Book review – Joker
Insanity and the unpredictability that accompanies it have long reigned as key components in the creation of horror. Joker, the new graphic novel written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, truly highlights the insanity of well-known Batman supervillian the Joker, and it is as unpredictable as it is horrifying.
The story is told in a noir-ish fashion by a low-level henchman named Jonny Frost as he rises in the ranks and aspires to achieve the level of fame and respect known to only the Joker. It begins with Frost picking the Joker up from Arkham Asylum. True to form, the Joker sadistically rolls over his foes with jokes that nobody truly gets and leaves a path of death in his wake. Soon, Joker takes to reclaiming the streets of Gotham.
Frost successfully straddles the line of humanity and insane apathy that is expressed by the Joker. Although Frost initially admires and imitates the sociopathic actions of the Joker, even he eventually becomes distraught with the horror that he not only perceives but also becomes a party to. The reader follows Frost in suspense, knowing all too well that attaching himself to the Joker can only end in Frost’s own demise. Azzarello scratches deep beneath the surface, digging into the madness of a well-known character and making it new and terrifying. The storyline is accompanied by graphics that parallel it perfectly in capturing corruption and madness in a photorealistic way that calls attention to the action.
Joker contains cameo appearances by Two Face, the Penguin, and the Riddler – each of whom have been revamped into modern gangsters and pimps while staying true to the ideals of the classic characters. The success of the story is in Azzarello and Bermejo’s ability to create new, modern personas for the characters. Each character contains the same madness and villainy that is ever-present in the many Batman series, but in Joker the relatable characters, contemporary scenes, graphics, and stories heighten their effect.
Even a reader who is unaware of the Batman franchise would easily become engulfed in Joker’s characters. Batman does appear, but only for a terrifying climactic showdown that allows the Joker to have his well-deserved spotlight. Joker may appear eerily similar to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but Azzarello claims it was started well before. Even with some similarities to Nolan’s blockbuster film, the combination of amazing art and sadistic characters makes Joker stand out far beyond The Dark Knight.