A Three Jokers #1 Review – Too Many Smiles?

TITLE: Three Jokers #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS:
Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Black Label
PRICE:
$6.99
RELEASED:
August 25, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, DC. You can have your “Joker War,” and you can have Three Jokers. But after these are both said and done, we put the ol’ Clown Prince back on the shelf for a little while. There is such a thing as too many smiles…

At last, more than four years after it was first teased in Johns and Fabok’s Justice League run, Three Jokers has arrived. Why’d it take so long? No clue. But I’ve gotta say, the end product was almost worth the wait. While he’s obviously used Batman in his larger DC stories, Geoff Johns hasn’t spent a lot of time on a proper Bat-book. But in terms of the overall “feel” of things, i.e. characterization, tone, the sense of sacrifice, and that lingering dread that comes with a great Joker story, Johns and the Three Jokers team absolutely nail it.

Three Jokers presents us with the notion that there are…well, three Jokers. When the Harlequin of Hate seemingly strikes three points in Gotham at the exact same time, Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood must figure out where the genuine article is. But certain evidence points them toward something more elusive: That three different men have played the role of the Joker over the years. And unbeknownst to our heroes, a fourth Joker may be on his way…

In a broad sense, I don’t really like the idea of there having been three Jokers. Rather, I like the notion that he evolved over time just as Batman did. But I’ve been around long enough to know these kinds of things often aren’t as they initially seem. So I’ll reserve judgment on the premise and simply judge the content on its own merits.

One thing I give this issue a lot of credit for is quickly and effectively establishing the Joker’s relationship to Batman, and also providing the character with dramatic weight he deserves. It’s all done within the first few pages, using very little dialogue. We see Batman’s scarred and mangled flesh juxtaposed with single images of his enemies corresponding to specific wounds. Characters like Bane, the Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. Then we get one for the Joker. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker yet again. Thus the reader, whether a Batman buff or someone picking up a comic for the first time, understands the Joker isn’t simply another villain. He’s the one who’s given Batman more scars, both physically and emotionally, than anyone else.

Also adding dramatic weight is the presence of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and the Red Hood/Jason Todd. Ask a casual comic book reader to name three Joker stories, and chances are two of them will be (for better or worse) The Killing Joke – Where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and A Death in the Family – The infamous story where the Joker kills Jason. So having them around is a nice reminder of what the stakes are when dealing with the Joker. You’d think, with both breathing and walking, the opposite would be true. But both carry a heavy existential burden.

Jason Fabok gets to put his own little tweaks on all the iconic costumes for Three Jokers. The only changes of real significance are to Red Hood’s costume (shown above). Most of what we see is an improvement. The Bat emblem on his chest is thankfully gone. He’s now in a leather jacket with a red tunic that has, you guessed it, a hood. The tunic is supposed to look like the Robin costume. It even has an R on the belt buckle. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it’s grown on me. In fact, it’s probably my favorite take on the costume since Under the Hood in the mid 2000s.

I credit Three Jokers #1 with having one of the best, most cinematic chase scenes I’ve read in quite awhile. There’s not even that much to it. Just Batman and Batgirl trying to stop an ambulance, with Batman coming aboard and fighting inside. But Johns and Fabok made a more exciting sequence out of this than some creators can with four times as much.

This book is also beautifully colored. The palette Brad Anderson is working with feels like it can explode into a bright, beautiful blaze at any moment. But instead we get colors that are very full and that pop, but also feel like they’ve been dipped in darkness. The way Fabok and Anderson capture Gotham City feels definitive. Like this is what it’s supposed to look like.

Jason Todd is really the star of this first issue. That’s mostly because of the climax and a deliciously emotional, character-defining moment between a killer and his victim…

Three Jokers #1 straddles an interesting line. I totally disagree with its premise, yet I can’t deny this is a great comic book. Normally I can’t stand it when even oversized comics are priced above $5. But I can say with full confidence that this one is worth the price of admission.

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A We Are Robin #7 Review – Middle Child Syndrome

We Are Robin #7 coverTITLE: We Are Robin #7
AUTHOR: Lee Bermejo
PENCILLER: Carmine Di Giandomencio. Cover by Jorge Corona.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 16, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I really wish they’d stop lumping Jason Todd and Tim Drake together. It’s happening in Batman & Robin Eternal, and now it’s happening in Robin War.

I think I get the how and the why of it. Dick Grayson is the original Robin, and Damian Wayne is the current Robin. So Jason and Tim are left in an awkward “middle child” position. There’s not necessarily enough time to focus on them individually while still keeping the plot going, so writers put them together. To an extent that makes sense. They have such conflicting personalities that they work as a bickering duo. But they both have such rich histories that it’s a shame to see them lumped together merely by default. Hell, in this issue they’re lumped together to try and kill each other!

Yes, in part four of Robin War, Red Hood and Red Robin are pitted against each other by the Court of Owls in a fight to the death, in an attempt to decide who the new “Gray Son” is. But Jason and Tim have a few tricks up their sleeves. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson and Batman (Jim Gordon) search for the truth about Councilwoman Noctua, creator of the “Robin Laws.”

We Are Robin #7, Red Robin, Red HoodThe fight between Tim and Jason isn’t anything special, and it more or less goes the way you think it will. You’d think the Court would have had the foresight that two young, athletic guys who aren’t restrained in any way would end up doing what they did. Also, Carmine Di Giandomencio does what I talked about in the Grayson #15 review, and puts facial features on Red Hood’s helmet. That never ceases to be obnoxious.

Sadly, while some of Di Giandomencio’s layouts are interesting, his art doesn’t do it for me here. It’s not that he’s bad at what he does. It’ s more that what he does looks awkward compared to the art we’ve seen in previous installments, particularly Mikel Janin’s work in Grayson. Characters’ faces look awkward at times, as does their body language. This is particularly true when we get to the scene in the prison. There are a few panels where Damian looks more twisted and insane than observant and determined.

The scene with Grayson and Gordon is okay. But there were a couple of things that struck me. On page 3, there are a pair of panels that show Gordon catching a dangling Grayson after he slips climbing up a building. Firstly, I find it odd that Dick would make such a rookie mistake. Secondly, is Gordon strong enough to hold Dick’s entire body weight? My guess would be no.

We Are Robin #7, Dick Grayson, Jim GordonOddly enough, the idea of Gordon, and the entire world knowing Dick Grayson was Robin/Nightwing is taking some getting used to. Until recently, Dick was pretty isolated in the pages of Grayson. But now that he’s moving beyond Spyral, we’re starting to see more ramifications from what happened in Forever Evil. I still don’t quite understand how the world knowing about Dick’s superheroing doesn’t lead back to Bruce Wayne being Batman. If you remember Batman #1, there’s a big portrait of Bruce, Dick, Tim, Damian, and Alfred in Wayne Manor. If you see that painting knowing Dick’s identity, it’s not that hard to put the pieces together, isn’t it? Especially when the general public knows that Bruce has funded Batman’s activities.

In any event, this issue gives us a brief conversation between Dick and Jim about the ethical nature of letting a youngster work with Batman, and how Gordon justified letting it happen. He even has a couple of lines about child soldiers overseas, and boys organizing to fight the Nazis in Poland. My guess is Lee Bermejo put this stuff in to suggest a kind of real-life basis for the Robin concept. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t cast either Dick or Gordon in a different light, or offer any sort of insight. It’s just sort of there in the middle of the issue.

We Are Robin #7, image 3Also, late in the book somebody in the Robin street crew calls Red Robin “the one with the goofy wings.” It’s always cool when the characters say what you’re thinking as a reader. For that matter, something you’ve been thinking since the damn New 52 started…

Sadly, We Are Robin #7 is largely a step down from its predecessors. The various Robins escaping from their cages felt somewhat anticlimactic, though the cliffhanger does succeed in wetting your appetite for the next installment. I can’t say I’ve been overly thrilled with the body of Robin War thus far. There’s been too much emphasis on this “Gray Son” stuff, which I’ve always felt was rather stupid. Gazing at the solicitations for upcoming issues, my hopes aren’t that high. I’m trying to be optimistic that something cool will happen near the finale, as Tom King is writing Robin War #2, and he’s a pretty damn good writer.

Image 1 from gamespot.com. Images 2 and 3 from adventuresinpoortaste.com.

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