What do you get when you wait four years for Three Jokers? Disappointment, says comic book fan and deputy editor Jamie Morris…
In 2016, at the conclusion of his Darkseid War saga, star DC Comics writer Geoff Johns teased perhaps the most highly anticipated comic of his career. Sat upon a cosmic throne – with answers to all of the universe’s mysteries – Batman asked the one question he’s never been able to figure out: just who is the Joker? Yet the response he received was merely another question: “Which one?”
So, for the past four years, fans of the Caped Crusader have been racking their brains over just what this could mean. Was this a literalisation of the concept from 1988’s The Killing Joke – and later co-opted for the big screen by The Dark Knight – that the Joker can have multiple origin stories? Had an additional two Jokers recently found their way into the DC Universe through inter-dimensional travel? Or was this a grand reveal that there were in fact three of these killer clowns working in tandem all along?
Well, it turns out that the years of speculation were more entertaining than what Johns actually had up his sleeve. In spite of all the excitement leading up to it, Three Jokers just feels insubstantial – with every major story beat lacking the impact you’d expect. The first time we see all three Jokers together is presented in such a matter-of-fact way, that you might find yourself flicking back a few pages to see if you’ve missed anything, and the events of the finale do nothing to change the way you view either the Joker or Bruce Wayne. All in all, it’s more like an inconsequential filler arc than the paradigm-shift it’s being marketed as.
The small supporting cast includes Jason Todd (Red Hood) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), who each suffered at the hands of the Joker in previous stories, yet nearly all semblance of meaningful characterisation between these two is reduced to a hollow romance subplot that yet again reduces Barbara’s role in the Batman mythos to just “the love interest”. Even the book’s strongest scene – an epilogue of sorts which occurs across the last few pages – feels like a contradiction of what we knew going in.
However, never underestimate the ability of good artwork to transform a poor script into a decent comic. Three Jokers is illustrated by the excellent Jason Fabok (who also collaborated with Johns on Darkseid War) and could easily be seen as a portfolio of some of his best work to date. Fabok’s immaculate pencils and inks provide a cinematic quality to the book that sustains your intrigue in the story in spite of all of the obstacles Johns’ writing puts in the way – Gotham feels alive and brimming with secrets, and every character design feels tangible and fit for the big screen.
Just as important to the success of the book’s visuals is colourist Brad Anderson, who completes Fabok’s vision with a rich colour palette that further contributes to the vivid feel of the book. Anderson demonstrates a mastery of bringing lighting effects to the page, be it through the slick leather of Bruce’s cowl, or the lavish tones of each Joker’s purple attire. Sure, DC’s house style might not have evolved a great deal over the past couple of decades, but in terms of their artistic proficiency, Fabok and Anderson stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Jim Lee and Alex Sinclair, who gave us the modern classic Batman: Hush in the early noughties.
Three Jokers is far from unreadable, but there’s no denying that this is a bit of a bait-and-switch from DC. In fact, Johns’ recent announcement of plans for a sequel suggests that he’d much rather string readers along than offer them a complete, meaningful story. If curiosity gets the better of you and you must know why there’s a trio of green-haired maniacs running around Gotham, nobody is going to blame you for picking up the book and finding out – but the joke’s on you if you do.
Three Jokers is out in hardcover on Tuesday 17 November
By Jamie Morris
Feature image: DC Comics