Batman: Three Jokers 2


Well, if Geoff Johns really knows what he’s doing with this story, he’s only got one more issue in which to prove it.There is a story in issue 2 that can be summarised by an account of what happens but which so far fails absolutely on the question of why? Or, rather, what’s the point of this story.

The point is that there are, and for a very long time has been, three separate people composing the entity known by the Joker. This time round, Johns does a clearer job of defining them as the Criminal, the Clown and the Comedian. The Criminal is the original: it hurts, literally, when he laughs, through permanent nerve damage, inferred to be from his chemical bath. The Clown fantasises he has a family in suburbia, wife and son, terrified of him: he’s the one who beat Jason Todd to death when the latter was Robin. The Comedian is the one Jason has shot through the head at point-blank range, cold-bloodedly, in front of Batgirl.

Ok, that’s the what. The Jokers are trying to create more of them. They want Jason as the new Number 3: after all, he’s already calling himself the Red Hood, he suffered brain damage, has permanent nerve pain, emotional and physical trauma only relieved by inflicting pain himself. This is a hero? But Jason, for all that he hates Batman for not coming after him, for just replacing him, is not Joker material.

But this story is a story of two threes. The Three Jokers are set up against Batman, Red Hood and Batgirl. She’s the other major Joker victim, shot and paraplegic for several decades in The Killing Joke (Johns really does like to rag on anything Alan Moore wrote). But she’s just watched Jason Todd murder someone in cold blood before her eyes. He’s not just crossed the line, he’s obliterated it, he’s become the very antithesis of what the Batman Family represents. He has to be stopped, he has to be stopped just as much as the Joker or any of their other more conventional enemies.

But Batman won’t do it. That’s a mystery in itself: why does Batman basically not give a shit? Can’t arrest and charge Jason for murder, he’d have to unmask. Batgirl can’t be a witness: have to unmask. He’ll talk to Jason. Well, why the hell didn’t he talk to him a long time ago, when it might have done some bloody good, because make no mistake, this is way past the point from which Jason might have been diverted.

And when the two of them rescue him, further beaten and bloodied, it’s Batgirl not Batman who stays behind to tend to Jason, whilst Batman pisses off back to the Batcave to start re-reading files about Missing Criminls and Missing Clowns. Yes, Batman has files by those name all ready and waiting to be combed for identities he’s never been arsed enough to consider before. Is Johns aware of the image he’s creating for Batman here and that this is a tactic worthy of being used on the old TV Show, yes, that one? Holy Pathetic.

I’ve tried to steer clear of spoilers for things like this but couldn’t avoid being alterted to a leaked panel of Barbara (in costume but for her cowl) and Jason (in nothing but a towel and some elastoplasts) having a kiss. The context makes the whole thing less sensational: Jason is being more reasonable and self-aware than ever before, she’s being empathetic, it was a moment, nothing more, though it may prove to be the opening and closing of a door through which Jason Todd will not now pass, leaving his trajectory undisturbed.

Anyway, Johns hasn’t forgotten to administer a deep-seated pain to the main man. Joe Chill, yes, remember him, has cancer and weeks to live. His fingerprints are on a blunt instrument used to kill a man. Now The Joker – Joker One – has kidnapped him to Alaska to film him explaining why he really killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. Continued Next Month.

I cannot help but think that this is an inordinate amount of fuss over something of no interest or point. Another wrinkle to Bruce Wayne’s origin. Three Jokers: Why? What does any of it do to enhance the mythos? What part of it is a story with depth, intelligence and flair? What part of it connects with our emotions? Is this anything but a prime, twenty-one carat example of why comics are now in their decadent era, their dying flow? Concerned only with minutiae, drenched in death, pain, poision and torture. Completely unmoored from any sense of enjoyment, any idea that there was once a sense of fun, of awe and wonder about the possibility of these extraordinary, astounding and sometimes goofy powers. There is no fun.

Of course I’m dissing Geoff Johns in the main, but good, indeed excellent as Jason Fabok’s art may be, it’s taken so long to draw this, building everything about the Watchmen grid again, that all flavour has gone out of his work. It’s been over-processed until it’s sterile, until anything born of simple inspiration has been ground into the earth.

And once again, what is the point of Three Jokers? What does it gain us? How does it enrich the character? Is it even interesting? It smacks of Johns throwing in an offhand reference that sounded enigmatic and intriguing, but failing to actually come up with a reason that worked.

Come back in a month when I’ll report if Johns has anything up his sleeve to refute my opinion, or get me to applaud him. I’m not holding out any anticipation.

Batman: Three Jokers 1


Those of you who read my issue-by-issue reviews of Doomsday Clock over the two years plus it took to spin out will already be aware that I do not count myself in the front rank of fans of Geoff Johns’ writing, and may already be asking yourselves what I’m doing reading and blogging his latest big project. The short answer is, again, curiosity, as to what Three Jokers will be about, as to whether it will be an actual story instead of Johns’ usual technique of setting up a changed status for actual stories to be written in and, of course, the opportunity to put the set on eBay the moment the last one is published if I don’t like it.

Three Jokers has been hovering in the wind since Rebirth started in 2016, back before we realised what a trial of strength Rebirth was between Johns and Dan DiDio (which the latter won). DC Universe – Rebirth , which I bought at the time since it promised to spin the atrocious New52 back to where I could recognise DC again, threw in a moment’s spin-off from what had preceded it (Convergence?) in which Batman temporarily occupied Metron’s Mobius Chair. The Dark Knight asked the Chair to tell him the Joker’s real name: the Chair told him there were three of them…

Now that was a bombshell if there ever was one, especially to those of us whose first exposure to the Clown Prince of Crime was Cesar Romero hamming it up with his chuckles and gassing and his painted over moustache, and who has seen multiple iterations of the mad Clown ever since. Three Jokers. What could be the story behind that?

We’re now one-third of the way to finding out, over four years later. We have the assurance of artist Jason Fabok that the entire series is drawn so we won’t have any delays.

And yet… With one minor exception, seized on by all the comics press, there is nothing in issue 1. There’s an overlong introduction making the unnecessary point that the Joker has inflicted more scars on Bruce Wayne’s body than anyone else. There are three Jokers, acting simultaneously, practically giving away this long hidden secret to the police, though they assume it’s one Joker and two hired imposters.

And then they meet. Three Jokers, one acting like a rational, calculating leader with careful plans. It was almost banal, but to me it seriously undermined the Joker.

What then follows is that Batman, The Red Hood and Batgirl capture one Joker. One of them, playing the Joker role to the hilt. Batman goes after another one, cornered by the Police, which is a foolish mistake. Because Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon are the two Bat-Family members most directly hurt physically by the Joker. One was crowbarred to death, the other rendered paraplegic, and despite the fact that both have returned to full life and health, they have not forgotten what was done to them.

And this Joker taunts Jason over his death, to the point where he reveals that Jason’s last words were a plea not to be killed, and that if he were saved, he would be the Joker’s Robin.

That’s a heavy revelation. Being as how, if the Joker told me the sun was shining outside I would go out in raincoat with umbrella, I don’t actually take this revelation as gospel, though Jason doesn’t deny it, suggesting it’s true. He pulls his gun. Batgirl tries to persuade him not to fire. When it becomes obvious that he’s going to, she tries to stop him but her batarang just misses. One Joker has his brains blown out and now there are two. And Jason makes the point that when did Barbara last miss…

Which is more or less it for part 1, except for Jason’s fervent hope that it was this one. Because we all know Bruce isn’t going to like this.

I am dissatisfied.

You see, my interest in Three Jokers is in the answers. Why are there three Jokers? How are there three Jokers? What does it mean that there are there three Jokers? What impact is this revelation going to have upon Batman and DC? Part 1, and again I stress that this is a third of the whole story, goes not an inch to explaining any of this.

I’m not going to slag Johns off at this stage, not until I see more of what he’s doing and where he’s going with this story. Though I do note that he has Dr Roger Huntoon killed offscreen, Dr Huntoon, an Alan Moore creation. But I expected more and got far less for so large a chunk of the series as a whole.

The Fall Season: Gotham 2


It wasn’t.

Well, I’ve can’t remember when I last saw a show fall that far down a cliff so quickly.

‘The Fall Season’  wasn’t intended to be a weekly blog of every American show I watch this season, but the way that Gotham through everything off the bus this week demands a comment, even if it’s only that I’m now one episode away from dropping this show.

We are no longer a Police Procedural with Gothic elements. We are a cartoon with extensive use of fake blood and a serious uplift on the OTT dial. Enter the Maniaxx, which is the name of the new team of villains broken out of Arkham last week by new smoothie rich guy whose name I’ve already forgotten. Smoothie Rich Guy has kidnapped the Mayor and is keeping him prisoner with a leather-bound box on his head in Scene 1, threatening him with death or disappearance.

Scene two features the Maniaxx throwing strait-jacketed bodies off a roof so that they all land in a neat little line, unsquashed by their fall (though still deadly dead) so that the spray-painted letters on their torsos read, neatly spaced, ‘Maniax!’

I don’t know where we are, Toto, but this is not last season’s ‘Gotham’.

Now it may be popular, and it may be good, in its own, high-voltage crazy-shit psycho Batman villain, New 52 style, but the disconnect is too abrupt. Before the issue is out, Young Master Bruce has sacked Alfred and reinstated him (making the whole division feel pointless), the One-Who’s-Going-To-Be-The-Joker has killed two of the other Maniaxx, and the whole of GCPD has been slaughtered, except for Jim Gordon, Lee Tompkins and the future Riddler and his retro-fashion squeeze, Miss Kringle.

The newly-installed Commissioner Essen however bites it, a la Barbara Gordon/Killing Joke.

Basically, it’s saying that every single idea the producers had about Gotham was crap, and we’re going to not merely switch horses in mid-stream, we’re moving to an entirely different river, and you’d better leave the vestiges of sense behind.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll bother with that one more episode: I’ve bailed. Can’t stand any more of that laughing.

The Fall Season: Gotham


The first out of the block for the superhero series, Gotham has shifted a few cast members around and re-tooled itself for season 2 with a sub-title: Rise of the Villains.

For those not in the know, Gotham is the Batman-before-the-Batman series, beginning with the street murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which more or less neatly coincided with the arrival in Gotham City of the idealistic, fanatically honest Detective James Gordon. Over the seasons, we will see Gotham develop into the kind of town the Batman will need to clean up.

Season 1 was always the marginal one amongst my featured series, capable of some interesting elements, especially Robin Lord Taylor’s magnificent performance as the nascent Penguin, and some real crass stupidities (anything Jada Pinkett Smith was involved in). I always found it extremely questionable to give so much time to young Bruce Wayne, if this was to be the Batman-less years.

So, season 2. As you might expect, this was something of a scrappy, rearrange the furniture effort. Pinkett Smith’s gone, leaving the scenery relatively safe from chewing, as is John Doman as the magisterial Don Carmine Falcone. Also gone are the two least relevant cast members who were so well woven into the story that they disappeared completely in the back half of the season.

Morena Baccarin gets promoted into cast as Gordon’s new girlfriend, Lesley (Lee) Thompkins and James Frain and Jessica Lucas come on board as evil masterminds building a super-villains team out of nutters broken out of Arkham Asylum. In what may or may not prove to be a good idea, these included Gordon’s ex-fiancee, Barbara, played by Erin Richards.

To be honest, my ability to take this in was severely hampered by a mis-aligned sound track, with the dialogue and sound effects arriving a good four seconds ahead of the visuals, but it left me a bit cold. Gordon was demoted to traffic cop, kicked off the force (Bullock has already quit, to become a bartender and sober person) but got back thanks to a Deal with the Devil with Penguin that has already seen him kill a man (a gang boss, to be sure, but still…)

And Bruce took the entire episode to discover the Batcave beneath stately Wayne Manor, last season’s least baffling cliffhanger.

If there’s any of the returning shows I can see myself giving up on, Gotham‘s the favourite. For now, let’s see what develops and how quickly they can get Erin Richards showing off her legs again.

Uncollected Thoughts: Gotham


There’s getting to be a lot of comic-book based shows on TV all of a sudden, and it’s interesting to see that Channel Five have taken up the two newest, taking a gamble on both The Flash and Gotham. I’ve already given my opinion on the former, which has yet to start in the UK, but Gotham‘s already made a heady start, pulling down an audience that exceeded Channel Four and BBC2.

Of course, the one word reason for Gotham‘s pulling power is, ironically, the one word that will never ever be spoken on the series (not unless they do something incredibly stupid, that is), and that word is *Batman*. Because the point of Gotham is that it’s not about Batman. It’s about the city that creates him, about the years that lead to his first appearance, about the slow disintegration of the city to where it needs Batman, and about the Police and villains as they slowly grow or deteriorate into the people who populate Batman’s world.

Which makes Gotham pretty much a Police-procedural, albeit it with a difference. And instead of Bruce Wayne being at the heart of it, the centre is – and had better remain if this is going to work at all – Commissioner Gordon. Or, as he currently is, newly-promoted, new-to-Gotham Detective James Gordon.

Before watching the pilot episode, I did read one or two responses, one of which pretty much nailed to the wall the total absence of Batman as the over-riding weakness in the concept. Certainly, a lot of the comments I’ve read on the actual episode do ring with the disappointment of it not being about the Caped Crusader, even though that’s the whole point.

However, watching it for myself, I’m certainly ready to give it a few weeks’ extra chances, my main reason being Ben McKenzie’s determined and direct performance as Jim Gordon, which I enjoyed. The episode – which begins with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the orphaning of their twelve year old son Bruce – throws a hell of a lot in, too much to be honest, mostly aimed at giving the naive and honest Gordon an idea of where Gotham stands and what he and the audience has to expect.

Basically: the Waynes get murdered and Gordon, and his senior partner and potentially corrupt guide to hell, Harvey Bullock, catch the case. When it goes nowhere, Bullock enlists the aid of rising gangboss Fish Mooney who sets up a patsy. This set-up is leaked to Major Crimes Detectives Montoya and Allen by Fish’s underling, Oswald Cobblepot. When Gordon learns of this, he insists on challenging Fish, who has him and Bullock set-up for a grisly death that is only halted by Carmine Falcone, the crimeboss of Gotham. Falcone wants Gordon in the ‘programme’: he can live provided he executes Cobblepot. Gordon is smart enough to make it look like he does so whilst letting Cobblepot live.

So far, so(deliberately) unspectacular, but promising. The tone is set, the challenge laid down, Gordon’s path shown to be incredibly difficult to walk. The fun, we hope, will be in watching him walk it.

Where the episode was OTT was in its rush to throw in as many future supervillains as it could, at least a decade before Bruce Wayne can possibly become that person we’re not going to mention but can’t stop thinking about. Oswald Cobblepot is already being called the Penguin by Fish and her thugs. And coronor Edward Nygma, with his fetish for riddles, is too blatant. A young street/rooftop woman thief doesn’t even have to speak for us to know her as the future Catwoman, and the nervous stand-up comedian is apparently just the first of mny hints as to who might become the Joker.

That’s where I feel Gotham is betraying a serious weakness. As long as they don’t go too overboard with the city-crying-out-for-someone-to-save-it stuff, making the absence of Batman into too much of a theme, this can work. But if Batman truly can’t arrive for, say, another decade, then it seems very short-sighted to be setting up major villains with their key characteristics so fast.

How Gotham intends to deal with time, I don’t yet know. As we’ve already got a 12 year old actor playing the 12 year old Bruce Wayne, I assume each season will represent a year. That’s why Walt had to be written out of Lost: because show-time was so incredibly slow in comparison to child-actor-growing-up-and-I-do-mean-up! time. To accommodate David Mazouz,something of that sort will be required.

It’ll also be interesting to see the core audience react to Gotham packing in Batman supporting characters whilst not being strictly faithful to their roles in the comics. Especially Alfred.

Basicaly, though, I enjoyed it and thought it has potential. If I change my mind, I’m sure I’ll let you know.