Best Shots review: The Joker #1 is a gruesome detective story

The Joker #1
(Image credit: DC)

The world's most infamous supervillain gets his own series, or does he? Despite being named the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime appears more as a demon in The Joker #1, as Tynion focuses the story on former police commissioner Jim Gordon. 

The Joker #1 credits

Written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns
Art by Guillem March, Arif Prianto, Mirka Andolfo and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters by Tom Napolitano and Ariana Maher
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10    

Gordon, whose life has been upended repeatedly and devastatingly by the Joker, walks through Gotham, with the visage of Joker haunting every corner and shadow. Guillem March and Arif Prianto illustrate this beautifully, with the Joker starting off more like a ghost, transparent in the shadows of Gordon's bedroom. But as the story progresses, with Jim recounting the events of the attack on Arkham Asylum, the Joker appears more and more physical. March draws the Joker in his famous Batman: The Killing Joke design, with tropical shirt and camera in tow, calling back to that story without repeatedly showing Barbara's torture at Joker's hands. That doesn't mean that The Joker #1 isn't gristly though.

(Image credit: Guillem March/Arif Prianto/Tom Napolitano (DC))

The issue opens in flashback as a younger Jim Gordon sits at a bar. An older officer, Danny Ryan, talks to Jim about the nature of evil, and the way that devils haunt him and will come to haunt Gordon. Ryan recounts discovering a cannibal attacking a girl, and the panels depicting this moment capture the gruesomeness without slipping into torture porn. A lot of this is achieved thanks to colorist Arif Prianto's use of red lighting to help mask the bloodiness of the scene, though March's lineart doesn't shy away from showing the gruesome lacerations on the victim's body. This scene sets up the rest of the issue as Ryan's inability to capture the criminal echoes throughout Jim's mind as he contemplates what he is going to do in retirement.

Tynion's script nicely captures Gordon's crisis. This is a man who has spent his life trying to help the people of Gotham and feels that he has ultimately failed, and it is the Joker that stands as the exemplar of that failure. Letterer Tom Napolitano designs the captions to look almost like journal entries, which further creates the pulp detective feel. This is a grimy book with hardened characters, and it helps that every aspect of the comic is adding to that sensibility, especially as the story develops in the issue.

The backup story in the issue focuses on the trial of Punchline following the Punchline Special #1. Writers Sam Johns and James Tynion IV and artist Mirka Andolfo help set up the dangers of the trial. Dead witnesses, huge public support for the defendant, everything is lined up in Punchline's favor. Colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr. uses a saturated and varied palette in this story which contrasts nicely with the coloring by Prianto in the larger portion of the issue. This decision makes the change in narrative immediately apparent on the page, which really helps the comics shift gears even though the stories themselves are related. And it is this closeness that hurts the backup story a bit.

 Readers already learn through Gordon's story about the reaction from Gotham to the attack on Arkham Asylum, and so when the backup recounts this again to set up the story for Punchline, it reads as repetitive, which takes the legs out of the second story before it's even begun.

Thankfully, this doesn't let the issue down too much. The Joker #1 really gets into Jim Gordon's head and looks at the relationship between the former commissioner and the supervillain in a deeper way. Most Batman stories, understandably, focus on Bruce's relationship with Joker, so it's nice to see how the latter's crimes have affected the minds of another one of his victims. Tynion, March, Prianto, and Napolitano all work together to get this gruesome detective story going. And though the issue's plot is mostly setup, it's anchored in character building that makes it an engaging read.

Get the last laugh with the best Joker stories of all time.

Robert Reed
Freelance Writer

Robert is a Los Angeles-based comics journalist and writer (formerly Omaha, Nebraska). He currently writes for Newsarama and Adventures in Poor Taste.