The Joker Ongoing Series First Issue Is The Best Story Ever…For Jim Gordon?
After an epic event like Joker War, we often see a few new ongoing series pop up. But hardly do we see the villain get one. However, not only did the villain get a series, but the Joker got one! And James Tynion IV’s new series is the first ongoing Joker series in decades. That might be because writing a Joker ongoing series seems impossible. Even Tynion said, in a DC Comics Q&A, “when DC Comics approached me with the idea, I laid out all the reasons a Joker series wouldn’t work.” But, obviously, he found a hook. Instead of a superhero story, we’re getting a “real horror noir title.” The result? A really damn good crime drama—about former commissioner Jim Gordon.
Why Starting the Joker Ongoing Series with Jim Gordon Works
When I look in the mirror, I see the biggest atrocity of 2020: WW84. It’s also because I look so much like Gal Godot. (Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
As Tynion said, he’s going for a “real horror noir” title. As it turns out, he dove headfirst into this concept. One of the first scenes of issue one features a cannibal eating the face of a teenage girl he tied to a table, and offering a young detective a piece. While it does have a bit of a “women in refrigerators” tinge to it, the scene is 100% horror noir. It’s also 100% Silence of the Lambs, probably the best horror noir story ever told. In fact, that’s the structure Tynion seems to be going for. While Clarice drove the narrative, Hannibal Lector was the main character in Silence of the Lambs. We get his story mostly from Clarice’s point of view.
Really, this was the only way to write a Joker ongoing series. Joker is simultaneously the most simple and complicated villain in comics. He’s chaos—chaos is easy. But developing chaos as a character? Well, that’s a whole other issue. Hundreds of writers have tried getting into the Joker’s mind, but the Joker’s entire point is that we can’t get into his mind. Not really. We have different incarnations that work, such as Alan Moore’s backstory from The Killing Joke (which was not supposed to be canon). Of course, there is also Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, a different kind of Joker altogether. Heath Ledger’s Joker worked so well because Christopher Nolan chose not to delve into a backstory but instead allow the audience to fill those unknowns with their own subconscious terrors. And no character understands the horrors of the Joker better than Jim Gordon.
Why Starting the New Series from Gordon’s Point of View Doesn’t Work.
Just double-checking the title of the series. (Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
In the first issue of the new Joker ongoing series, Tynion shows us just how deep the Joker’s actions have nested in Gordon’s mind. Gordon’s character development is some of the best we’ve seen since Gotham Central. Tynion beautifully crafts the struggles between law and vengeance, morals and ultimatums, and even Batman’s way and Gotham’s needs. Seeing how the Joker haunts Gordon is more terrifying than the grisly murder early in the issue.
However, we only see the Joker himself for one page. This might leave a few fans who wanted to see the Joker in an ongoing Joker series a little disappointed. But while this harkens back to Silence of the Lambs again, it’s still not enough. Hannibal Lector was only in the movie for sixteen minutes, out of 138 minutes. That’s a total of 11% of the movie, but when we think about Silence of the Lambs, it feels like Lector takes up most of the movie.
But if you think that’s a stretch for a role that got Anthony Hopkins an Oscar for best actor in a leading role, the Joker has even less “screen time.” Appearing “in the flesh” for just one page out of 40 is a whopping 2.5% of his debut issue. So, as enjoyable as the issue was, maybe matching that 11% of Lector would have made it even better.
The Joker Ongoing Series is a Perfect Jumping-On Point for New Readers
Bane never looked so beautiful. Just look at those lovely veins. (Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
Ever since DC Rebirth, a lot has happened in Gotham. In the pinnacle of Tom King’s now-legendary run, Bane took over the city and ruled it with the giant bear claw he calls a fist. This story arch also included the heartbreaking Alfred Pennyworth RIP. Yet when the people of Gotham learn that Bane apparently died in A-Day (we’ll get to that), they mourn for him. They paint murals and hang flags with his image. But it’s not just the aftermath of City of Bane we see here. We also get the aftermath of the Joker War. While the people of Gotham mourn for Bane, they’re demanding the release of Joker’s protégé Punchline.
A-Day and Jim Gordon’s Dilemma In the New Joker Ongoing Series
So, obviously, Gotham’s a bit of a mess. And A-day, which characters referred to in Future State, turned out to be a horrific gas attack on Arkham Asylum, killing hundreds of patients and staff members. The gas used? A variation of the Joker toxin that made victims smile but took away the laughing side effect. This means that while people were dying, nobody could hear them, and the toxin spread without any warning. Only a handful escaped in time.
That’s where the Joker ongoing series kicks in. A private foundation of wealthy Gotham citizens tired of the Joker’s reign of terror wants to hire Jim Gordon to find and kill the Joker once and for all. No due process, no arrest, no attempt to imprison. Just a bullet to the head, knife to the heart, bomb to the ball sack—whatever finally kills the monster. But will Jim go for it? They are offering 25 million dollars plus a limitless credit card. However, that means nothing to Jim. Well, not nothing. He barely has enough money to, as he puts it, retire in his own apartment. And the Joker is hiding in Belize, so free vacay too.
After all the horrors the Joker put him, his family, and Gotham through, can he possibly say no to killing the Joker? To be the one who puts him down once and for all (as far as comics go)? Does he go against Batman and the law to avenge thousands of lives while preventing the deaths of thousands more? Considering this is an ongoing Joker series, the answer will probably be a big yes.
Grade: The Sweet, Sweet Taste of Teenage Face
The Punchline Backup Story Also Sets the Stage for a Great Noir Mystery
Because yo mamma did such a horrible job raising you that you’re basically a bad joke. (Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
Wait! There’s more. We also get a story about Punchline as she awaits trial. As stated above, despite her very public crimes, the people of Gotham love her. So, in order to make sure she never sees the outside of a prison cell again, the District Attorney’s office needs a perfect case. It doesn’t matter that there were witnesses, fingerprints, and more. The people find her innocent for now. They need to dig up any dirt on Punchline they can, but they can’t just send someone from their office to snoop around her old haunts. However, one of those someones from the office happens to be Harper Row, a minor Bat-Family hero called Bluebird.
But while Bluebird gets ready to investigate, Punchline is biding her time in prison doing what she does best: punching people. When the head of the biggest gang in the prison demands payment from her, Punchline responds exactly the way you’d expect her to: very, very violently. It’s a good setup for a backup story.
The Ongoing Joker Series is the First of Many New $4.99 Price Points.
He just saw the new cover price of his favorite comic. (Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
Oh, that reminds me. In 2009, Marvel Comics bumped the price of their bigger titles from $2.99 to $3.99 with the original promise that they would offer more content in each issue. That lasted about a month before $3.99 became the industry standard. However, while a higher price point for a debut issue is common, the next two solicited issues are also above $3.99. Even more egregious, issue three is currently listing at $5.99. When the first trade of the Joker ongoing series eventually ends up on a Comixology sale, it will probably be $5.99 for six or seven issues.
So, keep your wallets safe because if history has shown us anything, this could permanently mark a change in the cover price of comics.
(Featured Image: The Joker (2021) #1, DC Comics)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.