JOKER: KILLER SMILE - BOOK ONE / WRITER: JEFF LEMIRE / ARTIST: ANDREA SORRENTINO / PUBLISHER: DC BLACK LABEL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The Joker continues his total domination of the DC Universe both on and off-screen - his latest being this DC Black Label book by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. Opening with the Joker prancing about in the street surrounded by heaps of grinning corpses, its imagery mirrors that of Todd Phillips’ already-infamous Joker (Joaquer?) movie; promising a gritty, grounded version of the comic book villain. Again. And then Batman arrives and punches his face in, which gives us some hope that this story hasn’t completely abandoned its roots.
Don’t expect to see a lot of the Bat, though. This is a psychological horror tale, and a two-hander between the Joker and his newest shrink; the ambitious yet troubled Doctor Ben Amell. Fancying himself as the one who could finally ‘cure’ the Joker, Amell sits down for a heart-to-heart with the clown prince of crime. Well-intentioned (and more than a bit egotistical), but almost certainly a fool’s errand. Palling about with the Joker has never been conducive to good mental health… or the safety of one’s family and friends.
The lines between nightmare and reality are blurred as Amell is drawn into the Joker’s thrall, starting with the implication that the clown has already taken to worming his way into his life. Thankfully, Lemire resists the urge to make his Joker a charismatic, sexy psychopath, going instead down a creepy, disgusting Hannibal Lecter route. At the same time, it’s respectful of the character’s past, with a nice shout out to The Laughing Fish and other such classic storylines.
While it’s disappointing that Black Label has devoted yet more space in the longbox to the Joker (other DC villains are available), this is a tremendous psychological horror story, beautifully written and illustrated by Lemire and Sorrentino. The colours by Jordie Bellaire are muted yet atmospheric, matching the tone and content of the tale being told. Fans of the Joker - and readers not yet burned out on the character - will love this dark and atmospheric take, and its bleak cliffhanger will leave everyone teetering on the edge of their seat.