Writer: Brian Azzarello
Penciller: Lee Bermejo
Inker: Lee Bermejo w/ Mick Gray
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill
Letterer: Robert Clark
Hey guys, I'm back with another Joker review in honor of his 80th anniversary. This time I talk about one of my favorite DC books of the past 15 years. This story from Azzarello and Bermejo came out right around the time "The Dark Knight" was released. While some people may think this version of Joker was inspired by the film, it was actually created before anyone ever saw Ledger's version. While the two share visual similarities, this take is even more terrifying than the film's version.
Like many Joker stories, every writer puts their own unique spin on the character. We've seen the comedian, the serial killer, the psychopath and in this one Azzarello showcases my favorite, the gangster. This is probably my favorite depiction of Joker, and I love even more how it's told through the eyes of a henchmen. The story follows Jonny Frost, your run of the mill henchmen who seeks to get in Jokers good graces in order to "feel important". But he bites off more than he can chew, as he soon realizes.
Frost picks Joker up from Arkham because he's now "cured". As he takes Joker around Gotham we see that all of his "territories" have been scooped up by local thugs, which ticks Joker off. Along the way we see new takes on Harley, Killer Croc and Penguin. This new world is brought to gritty life by Bermejos skilled hand. I cant imagine anyone else more perfect to bring this story to life. Each villain is terrifying in an really unsettling way. As Joker makes his rounds he "takes care of" his usurper in violent and creative fashion. It's when things start getting more disturbing when Jonny realizes that maybe joining up with joker was a mistake. It all comes to a head when Joker confronts Two-Face that things take an abrupt turn.
While it was great seeing Joker in this mob boss/gangster role, Jonny Frost was the more compelling character. Having spent most of his life as a relative loser/nobody he sought validation in his new position with Joker. But he slowly sees the insanity in that choice when a loved one gets captured and Joker does something so vile, that it nearly breaks Frost. Of course this wouldn't be a Joker book without Batman, though. He's used only briefly, but it serves the story perfectly as it wraps up.
Azzarello and Bermejo have made sname for themselves with their countless projects together, especially one of their more controversial ones recently, BATMAN: DAMNED, but JOKER remains my favorite. Azzarello is at his best when he writes noir/dark stories and Bermejo is right at home in dark gritty alleys. If you haven't given this a read yet, go out and check it out. While you're at it, I also highly reccomend their other villain centric book, LUTHOR. Either way I consider this book essential reading for all comic fans and everyone should have a copy on their shelves.