Readers of this blog will already know that I am a Geoff Johns enthusiast. So it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has been many years in the making.
Back during "The Darkseid War," Batman gain the near-omniscient power of Metron's Moebius Chair and asked the question, "What is the Joker's real identity?" The answer shook him, but the reader didn't know what the response was until the end of the story:
"There are three of them."
Finally, after four years, Johns can tell this story.
From the very beginning, it is clear that Johns is once again entering into the legacy of Alan Moore, who wrote The Killing Joke, where the Joker tried to turn Jim Gordon insane by shooting his daughter Barbara (aka Batgirl) through the spine and taking pictures of her naked. From the beginning, the paneling, pacing and color palate by Brad Anderson all evoke that pivotal story.
I find it interesting that Johns once again dives into Alan Moore's DC universe. Much of Johns' Green Lantern run was predicated on a single story that Moore did about the "Blackest Night." Doomsday Clock was Johns' attempt to do a super hero reconstruction, rather than a deconstruction we found in Moore's Watchmen. And now Johns enters into Moore territory again with The Three Jokers. I cannot tell if Johns is just a passionate fan of Moore's, whose stories inspired Johns' excessive imagination or if Johns feels like he is constantly in Moore's shadow and is trying to best him on his own ground.
Regardless, Johns steps always steps on dangerous ground here, because the comparisons between the two writers are inevitable.
The plot of the story revolves around Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood. All of them have dark histories with the Joker. Batman has had his life turned upside down by Joker more times than can be counted. As mentioned before, Batgirl was shot, paralyzed, and degraded by the Joker. Red Hood, who is Jason Todd the 2nd Robin, was beaten nearly to death and then blown up by the Joker (only to be resurrected later through a comic book contrivance).
The book is about the scars that the Joker leaves: physical, emotional, and psychological. Our three main heroes have been horribly damaged by the actions of this grinning malevolance.
On one particular night in Gotham, three crimes are comitted at the same time:
1. The execution of a mob family that was once suspected of having Thomas and Martha Wayne assassinated.
2. A beloved comedian is tortured to death while being live-streamed.
3. Three men are killed with Joker toxin, dressed like the criminals present when he became the Joker in The Killing Joke.
All three crimes happen at the same time and all three seem to have been done by the Joker.
I will not spoil anything else, but Johns seems to be trying to harmonize the various versions of the Joker throughout the years. Suffice to say that the Jokers have a plan. And if I am correct as to where this story is going, this could be the most tragic Batman story I have ever read.
Johns writing is excellent as always. He knows how to tell a story that works on multiple levels of character and theme while never forgetting that his first job is to draw you in with an engaging story. The heart of the story are the ties between our three main heroes and how they are stretched to their breaking point and beyond. Again, I cannot go into more detail without spoiling anything.
Jason Fabok is amazing. I have not been this blown away by a book's art since Gary Frank on Doomsday Clock. I could stare at his layered and dynamic images for a long time. His take on Gotham is reminiscent of Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke, but is definitely Fabok's own artistic eye that informs the visuals.
Some people have been heaping lots of praise on this book and it is well-deserved. But like the first issue of Doomsday Clock, this book is clearly just the set up. However, with only 3 issues planned (I believe), Johns has got a lot of story debt to pay off in very little time.
But if anyone can do it he can.