“Batman and Son”, Interlude: The Clown at Midnight (Batman #663)

Boy, a lot of people sure seem to hate this one, huh? In some cases I can see why this is, and can even agree to a certain extent on some of the story’s flaws. For example, Morrison certainly does go a bit over the top with his metaphors and use of alliteration. Sure, such bizarre use of language made me wonder if there were a particular narrator behind the tale – the Black Glove of our next hardcover collection seeming a likely candidate – but it doesn’t mean he had to write long winding sentences for every little thing. But although I understand that particular irritation some people seem to have with this story, I’ve read a lot of stupid crap as well, such as the suggestion that the same story could have been told in the usual comic form. That’s true, of course, but what the people who say that don’t seem to realise is that it wouldn’t have been nearly as good or effective, and would’ve taken up at least two issues, though three or four sounds more likely. What we have instead is compressed storytelling at its finest, for managing to put together those several issues worth of comics into the one story, but also for doing so pretty well in my book.

Before we dive into an analysis in which I compare the Joker to Chigurh of No Country For Old Men (yes, really), here’s a basic story summary: some henchmen of the Joker are all mysteriously killed at a funeral, prompting Batman to confront the recovering lunatic at Arkham Asylum, which turns out to be fruitless since the chap can hardly talk after, you know, being shot in the head and all. But he does realise that the Joker’s speech therapist is actually Harley Quinn so goes off in pursuit of her before she can carry out any more of his plans. Alas, this ends in her escape just as Alfred tells Batman that the Joker’s causing mayhem at Arkham. We then follow him instead as he not only carries out his brutal escape, but re-imagines himself as a new Joker, one who has no need of Harley and attempts to kill her. Too late, though, as Batman intervenes, saving her. Which is bad for the Joker because Harley shoots him and Batman must drag him to an infirmary, at which point our story ends. It sounds simple, I know, but there’s actually a lot that goes on here. There’s throwbacks to other stories; there’s very clear themes brought to the surface; it’s a sequel, in a way, to Morrison’s own Arkham Asylum; and, most importantly, there’s the character study of the Joker, the whole point of it all.

We’ll start with the easiest thing to talk about: that it’s a sequel, in a sense of the ideas prevalent, to Arkham Asylum. Well, not only ideas within the story, I mean – Morrison brings over some familiar writing techniques, such as his emphasis on pattern, which we see here as a chessboard and in the focus upon the colours red and black. We’ll get to those, but I’d first like to talk about the parts of Arkham Asylum’s story that we see make a return. For one, there’s the concept that the Joker possesses a “super sanity” and, indeed, it plays a large role here. When I say he “re-imagines himself”, I mean that he really changes himself, in a rather freaky sequence. But what makes it frightening isn’t that he at one point during the transformation, for instance, goes through several spasms where his other incarnations wrestle for control, seemingly even changing his voice. No, what’s terrifying is that he’s actually in control – that the whole thing is planned, hence the title specifically referring to this reincarnation we’re presented with as “the clown at midnight”. It’s so planned, in fact, that Harley, who acknowledges his twisted genius quite a few times, shows up exactly as he planned her to – and ready, though not to her knowledge, for sacrifice.

That’s another thing making a return here – there’s a ritual in both stories, and they both almost end with a sacrifice. In Arkham Asylum it was the sacrifice of Batman that was nearly carried out, the ritual having been the attempt to drive him insane. But this time the Batman may as well be irrelevant, except for the Joker wanting him to witness his transformation. This is the ritual, and Harley, “the last and best of his lackeys” is nothing more than a “playing card” for Batman to witness the Joker lay out, like the checkmate on a chessboard – the sacrifice that will see the Joker reborn…or perhaps not. What’s really interesting from following the Joker so intimately in this issue is that we get a lot more insight into his own thoughts on the matter of his “super persona”. We know Harley believes in it – after all, it was she who created the persona phrase (“super sanity” is said by Ruth Adams in Arkham Asylum), to which Batman reminds her of. Likewise, Batman himself sees the patterns in the Joker’s plans. Indeed, when he rescues Harley, he already realises that he plans to kill her, having deduced it from the red and black pattern of her outfit, the very same colour pattern used in the poisonous roses he killed his former henchmen with at the beginning of the story. Back to Harley again, she at one point calls him “her Saint” after imagining that she sees a “radioactive light” emanating from his eyes.

That latter part is similar to a comparison the Joker makes of himself, or more specifically his mind, which “feels like it’s 8.15 am at ground zero in Hiroshima”.  In other words, his mental state is that of a devastating atomic explosion that was destructive in an apocalyptic sense, one thing we’ll shortly get back to. But, yes, he goes on to daydream of himself “giving birth from his mouth to pestilence and desolation”, and that he could be a personification of the bogeyman from which children will hide. To fully illustrate my point, we need to back a few pages to the transformation itself. Before the spasms begin he actually contemplates on his supposed super sanity, but his only answer to the question of it being true is a simple “maybe”, which is repeated at the start of each sentence in this particular passage. Going forward again, until the very end of the story, the Joker at that point tries to explain to Batman that there is no red and black pattern to what he’s doing, at least not intentionally. How he tries to explain that it’s little more than a fantasy that Batman’s making up, like someone trying to find logic behind the world’s more sadistic actions, curiously enough is by mentioning “a bat in a window”, which is of course how Batman is “born” in Frank Miller’s Year One, the point there being that even then our Dark Knight saw something, some act of fate apparently, that just doesn’t exist.

Before actually saying that – which Batman can’t even make out, by the way, or just doesn’t seem to understand (it’s difficult to tell but it may well be the latter since the Joker goes on to say that he could never kill him because he’s his “straight man”) – he even considers telling Batman that it’s the man himself who makes laugh the hardest because, as has been the subject of many Batman / Joker stories, they’re actually both very similar, “trying to find meaning in a meaningless world”, the Dark Knight by representing Order, and the Joker, Chaos. Shortly after saying this he does indeed say that he “simply wants Batman to give in to chaos”. Which led to me to think of this Joker as being quite like Cormac McCarthy’s Chigurh, of No Country For Old Men, in a way. That character’s a destructive force of evil too, and the other characters in that book also have a difficult time understanding him – why he kills, mercilessly and without any hesitation, anyone who gets in his way; and how he decides who lives and dies.

Which in turn reminds me of the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche, particularly the idea that tragedy itself isn’t what gnaws at people’s minds, driving them to react in horror or disgust or what have you – but pointless tragedy. Kind of like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that the Joker compares himself to, or the school shootings we hear about too often. Whatever the case, although the Joker perhaps thinks of himself in the same way as McCarthy’s Chigurh – as someone who acts through what they believe is common sense, and as someone who is a necessary evil – both characters actually share the same irony of being just as futile as any other human being. In No Country For Old Men it was a car crashing into Chigurh’s at the end of the book and film, as well as suffering multiple gunshot wounds before. So far in this run we’ve already seen the Joker get shot in the head by an impostor, that he probably should have seen through the guise of, and here again he is shot, this time unexpectedly by Harley, the same person he’d been planning to kill.

It’s an utterly fascinating portrayal of the Joker to me and I’m really excited to see where Morrison will take the character next. In fact, one terrifying thing I didn’t even mention is that Morrison has had the Joker’s face stuck in a permanent smile, something which even surprises Harley at first, and something which seems quite suitable. If I’m right in my comparison to Chigurh, or simply the idea of him from this point onwards existing solely for destruction’s sake, then I can’t think of anything more fitting for a character like him, killing because, as far as he’s concerned, life itself is one meaningless joke, moving forwards on his apocalyptic path with a great big smile plastered on his face. To put it simply: whenever we next see him, I expect that it will not be good at all.

Before I leave you with some additional notes I made, there’s a few more things worth talking about briefly. First of all, I mentioned that there were throwbacks to other stories involving the Joker. The brunt of these are seen during his transformation stage, but the earliest reference is of two of the dwarves from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke making a return appearance. Well, one’s killed straight off the bat, but the other, called Sheba, a name I’ll come back to, survives and we briefly read from her perspective where she recalls the Joker’s “short-lived ringmaster-from-Hell phase”, which is where she was involved in tormenting Jim Gordon at a carnival the Joker had stolen for the purposes of driving that character insane. That’s only one though. During his reinvention I mentioned that the Joker appeared to vocally change into his other other persona’s. Whether he does or not isn’t really relevant, but he does repeat familiar sounding dialogue. Alas, I only recognised two such lines. One, from The Killing Joke, is “And I’m looony like a lightbulb-battered bug”, part of the song he sings to Gordon during his little ghost train ride. The other I recognised is from Arkham Asylum, naturally, and is his “Aren’t I just good enough to eat?” line that he says on his first physical appearance in that story. There’s more, which sound like probable references as well, but either way, my point is that “references” may not be the best word. Although they could just be that, I actually think, like the character of Batman, Morrison is making all previous Joker stories canon as well. Obviously I don’t expect that he’ll go into as much depth, but I do believe that this is the case anyway, which is quite interesting.

The other thing I want to mention, quickly, is that Morrison springs up some themes here, ones that I expect we’ll be seeing more of. Most obviously, there’s the idea of transformation, emphasised further than I’ve mentioned so far with the comparison to a snake shedding its skin. The reason I bother to mention it again after already talking about the Joker so much is that I wonder now if it’ll be something that isn’t already applying to Batman. As I’ve been pointing out for a while now, this Batman is a little weird, and I can’t help but think that any major change that happens, such as my suggestion that he may go insane at some point during this run, could actually be permanent – the birth of a new Batman. Indeed, one of the later trade paperbacks is called The Return of Bruce Wayne, taking place after he’s somehow killed by this Darkseid character in Final Crisis, strongly emphasising this possibility.

Another noticeable theme, which I predicted when we first met Jezebel Jet, is that religion would be playing a role. There’s quite a lot of religious references going on in this tale, believe it or not. For one, there’s another comparison the Joker makes of himself to Shiva, a Hindu god often referred to as “the destroyer”, although also “the transformer”, I guess for the changes it can make to the world. Don’t worry – I won’t pretend I know anything about this particular religion, but I would like to mention one other god. You see, “the destroyer” seems to be more like what Morrison is referring to if you connect it back to Hiroshima, which the Joker already compared himself to. This video is an excerpt of an interview with Oppenheimer (look him up), years after his atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, in which he compares his feelings at the time to a Hindu god called Vishnu, also confusingly called “the destroyer of worlds”. So again, the Joker’s comparing himself to some hellishly angry gods. In fact, one small thing I forgot to do in my comparison of him to Chigurh was to go in depth into how the latter uses the flip of a coin, much like Harvey Dent, to decide who lives and dies to which a few character’s, particularly the main one’s wife, angrily respond to as his decision as some kind of deity who can decide who to kill and not kill.

Aaanyway, before I go off on a further tangent, the other religious reference is to the Queen of Sheba. To be honest, I cheated here and looked up some reviews of this issue going as in depth as I am, in which I found someone point out that this queen is from the Old Testament, and not the New, significant because that the character with this name, one of the dwarves from The Killing Joke, is nearly killed by Harley as part of the Joker’s rebirth. In other words, killing the Old Testament to bring in the New. Clever, eh? The only other reference, which might not even be one at all, is the line “fish being gutted” that the Joker repeats at one point. Though not certain, I could swear that has something to do with Christianity, vaguely remembering some symbol of a fish in a church I used to go to. If so, “being gutted” could be a way of saying, “In with the new religion [chaos, I suppose], out with the old” again.

The last theme ties back to that one line I said the Joker made when attempting to get Batman to understand that there was no bat that made him who he is, and that’s this belter: “Life…and death. The joke…and the punchline”. It’s literally just as it sounds – pure existential nihilism coming from the Joker. But, also, with the way he directs this at Batman in reference to that character’s birth, he’s trying to suggest that the Batman is the opposite of this philosophy, trying to create meaning out of every little detail. Which in turn ties back to what I found curious about Batman’s concern when Tim Drake was nearly killed by Damian recently: that being that he seemed more concerned about losing Robin than Tim himself. This in turn reminded me of V For Vendetta, funnily enough, in which the lead character tells the detective who kills him, “Ideas are bulletproof”. And what is Batman and Robin, if not an idea? If not a personification of Order against the Chaos of the Joker? But what if they’re not concrete at all? What if, like the Joker in this story, things will change? It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if that were actually the case, if what Morrison is really intending to do with this run is reinvent the Batman mythos itself. Alas, we can only wait to find out.

Some small notes then to close us off:

– In a section in which Batman stands atop one of Gotham’s buildings and just surveys the city there’s a curious focus on the neon colours of red, purple and yellow. It surely isn’t a coincidence that these are the colours of Tlano’s costume, the Batman from Zur-En-Arrh, the name of which we’ve seen graffitied on walls already. Not really sure what it could mean here though unless it’s merely foreshadowing through colour.

– Morrison refers to this new iteration of the Joker as “the Thin White Duke of Death” at one point, a very clever David Bowie reference. You see, David Bowie isn’t only a great singer – he’s a great showman too. And by comparing the Joker to him Morrison is thinking of other writer’s approach to the character; how he’s a fan favourite because of all the ways he’s been reinvented over the years, as has Bowie re-imagined his image.

– “I’m a cockroach!” is a phrase the Joker cries as his transformation begins and I think it might be a reference to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which the lead character wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into the insect.

– Contrary to what I said above about references not really “existing” in that way, there is one that I doubt is supposed to be part of the Joker’s entire canon, and that’s a reference to Frank Miller’s much-parodied Batman of All Star Batman and Robin: “He simply wants the goddamn Batman to finally get the goddamn joke”. This follows, if you’re wondering, the section where he considers telling Batman that he’s the person he finds funniest, meaning that the joke he refers to here is actually life itself, or more specifically, their lives as the embodiments of good and evil. Still, the “goddamn” part seems like a jab at Miller.

– With all the nods to The Killing Joke that I’ve mentioned, it may not come as a surprise that this story also begins and ends with a focus on rain. Seems Mr. Moore has himself a big fan in the form of Morrison.

Well, that’s all I can muster up for now. No doubt that this will be a story we’ll be revisiting during this run, though, as I’m sure some of the small details that I’ve mentioned, and failed to, will prove significant later on. And for the record, though this may seem like blasphemy when speaking of comics, this has been my favourite issue so far. Honestly, I just don’t understand how people can hate it so much. The only big piece of criticism levelled at it that I can perhaps get behind is that it’s retreading old ground in a way, you know, as another study of the Batman and Joker being so similar. Still, I think Morrison made it more interesting than most writers could, and I’d hope it’s a story that opinions will change on over time. It certainly kicks The Killing Joke’s ass as a Joker story, that’s for sure.

However, we’re now going back to the good old comics, starting with The Three Ghosts of Batman which I assume will pick up the pieces from where we left off in Absent Fathers. After that we only have two more issues before we round off this book’s chapter in the run. Hopefully I can get through them more quickly, as I’m eager to move on to the next book. Either way, see you next time.

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Comic Review: “Batman: The Killing Joke – The Deluxe Edition (HC)”

Any comics book fan reading this blog will undoubtedly have heard of this one, a graphic novel widely considered to be the greatest Joker story ever told, so popular in fact that it was considered canon in regards to what happens to Barbara Gordon even though that wasn’t the original intention. It’s a pretty simple tale: the Joker goes out of his way to prove to Commissioner Gordon that anyone can be driven insane like him if they have a bad enough day, and we see what his bad day seemingly was as Batman tries to stop him from his sick plan. Although I’ve only actually read one other Batman story in which the Joker is the primary antagonist, ye olde comic, A Death in the Family in which he (through the voting of readers, I might add) murders the original Robin, Jason Todd, I do doubt that this is the finest Joker story ever told. It’s better than A Death in the Family, and its sequel which I also own, but I’m not sure it’s better than any of the other Batman graphic novels sitting in my collection, and I’m certain that it’s not worthy of all the praise it gets, both as a Joker story and a Batman one.

Before we get into that, however, I do want to take a moment to explain why this hardcover book is called The Deluxe Edition.  You’ve got a few new things here in addition to the rather short story (the story itself is 46 pages, and these extras don’t add that much – it’s certainly the shortest book of any sort that I own): an introduction from Tim Sale, who’s coincidentally the artist in the next series of books I intend to read; an afterword from the artist of this story, Brian Bolland; a story called “An Innocent Guy” written and illustrated by Bolland, reprinted from Batman: Black and White (another coincidence, since I read another story from that series in my last book review) and now in colour; then two measly pages of sketches. It’s not much, is it? You might even hesitate to buy this at the fairly hefty price that it goes for, but there is one saving grace: the whole thing’s been recoloured, and every page changed in some minor way according to the afterword, by Brian Bolland, reflecting his original vision.

You see, in the comic’s original format, which is how I first read it, it was coloured by John Higgins. It looked amazing with all its vibrant colours, but perhaps not very realistic, and it’s this approach that Bolland takes here. But, to be honest, I’m not sure which I prefer. Yes, Higgins’ colours do look out of place sometimes – just far too colourful for this bleak story – but I always thought they worked really well in the carnival scenes which make up the majority of this book, which comes to life as some kind of funfair from hell. And, besides, though it’s not always suitable, I really love bright colours everywhere, even in darker stories such as this.

But there’s nothing wrong with Bolland’s approach either, which is where my favour splits. Funnily enough, he makes the opposite mistake of Higgins – his colours are too dull at times, too realistic, at least by my standards. The major difference which I should point out is that the flashback sequences of the Joker’s apparent origin are washed out, the only real colour being on one object during an entire sequence, such as his helmet and cape as Red Hood. It’s a neat idea and certainly strengthens the transitions between the present and past to really set them apart from one another, and culminates in this amazing page at least, which definitely looks better than the original, but I do miss Higgin’s colours through the rest of the sequences prior to this one and indeed the rest of the book in other areas.

Other than that, though, you’ve got the same story. And it’s a simple story but, like I said, surely not the best Joker one, or one of the best Batman ones, particularly since this has problems that people tend to avoid when talking about it, probably because it has Alan Moore’s name on it and that guy can do no wrong. Except he has, and admitted so himself in this case. To quote: ” I’ve never really liked my story in The Killing Joke. I think it put far too much melodramatic weight upon a character that was never designed to carry it. It was too nasty, it was too physically violent. There were some good things about it, but in terms of my writing, it’s not one of me favorite pieces.”

What I would like to draw attention to in order to explain my biggest complaint with this story is what he says makes the story “nasty” and “too physically violent”. As I implied at the beginning of this post, something happens to Barbara Gordon resulted in her being forced to drop the mantle of Batgirl, and become Oracle instead. Most comic book fans will know what is, and it probably won’t bother them that much, but it still pisses me off. The Joker shoots her, paralzying her for the next twenty-odd years that it took for DC to reboot the character in their New 52 lineup (although, even revived by Gail Simone back into her Batgirl role, this is still considered to be part of the character’s canon, and I’ll come back to it at the end), and then proceeds to take nude photos of her, which he shows to her father later on, once he’s kidnapped, beaten and humiliated him, just to prove his point.  Which is insane, yes, but as a piece of storytelling, very cheap and very rubbish – unnecessarily nasty and cruel, using the character of Barbara Gordon as no more than a plot device like that of the damsel in distress throughout video game history, and then punishing a good person like Commissioner Gordon by having him put in a dog collar as he’s forced to witness what the Joker’s done.

As Moore has since talked about – and I think even apologized for, presumably because this inspired other writers to take the same approach, which got stale fast – some of his work in superhero comics such as this has been pretty cynical, where the hero loses but not before watching bad things happen to good people. Which isn’t always a bad thing. Look at Moore’s own Watchmen, a comic, forever a masterpiece, in which the good guys have already lost before they even get to the villain. Or look at John Wagner’s Judge Dredd: America, where the character you’re really rooting for loses the one thing he cares about in a tragic twist of events. Then look at the responses of the characters in both stories. In Watchmen, the other superheroes reluctantly accept what the villain has done, yet the unstable Rorschach, never compromising like a real hero, dies trying to stop him, but not before doing something that goes unnoticed by everyone else, possibly outsmarting them and “winning” after all. In America, the character Bennett Beeny, with the most realistic outlook on his life under rule of the Judges of Mega City One, does something kind of mental in a rather shocking plot twist, yet still retains that what America, his love, fought for was the right thing, and “wins” in the sequels to the story when his daughter becomes a Cadet of the Judges, applying changes to their corrupt system like her father wished of her, even though he’s dead by that point.

The same approach doesn’t work here, though, simply because the hero of this piece, unlike those in my examples, does something that just isn’t right, not after what’s happened to his good friend and that man’s daughter: he offers to forgive the Joker, to come to an agreement with this madman, to help “rehabilitate him”, and then shares a laugh with him at a joke meant to say that Batman’s offer isn’t realistic. Sure, you could point out that Gordon urges him to have the Joker handled “by the book”, or you could point towards the ambiguous ending in which it’s been theorized – and as Bolland teases in his afterword – that Batman kills the Joker. But here’s the thing: there’s a difference between having someone taken into custody, by the book of police procedure, and offering them your sympathy as you do so, and having a laugh with them on top of that; and whether the Batman kills the Joker or not afterwards isn’t relevant – it’s too late, which is funnily enough exactly what the Joker’s first response to Batman’s offer is, before the joke. Because what’s most sad about this ending is that it completely goes against what’s happened beforehand in the story that Moore and Bolland have built. How can Batman completely deny the Joker’s idea that he’s as insane as him several pages beforehand, yet then try to come to terms with him as if he were his equal, who understands what drove him to be who he is, and can help cure him?

To drive home my point, let me say this: you could shorten that whole paragraph by simply stating, “It just isn’t like Batman”. As Moore also said in that quote above, Batman as a character isn’t designed for the way he’s presented in this. Is it like Batman to offer the Joker a mutual agreement, like he does at the beginning of this story to the fake Joker? Possibly he might, sure. In fact, it’s even a good set up for when he repeats this conversation in his head as he’s fighting the Joker, after learning what he’s done to Barbara, as if to say, “I can’t believe I offered to help this sick bastard earlier on”. But is it like him to make this offer, quite seriously, twice, and to do so no less after the Joker’s put his friend’s daughter in a wheelchair, and tortured the friend himself? I don’t think so, and I don’t think Moore was pleased with it either in retrospect. It appears Bolland feels the same too, judging by the little he says about the script he received during his afterword.

And to be honest, reading my thoughts at this juncture of the review, it’s tempting to end this here and now, urging you not to buy this book – to look towards other, better Batman stories instead, of which there’s plenty to be found. And that would be a perfectly fine way to end an assessment of this book because it really isn’t as amazing as all the praise would have you believe. However, as Moore himself also admits in the same quote above yet again, there are some positives here that could sway this into a recommendation, even if the writing itself isn’t terribly good, both in terms of what we see on the page and what we might find should we dig deeper, such as the cinematic presentation of the panels and hints towards other ways to interpret the story. For example, the Batman who surprises the Joker as Red Hood at the chemical plant clearly isn’t the same one, further emphasizing the implication that’s made that the Joker’s flashback sequences aren’t actually true, at least not completely. And of course there’s the mysterious ending which has been analysed to death by now, I imagine. But I digress. Talking about all that, which is interesting, don’t get me wrong, would mean another bunch of paragraphs on top of what we already have, or a separate post entirely, especially the ways you could interpret the meaning of the final page.

Instead, I’d like to simply mention a few things that possibly make this worth buying. First of all, though the story is as simple as you can get, and has its flaws, and just isn’t quality Moore, it’s not completely terrible. There are indeed some iconic moments in here for instance, not least of which is the conversation Batman has with the fake Joker at the beginning, or some of the fantastic shots of the Joker. Even the idea of Joker’s origin is handled well – as I’ve suggested, it’s not certain that what we’re witnessing is true, and the Joker makes an allusion towards telling multiple stories of his past, as if it’s an invention that he rebuilds. You also see Moore toy around with structure as well, through the transitions between the past and present that I mentioned, and scenes happening one place being juxtaposed with another, such as Commissioner Gordon crashing through the horror-faced doors on a ghost train ride as Batman finds out where he is, all too late, however, as the final door opens to the waiting Joker, who’s already made him suffer enough by this point. That’s all not bad. Better, certainly, in other Moore graphic novels – From Hell instantly springs to mind, for instance – but still not bad.

The other, and bigger, reason that you should consider picking this up for, however, is Brian Bolland’s wonderful art. If you’ve heard the name Brian Bolland (and you should have, as he’s glorious) then you’ll probably link the name to that artist who drew that amazing cover or another. Indeed, he’s a distinguished cover artist who’s spent most of his career doing them. This is one of few actual stories he’s been the artist of. In fact, the only other two I can think of are Camelot 3000, which I swear my dad must have bought for the art alone, and his work in Judge Dredd in its early days, the highlight of which is easily Judge Death Lives, the story which introduced the other three Dark Judges into Dredd’s world and featured what I believe to be one of the most immortal panels in comic history, let alone Judge Dredd history. And it’s a shame these are all I can think of because he’s just as incredibly talented as an interior artist as he is a cover one.

Between Judge Death Lives and this, it’s really difficult to decide which is the better. The character designs are better in the former I suppose, which isn’t really surprising, but I think this story has many more iconic shots, from the reveal of our unnamed comedian slowly breaking into hysterical laughter at his own reflection after falling in the water at the chemical plant until he becomes the Joker, to even small shots like him sitting on a throne mounted atop baby dolls, which found its way into Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum in a similar fashion (mannequin pieces, which is close enough), such is how memorable it is – that’s how amazing his artwork is here. It may only be a 46 page story, but every panel is just as it should be, and there’s a lot of fantastic images here that will stay with you, which is no small feat to pull off.

So consider picking the book up above all else for the artwork, though take into account, of course, that the colouring is by Bolland too in this edition. Unfortunately, you won’t find the original printings of the book with John Higgins’ colouring on sale anywhere, at least not at a cheap price. As I said, though, it’s difficult to tell if one’s truly better than the other since the two kind of even themselves out with the way one is too bright in some places, and the other unduly dull. This certainly isn’t the better just because it has the inclusion of an extra story and two pages of sketches, I might add. In fact, those are a little disappointing. The story is of someone fantasizing about killing Batman, an interesting idea but not particularly memorable; and the sketches are hardly anything, which is the bigger disappointment since the art is, as I say, so brilliant that you’re left wanting more.

Overall then, this is a difficult one to recommend.  Of course, if you were to actually find this review, it’d only be under the hundreds that praise it, at which point you’d have probably already made your decision. It’s really quite a shame that this book hasn’t received more criticism, at least where it deserves it. The only good that’s actually come out of its childish temper tantrum towards superhero comics is ironically to do with Barbara being put in a wheelchair. When DC had Gail Simone relaunch the character as Batgirl for New 52, a number of fans were actually quite upset that she wouldn’t be the paralyzed Oracle anymore, seeing her as one of few truly powerful disabled characters in comics, which is admittedly a perspective I hadn’t considered before.

It doesn’t change the fact that Moore shouldn’t have crippled her in the first place, but I can certainly see why the decision saddened those fans with and without disabilities of their own who had been used to her as Oracle for quite a long time, and loved her for the endurance and determination she’s shown as that character – indeed, saw her as a role model. It certainly is good when a character that’s been put through the meat grinder like that makes the best of it, and moves on with their life, in this case even continuing her fight against crime; and it’s great that there are those who will stand up in defense to such a major change to a character after so many years. And I like that Gail Simone has taken advantage of her being shot having happened, not by simply turning Batgirl into a woman who gets frightened at the sight of a gun every single time she sees one, but one who has apparently developed through that back into her real self by volume 3 of the series. At some point, I’m probably going to buy and read that (because god knows I can’t seem to stop buying comics), and I’ll be incredibly disappointed if this very human PTSD and her path through it isn’t true at all.

But, anyway, there you have it. My longest review thus far, for the shortest book I own. Coming soon is Haunted Knight, from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and I might review its three stories in three separate parts, depending on how much I feel I have to say about them. No doubt it’ll be the book after that, The Long Halloween, that I’ll really have a lot to say about though, it being Harvey Dent’s origin story – the one that Christopher Nolan used to a certain extent in The Dark Knight.

Until next time.