The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Welcome to "The Hidden S in Phone Booth." Your writer is Mark Rhodes, a man known within many magazine circles including The Christian Science Monitor, Opera and Wizard. He runs a site called the European Film Report that looks at the art of filmmaking, and will tackle whatever he feels like writing about (similar to Tedd in Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) except with less love of Dazzler). Review: The Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo The Hidden S was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Joker, a new graphic novel by award winning writer Brian Azzarello (of 100 Bullets fame) that is a short, nasty and masterful piece of work (on sale on October 28-just in time for Halloween!). The Joker is hardly the only great villain in comics, but he is possibly the only one with the stand alone stature of some of the great comic heroes (Batman, Superman, etc). There is a kind of grandeur to him that is almost Biblical. For instance, it is hard to imagine many other villains having the allure and stature to carry off a graphic novel by themselves. This particular work explores the Joker from the perspective of a pedestrian ground level thug in Gotham named Johnny Frost. The story opens with Joker being released from Arkham and Frost picking him up. Needless to say, Joker is amused by Frost and Frost promptly gets in way over his head. The plot revolves around Joker’s attempts to reclaim Gotham and his main adversary is Two-Face/Harvey Dent. There are appearances by other members of Batman’s rouges gallery including Killer Croc, Harley Quinn and a radically re-designed Riddler. Joker mines much of the same material as the recent Dark Knight film. The Gotham in this book resembles the realistic, gritty sense of urban decay that was featured in the film. Artist Lee Bermejo's depiction of a grease-paint Joker seems quite consciously modeled on the Heath Ledger portrayal (even to the scars around his mouth). Physically, Batman seems to have also been modeled on Christian Bale’s appearance. Harvey Dent/Two Face also makes an appearance and the idea of Joker as an agent of chaos (which was a major theme of The Dark Knight) is a big part of author Azzarello’s work here. The themes explored in Joker are not new, as the idea of Joker as an arbitrary instrument of anarchy goes back at least to the 80’s with The Killing Joke. The interesting twists in this are the use of an observer to comment on the Joker, and, more interestingly, the very late appearance of the Batman (who is not summoned by the police but by Harvey Dent). Through three quarters of this work, the Batman is not mentioned or even hinted at. Suddenly, the Bat signal appears and Joker starts to talk about the “guy who has his hand on the rug” and only then does the Dark Knight make a dramatic appearance. The end of the book is real tragedy and there is no catharsis for the reader. Only the sense that Batman and the Joker will continue to battle in a personal war, a war that will never end. This work has created some fairly major buzz, but it is not a game changer the way Moore's Kiling Joke was. It does not have the wit or the ideas of Moore's work which made the Killing Joke such a landmark. It is a signal that this character has reached a kind of Shakespearean level of myth and interpretation; a signal that Ledger's performance is not the final word on the character; a signal that the Joker is a great canvas for superior creators such as Azzarello; and confirmation that this character is probably the greatest and most potent villain in the comics universe.


  1. This is interesting. I can't wait to get my hands on it. The graphics alone are haunting and dark. Somehow this is the first I've seen any pictures!


Post a Comment