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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.
    • The one time Penguin actually cracks a grin at Joker's nonsense is when he responds to Oswald's observations about Harvey not being happy to see him back by asking which Harvey is being referred to.
  • 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.
  • Bad Boss: Predictably enough, Joker is just as terrifying and vicious towards his henchmen as he is to his enemies, and the only ones who work for him are either so desperate they'll ignore the obvious danger, stupid enough to not realize what they're getting into, or crazy like him.
  • 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: How does the Joker react to a man insulting his club, eyeing his girl, and then insulting the Clown Prince himself? By skinning him alive.
  • 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, going to great lengths to shear away any fanciful, humorous aspects to the character and spell out how utterly terrifying someone like him even existing would be. Joker himself tries to deconstruct Batman, describing him as a small, weak man desperately trying to pretend he's a monster and failing, but Batman effortlessly flips it around and uses three words to utterly destroy Joker's arguments and view of the world while calling him out as the pathetic psychopath he is.
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Joker responds to even the most mild of slights with utterly insane levels of violence. A bartender who annoys him gets skinned alive. Two-Face not answering his call sends him into a rage where he destroys his own hideout, beats a henchman to death, and begins actively trying to murder Two-Face's entire crew. Johnny being slightly irreverent towards him and withholding some minor information first gets him kicked in the crotch and then forced to watch as Joker rapes his ex-wife.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Mine: Once the gang war truly spirals out of control, Two-Face is so terrified of Joker that he actually gives himself up to Batman and asks him to intercede.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Jonny, while a scummy loser of a criminal, genuinely does love his ex-wife Shelly and kids, making Shelly being dragged into the conflict and raped by Joker the point where he really starts going downhill mentally. Meanwhile, it's revealed towards the end that Two-Face is married... to two different women, in fact, one for each personality.
  • 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 Is Petty: Joker's worst spree of violence and mayhem is prompted by him going into a truly explosive rage over Two-Face not answering his phone call.
  • 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.
  • 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, in most continuities played up theatrically as making him a Crazy Awesome supervillain who clearly enjoys the mayhem, is here played deadly straight and almost realistically. He's a volatile Mood-Swinger who's madness doesn't manifest as being a zany clown but as constantly suffering crippling episodes of mania and depression that undermine his situation and make him miserable. His Joker Immunity is also defied and deconstructed, as while he is rightfully feared, the comic ultimately makes clear that he really is just as vulnerable as any other man.
  • Glasgow Grin: Joker has a particularly nasty-looking one, and Jonny seems to get one when the Joker shoots him in the face.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Joker threatening to "kill" one of Two-Face's personalities, his psychotic behavior at the zoo, and subsequent rape of Shelly all quite rightfully terrify Harvey enough that he goes to Batman for help.
  • Groin Attack: Joker nails Jonny with this when Jonny decides to cop an attitude with Joker for being late.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: 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.
  • Hypocrite: Part of what makes working for Joker so dangerous is that he changes stance on things on a dime. Killer Croc saying "is that a problem?" to being told he's late to a meeting gets laughed off, but Jonny making the same comment in nearly the same context later on gets met with a savage beating for "backtalk".
  • 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.
  • Joker Immunity: Deconstructed, as while Joker does have a degree of cockroach-like skill at staying alive and manages to get out of Arkham at the start, the story makes clear that this realistically only goes so far and Joker is ultimately just a man, as capable of being killed as any other. He gets into multiple situations where he only survives thanks to the intervention of others, and Batman: Damned reveals that this comic ends with him dying when his last fight with Batman goes wrong in a stupidly mundane way (tumbling over a nearby railing).
  • 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: Joker does it constantly, though at one point it's observed by Jonny that he really can't tell if it's laughter or coughing. Jonny himself ends up laughing deliriously during the climax.
  • 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 Background Event: Look carefully in the background during a few scenes and you'll catch glimpses of Batman stealthily observing things from the rooftops. Joker was right; he absolutely was watching and scheming.
  • 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.
  • Mook Horror Show: Batman's few appearances make him seem like a terrifying wraith that nobody on the street really understands, beyond the fact that he is always lurking in the shadows and plotting how best to terrorize and brutalize them for their sins. Even Joker, for all that he plays up their arch-rivalry, is ultimately shown to be just as scared of him as the average goons are.
  • Mundane Horror: Somehow, the comic manages to make Joker casually eating shrimp into something that feels utterly revolting and unnatural.
  • 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.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Mocked. Jonny introduces himself as "Jonny, Jonny Frost" to Joker, causing Joker to refer to him as "Jonny Jonny" for the rest of the comic.
  • Noble Demon: Two-Face, Penguin, and Riddler are all criminals, but compared to Joker and Croc, they're practically saints, since they at least have a marginal degree of ethics and sanity. Two-Face in particular tries to warn Jonny to steer clear of Joker, truthfully telling him that he is in way over his head and should get out while he can for his own safety.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Averted. Turns out Joker gets a steady flow of cash for his schemes through being the silent partner/co-owner of a local strip club and bullying Penguin into acting as his stockbroker. If he really needs a boost immediately, all he has to do is walk into a bank and threaten the director's family.
  • 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 show 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.
  • Perspective Flip: A Batman story from the POV of Joker, showing how he spends his time when he isn't engaging in zany schemes to try and kill the Caped Crusader.
  • Pet the Dog: Two-Face genuinely tries to warn Jonny to stay away from Joker, not to try and poach him, but because he fully understands how dangerous Joker is and feels that Jonny should understand what kind of risk he's putting himself at.
  • Properly Paranoid: Joker always thinks someone is watching him. With good reason.
    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.
  • Pun: The Joker owns a strip club called the "Grin and Bare It".
  • 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).
  • Sanity Slippage: The more Jonny hangs around Joker, the more he descends from a somewhat normal street thug to an anxious, depressed trainwreck of a man who is constantly shivering meekly in the background as things happen. His mental observations of Joker also go from simple and mundane descriptions of what's happening to increasingly eerie and unhinged contemplation on how Joker is representative of a spiritual disease that plagues humanity and has since the Stone Age.
  • 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.
  • The Spook: Batman is seen as this by the criminals of Gotham; not a man in a costume, but a frightening, ethereal wraith of unknown origin looming through the shadows of the city, with no discernible motivation or drive beyond punishing those who harm the innocent. Accordingly, we never get his perspective on anything at any point, and his scant appearances make it unclear what he's even doing for most of the story other than trying to catch bad guys.
  • 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.
  • Troll: Two-Face refuses to answer a phone call from Joker, knowing it will send the Clown Prince into a huge tantrum. Which it does. Unfortunately for Harvey.
  • Undignified Death: At one point, the Joker 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.
  • 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 Episode: The gimmick of the comic, similar to the previous Luthor comic, is telling a typical Batman story from the perspective of his archenemy, the Joker. Batman himself doesn't make many appearances until right at the end, and even then is depicted in a way that makes him seem strange and inscrutable.
  • 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.