
  • Glasgow Grin: Joker has a particularly nasty-looking one, and Jonny seems to get one when the Joker shoots him in the face.
  • Groin Attack: Joker nails Jonny with this when Jonny decides to cop an attitude with Joker for being late.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper/Mood-Swinger: Anything might make the Joker laugh, anything might make him kick you in the bollocks or knife you or grind the broken end of a glass bottle into your face.
  • Handshake Refusal: Tommy Bang Bang puts out his hand to seal a deal with the Joker and the Joker looks like he's responding, but instead he grabs some scampi. Immediately after leaving the restaurant, he goes back inside and guns Tommy down.
  • Hate Sink: While The Joker is usually a villain who is too funny, laughable and over-the-top to be hated, the same cannot be said of this version. In fact, the author made it clear that this Joker was designed specifically to reverse the most idealized features of the character. This book stands as a harsh rebuke, reminding everyone that despite how "fun" or "cool" the Joker's chaos is, he's still a monster.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Killer Croc's job includes "disposing of bodies". This is driven home when you see Croc eating what looks like just fried meat, but from Jonny's above view, you see what's on the plate is a human heart. And floating in a nearby boiling pot... a skull.
  • Just for Pun: The Joker owns a strip club called the "Grin and Bare It".
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Not used, but mentioned gleefully when the Joker discovers that both of Harvey Dent's personalities are married, since, much like Al Capone with tax evasion, Dent could be put away for bigamy.
  • Karmic Butt-Monkey: Johnny Frost is an ambitious young gangster (and wifebeater) who thinks sucking up to the Joker will make him a bigshot. Every single villain sees him for the dumbass he is and lets him know it in no uncertain terms (when he tries to boss Killer Croc around because they both work for the Joker, Croc hangs him on a meat hook).
  • Kick the Dog: For Joker, it's raping Shelly and murdering a completely random couple in their home.
  • Laughing Mad: Jonny ends up laughing deliriously at one point.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Two-Face, while a dangerous criminal in his own right, is definitely portrayed as being significantly more sane and a much lesser evil than The Joker.
  • Meaningful Name: Possibly just a coincidence, but the name Jonny Frost is sort of similar to Joe Chill, the man who gunned down Batman's parents.
  • Mood-Swinger: The comic goes to great length to show how dangerous it is to hang around a guy who goes from depressed to cheery to homicidal rage so fast. One moment Joker is drinking with a henchman who organized a party for him, the next he is skinning him alive. Unusually for the character, this comic shows him as having major depressive episodes as well.
  • Mutually Unequal Relationship: Johnny Frost is a naive getaway driver who thinks being the Joker's Number Two is his ticket to becoming a respected criminal overlord. Actual criminal overlords who know the Joker don't bother hiding their contempt because they know what's in store for him. At one point Frost tries to get Killer Croc to finish eating faster, thinking working for the Joker gives him the Joker's authority. Croc hangs him on a meat hook, letting Frost see what Croc is eating. Frost ends up killed by the Joker shortly after realizing just how little he (or human life in general) means to his boss.
  • Oh, Crap!: The look on Joker's face when he finds Croc and his men hogtied, indicating that Batman has finally found him, speaks volumes.
    • The entire city of Gotham gets a collective one when the news spreads that Joker is being released from Arkham.
  • Only Sane Man: Deconstructed with Jonny. Joker admits that he keeps him around because Jonny's more down to earth than he is, but the book goes out of its way to just how absurd it is for a sane man to be around these people.
  • Painting the Medium: Two-Face's Speech Bubble goes wavey to indicate which part of Harvey is talking.
  • Properly Paranoid: Joker always thinks someone is watching him.
    Joker: "Look out the window, Jonny Jonny... tell me what you see"
    Jonny: "I see lights"
    Joker: "Lights? Heh heh heh HA HA HA HA! Those lights? They're pin pricks... in the dark. He's out there. You know that Jonny? Right on the other side of this window... watching me."
  • Post-Rape Taunt: After raping Shelly, the Joker says to Jonny that it makes them even for Jonny withholding information.
  • Race Lift: In an odd variant, Killer Croc has always technically been an African-American man, but outside of his earliest appearances he's usually depicted as more reptilian in appearance and nature. Nowadays the norm is to regard him as an evolutionary throwback due to his condition, and to portray him as looking more like a dinosaur than a man. Here, Croc is once again recognizable as simply a black man with a skin condition. He's a strong, cannibalistic gang leader who became Joker's muscle.
  • Rape as Drama: The Joker rapes Shelly, Jonny's ex-wife.
  • This Is Reality: Two-Face's goons are suddenly chasing Joker's gang and open fire at them. Jonny goes off-road, crashing the car with him and Joker inside. Jonny even points out that he always thought he'd never go down without a fight, but it turns out that when someone bumps your car and starts shooting at you with a one second notice, you go down easy.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Notice anything strange about that gargoyle on page five?
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Basically the plot of the story is that the Joker is out to get back his criminal empire and get revenge on those who screwed him out of said empire while he was in Arkham.
  • Sad Clown: This version of the Joker is generally maniac, but has bouts of depression. If he's not laughing hysterically, he's crying in Harley's arms, or having an 'episode' (breakdown).
  • Scary Black Man: Killer Croc is reimagined as a scary, cannibalistic black man with teeth filed down to points and possessing a skin condition. Killer Croc was always depicted as being of African American descent, it's the later renditions of the character that would depict him as more reptilian or dinosaur-like.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The unexplained briefcase Joker gets from the Riddler is a shout-out to Pulp Fiction.
    • Also featuring a "The End is Nigh" poster on page 30, which is something of a shout-out to former Batman writer Alan Moore and the Watchmen.
  • Slasher Smile: The Joker, of course.
  • Silent Antagonist: Harley Quinn doesn't get a single line despite doing some thoroughly awesome stuff.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Jonny starts to show signs of this, but gets knocked back down swiftly and painfully both times.
  • Stealth Sequel: Batman: Damned actually takes place after this story and reveals the body seen falling at the end of Joker is, in fact, the Clown Prince himself, not Jonny.
  • Thematic Series: The story is a companion piece to Azzarello and Bermejo's earlier Lex Luthor: Man of Steel (later rereleased in a collected edition under the title Luthor, to reinforce the connection):
    • Both are rather dark and deconstructive takes on the Batman and Superman universes with their respective arch-nemeses acting as Villain Protagonists.
    • In both, the superheroes act as rarely-seen threats lurking ominously on the edges.
    • Both also explore the mindsets of each villain, and the worlds they inhabit. This consequently introduces an element of Unreliable Narrator, as neither villain is a wholly trustworthy source (Luthor's narrative, which initially seems quite utopian, is ultimately warped by his humanist pretensions and paranoid delusions, while the Joker's narrative is naturally drenched in an atmosphere of horrific nihilism and casual sadism from the outset).
    • Both initially appear to be deconstructing the superhero, only to turn it around and end up revealing exactly how monstrous the villain is and why we shouldn't trust them at all. As an example, both works climax in a confrontation between villain and hero in which the villain launches into a lengthy and deconstructive "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how inadequate the hero is, only for the hero to respond with a brief Shut Up, Hannibal! statement (two sentences for Superman, three words for Batman) that not only refutes everything the villain has tried to claim about the hero, but turns it back on the villain in such a way that drives them to a Villainous Breakdown.
  • The Unreveal: It's never revealed how Joker got out of Arkham via legal means. Also, it's never exactly revealed what thing Riddler steals for Joker.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: About five pages in, right when the Joker is strolling out of Arkham and looking back at its battlements. Take a look at the gargoyle in panel two. Then again in panel four. Miss something? "Now there's a Batman!"
  • Villain Protagonist: It's a book about the Joker. That said, Johnny Frost, a lackey, is the POV character.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Joker begins to have one when he realizes that Batman is finally putting a stop to his attempts at rebuilding his criminal empire.
    Joker: That sonofabitch—Of course not— he doesn't have a funny broken bone in his body. Oh, but he's got his hands on the rug, Jonny. Everything—He's let me...we have to get off the rug.
    Jonny: What rug?
    Joker: Goddammit—can't you feel it slipping away?!
  • Villainous Friendship: Killer Croc and the Riddler are the only people Joker seems to get along with. Barely.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Croc doesn't bother wearing a shirt. He only wears a vest or sleeveless vest with nothing beneath.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Harvey Dent seems to think he's living in Casino or GoodFellas or some other crime-Noir drama, with himself, naturally, at its head. The Joker cuts his arm open for it.
    • Jonny has similar delusions. He believes he's the Henry Hill to Joker's Jimmy Conway and realizes too late that he's living with a psychopath who will destroy him the second he feels like it.