Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of books that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you crack them open have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
Everyone loves the Joker, don’t they? He’s truly one of comic’s most iconic characters, even having been saved from death after his first appearance when an editor proclaimed he was too good a character to be killed. So centering a big DC event around him seems like a great idea, right? Yeah, it turns out not so much. Readers learned this the hard way when DC published the six issue Joker: Last Laugh miniseries and a slew of tie-in issues in late 2001-early 2002. Written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty, with each issue done by a different artistic team, the series kicks off with the Clown Prince of Crime, recently imprisoned in the Slab metahuman detention facility, is told that an unoperable brain tumor has left him with a short amount of time to live. Deciding to go out in style, he uses his Joker venom to (somehow) “Jokerize” most of the other inmates. Massive riots and jailbreaks ensue, and he eventually turns the pathogen airborne, showering ordinary citizens with Jokerized rain. The heroes of the DCU have their hands full dealing with Jokerized versions of their foes, and it’s ultimately up to the Bat-Family to take him down.
There are a number of problems with this story. First off, timing is everything. DC had only months earlier concluded Our Worlds At War, another big crossover event, and two in such short a timeframe was overkill. The art was another issue. It ranged from good to jarring, with huge artistic shifts between art teams. The believability of the Jokerized villains required a huge suspension of disbelief. Joker’s venom affects normal humans, metahumans, New Gods, Atlantians, aliens, and others all in exactly the same way? I don’t think so. Hey, remember that really fun Hitman/Resurrection Man bit I mentioned? It’s totally stolen and used here, with Joker replacing Tommy and loser villain Multi-Man standing in for Mitch. The ending is headbangingly annoying. Wanting to die at Batman’s hand, Joker is eventually beaten to death by Nightwing, only to be revived with CPR seconds later by Batman, obsensibly because Bruce didn’t want Dick to become a murderer. I’m no doctor, but can resussitation actually help someone who’s been pummled to death? And for anyone who thought DC would really kill off one of their most well-known characters (the MRI with the tumor turned out to have been faked), I’ve got an asylum in Gotham to sell you. Finally, the biggest problem is the Joker’s uniqueness and his sudden lack thereof. Having dozens of wannabe copycats suddenly running around just goes to show you how awesome the real thing truly is.
Even though the storyline is wildly uneven, there are a few great bits sprinkled throughout. Some of Mr. J’s dialogue is gold. His answer to a white supremist group trying to recruit him is basically “No thanks. I’m evil and all, but you guys are just mean.” When he’s depressed about his crisis seemingly not being worthy of red skies, a lackey tries to cheer him up by reminding him of all the people killed when they boiled Lake Ontario. His response: “Eh, Canadians; like that counts.” A few of the tie-in issues were decent, like the JLA one that sees a Jokerized Dr. Polaris run roughshod over the League until he’s taken out by Plastic Man, the one member with no metal to manipulate. And besides all the big guns, a few lesser-know characters get some time in the spotlight, like a B-story involving Shilo “Mr. Miracle” Norman and Mr. Mind dealing with the chaos in the Slab. Still, a few high spots can’t save this clunker. Joker: Last Laugh gets 2 out of 5 Jokerized Easter Island statues.