We’re halfway through Joker Week, and I’m hoping my sanity continues to hold up, despite all the exposure to madness. In keeping with the theme of Joker Week focusing on Batman’s early encounters with his archenemy, today we’ll talk about The Man Who Laughs, a graphic novel written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Doug Mahnke and colored by David Baron. This is a modern update of Joker’s first appearance, which you may remember as day 1 of Joker Week. Go on, I’ll wait.
Taking place after the events of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, it begins with Captain James Gordon and his police investigating a warehouse filled with bodies. Batman shows up, and helps check out the bodies, which have been mutilated to have distorted grins. Someone apparently has been trying to perfect his technique. That night, Bruce Wayne is at a party with another wealthy man, Henry Claridge (who you may remember from the Joker’s first story), when a news report about Arkham Asylum’s reopening is interrupted by a strange clown-like figure. He murders the entire crew, and then makes his grand threat to kill the whole city, starting with Claridge. Batman starts to investigate, finding a disturbing poem left by the murderer on the asylum’s wall, stating “One by One, they’ll hear my call. Then this wicked town, will follow my fall.” The city is in a panic as this madman starts knocking people off left and right, and even Batman can’t seem to predict his next move. The media names him the Joker.
I think what I love about this story is how it fits with all we know now. It makes references to the Red Hood case, a story that didn’t exist when Joker first appeared in 1940, so now Batman has a clue where Joker came from, and how he may be responsible for the man’s fall into madness. I love the scene where he goes in disguise to the chemical plant and realizes that the workers there have had side effects from contact with the stuff that match Joker’s look, less the insanity. And again, brilliant use of Bruce allowing himself to be poisoned with Joker venom so he can understand Joker’s madness.
The last thing I love about this book is just the level of fear the city has. This is the first appearance of a mad supervillain, and the general populace are written with a believable level of terror. It reminds me a lot of the scene in The Dark Knight where the media broadcast Joker’s tape, and just realizing you’re looking at something truly horrific.
One last comic story before we look at Joker’s portrayals on Friday. So tune in tomorrow, because it’s an alternate version of pre-transformation Joker, alternate first encounter, and one of the darkest comics with Joker I’ve read. Hope you’re ready for it.