The Joker by Brian Azzarello

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The Joker by Brian Azzarello is a well written, strongly plotted and disturbingly graphic take on the character. I’m not sure I really liked this one and I can’t quite put my finger on the why. Azzarello is a terrific writer of mature graphic novels like his award winning 100 Bullets and has delved into the Batman Universe in the past with success. You only need to pick up his Broken City comics to see that Azzarello is one of the grittiest and strongest comic book writers around.

“…He was a disease that somehow, with the help of God or the Devil, pick your poison, had convinced his doctors that he wasn’t diseased anymore…”

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Johnny Frost, a two-bit hood, is waiting outside of Arkham Asylum to pick up a released inmate. Someone he had heard stories about but had never really met. The man they call the Joker. The man they were never suppose to let out into the world again. For Johnny, this is his big chance to get in good. But what follows is something Johnny could never had been ready for.

The Joker is back and he’s not pleased with what has become of his criminal empire. Cut up among others, like the Riddler and Penguin and Killer Croc, his world is in shambles. In one mad and vicious night, the Joker is looking to take it all back. Their first stop is at the Joker’s old strip club, Grin and Bare It, to pick up his girl Harley Quinn.

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Johnny Frost is a lost and yet enticing character. He quickly becomes addicted to the madness and viciousness that is the Joker. They develop almost a brotherly relationship. The Joker taking Frost in and Frost, doing anything to please the madman. Together they will tear through Gotham’s underworld in blood and bullets and blades.

So why the lukewarm reception from me? The artwork is very good, disturbing in its tones and textures but that fits this story well and Azzarello is a master at this type of dark crime noire. If this wasn’t the Joker I think I would have loved this book. But this is the Joker and yes the Joker is a killer and he is visceral and bloody and without conscious. But he is also funny. He is the clown prince of crime and perhaps without the Batman to play the straight man, the character loses that aspect of his personality.

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This is good and well worth the reading, but for me, it is not all that the Joker could and should be.

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