The Joker has morphed into a different character over time. Today he’s a psychopathic terrorist. In the 1950s, he was a colorful clown whose greatest crime was talking about boners too much (it meant something different back then).
But what if he was literally a different character?
That’s the question posed by Three Jokers #1 by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok, a new Batman story from DC’s Black Label on shelves this week.
Three crimes. Three Jokers. Which one is the real Joker? Or are they all somehow the real Joker?
The idea of three Jokers first appeared in the pre-Rebirth pages of Justice League: Darkseid War. Batman, armed with the Mobius Chair, inquired into the Joker’s true name and received an enigmatic answer: “There are three.”
But despite this lore-laden background, Three Jokers #1 is a refreshingly contained story. It centers on the Bat-family and their collective scars.
You might think some of those scars have disappeared amid resurrections and reboots: Jason Todd lives on; Barbara Gordon walks. But writer Geoff Johns uses these pages to show that their scars go much deeper. The Bat-family must come to grips with decades of pain inflicted by the same (or three?) villain (villains?). And the way they handle that pain just might change them forever.
This is a satisfying turn from Johns, whose previous work sometimes trades character study for universe-warping grandeur. His skill shines in a fresh way on this smaller scale.
From page one, this book evokes classic Batman-Joker stories, particularly Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. Fabok’s dark and detailed panels especially recall Bolland’s work, creating a sense that this story, like that one, will get to the heart of Joker’s identity and his relationship with Batman.
The “three Jokers” conceit gives the book space to explore forgotten shades of the titular antagonist. If you grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, or if you lost sleep over the Jason Todd flashbacks in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, you’ll sense something familiar here. It’s that clownish Joker who combines his psychosis with circus antics. It’s a Joker you don’t often see in a post-Nolanverse world. It reminds you of the horrifying dissonance a good Joker story can create.
The next issues will tell whether this story truly has lasting implications for Batman and his nocturnal crimefighting family. But for now, Johns and Fabok have set the stage for a new Batman classic.