Review: The Joker Vol. 3 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

July 9, 2023

 ·  3 comments

If an omnibus of James Tynion’s Joker isn’t already planned, it certainly should be. This is a fantastic story and would read fantastically all together in one book, a rare 15(ish)-part horror whodunit that actually works, overcoming any number of odds — that it feels cohesive at 15 parts, that it’s genuinely chilling at times, that it’s an actual whodunit with the pieces all laid out.

Where Tynion’s Batman had hits and misses, fits and starts, Joker is solid all the way through, namely — let’s not mistake — being the Jim Gordon comic we’ve wanted basically forever. I have thoughts on the end of Joker Vol. 3, but I’ll say this, certainly the book kept me guessing all the way until we got there.

[Review contains spoilers]

I do not know exactly how Task Force Z will explain away Bane being there and also being here, except that Task Force Z writer Matthew Rosenberg was Tynion’s cohort here, so there must be some explanation. I did have a passing thought that Bane might be involved in this book’s inciting mystery, who caused A-Day, though I dismissed it of course on the belief that Bane’s corpse was zombified over in another title. (The two books might not mesh, of course, but I doubt it.) But I can’t fault Tynion, who certainly left plenty of clues, particularly that there’s an organization on board that can fake dead bodies, and the first rule of a good whodunit is always to suspect one of the victims as the culprit.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And so we come impressively full circle here, a story that subtly kicked off with the Joker lambasting Bane for having wasted the opportunity of killing Alfred — what seemed, metatextually if not actually in fact, like Tynion criticizing the controversial Batman run that preceded his — ending up being the tale of Bane, among other things, scapegoating the Joker for his disrespect. Though Joker’s name is on the masthead (and though really this is a Jim Gordon story), we end up with a reminder of just how smart Bane is; Tynion’s story, which seemed to start with a statement of Joker’s prowess over Bane, ends with Tynion redeeming Bane as still formidable in his own right. (A tie, too, to Talon, Tynion’s inaugural DC title, is both clever and well within Tynion’s right.)

In Joker Vol. 2’s sweeping revelation of a conspiracy that undergirds a sizable chunk of Batman’s life, I had occasion to consider that this really seemed a Batman story that for some reason happened to star Gordon instead (not that I’m complaining!). Gordon himself makes the point, somewhere around when he and Bane’s daughter Vengeance travel to a secret island laboratory ostensibly to kill the Joker, that if Batman were there, he’d find some way to bring the predicament to a lawful end. Though Batman may be the Dark Knight, this is Jim Gordon’s story because he and other characters are “darker” knights (Batwoman, Red Hood); there is far greater suspense as far as who will or won’t make it out of the book unscathed with Gordon at the helm.

To that end, Tynion does a great job drawing out the suspense of whether Gordon killed the Joker until the very end. I was not truly so concerned about the Joker’s longetivity (not in the least because of the “season two” series just around the corner), but Tynion certainly sets us up for Gordon having done something bad, through to a classic Gordon/Batman rooftop meeting that seems destined to end in emnity between the old friends.

As such, perhaps among the greatest surprises of Joker is its happy ending. I maybe even a little disappointed not to see Gordon take even a slight revenge on the Joker, as well as to see Gordon ride off into the sunset with peace in his heart and money in his pocket. Compare to the end of No Man’s Land or Officer Down; rarely for Jim Gordon is a win actually a win, and it’s a nice boon from Tynion even if it’s the least expected.

I’d love to read the Jim Gordon/Harvey Bullock, private eyes, series that Tynion teases here, though with his departure from the DCU proper, I think it’s unlikely we’ll ever see it. I’ve no complaints about Tynion leaving a few things even for a sequel — what James Jr. had to do with any of this (mistakenly, I thought he was the mastermind) or who absconded with a bit of Batman’s DNA — except that I doubt now that a sequel is coming. The James Jr. thread, I’m sure someone will pick up down the line, but whether we’ll see mention of the Network again or the Bane conspiracy is anyone’s guess.

In a late sequence, artist Guiseppe Camuncoli mimics David Mazzucchelli for a Year One flashback, paired again with Batman and Gordon on a rooftop in the here-and-now. Tynion’s Gordon references how old he feels, “all the years. All the stories we’ve been a part of.” It’s an interesting moment, what feels like an acknowledgement of all the time passed specifically because DC’s pendulum has swung so far from the standard IP (Gordon in private practice, Alfred dead, Superman’s identity revealed to the public) that it’s almost certainly about to swing back with Dark Crisis. I don’t suggest any specific foreknowledge here, perhaps simply that I was put in mind of (speaking of Gordon) the end of Batman: The Black Mirror or Wonder Woman: Odyssey just before Flashpoint — characters acknowledging the end of an era not actually because an era was ending, but rather because everything’s about to start all over again.

3.5

Rating

Again, it is just so rare that we get a comic that can hold its focus over 15-plus issues, that’s a whodunit with clues that might very well be solvable by more astute minds. James Tynion’s Joker Vol. 3 is, perhaps, what we wanted out of Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox and didn’t get. All this and issue #13’s stomach-churning feast to boot. Blame it on the shock of the new, but over Detective Comics, Justice League Dark, and Batman, all of which I really liked, did Tynion finish with his very best DC work? (We’ll hold out Nice House on a Lake as a wholly different animal.) Possibly so.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Without spoiling it a pip, the Bane element of Task Force Z is pretty deft accounting. You will not expect the solution, and yet I suspect you might be delighted.

    I’ll say no more, except your review has made me very excited to reread this run. On first pass, it reminded me a great deal of CRIMINAL, which is high praise indeed.

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    Replies
    1. Yes. Review to come, but I liked very much how Rosenberg stacked his own surprise on top of Tynion's.

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  2. Agree with the previous commenter insofar as the Task Force Z's Bane solution goes. I personally loved the explanation, but am obviously looking forward to your review of that one as well (not to mention Dark Crisis - which I did not love in any respect whatsoever).

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