Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials

Joker: Last Laugh #1

Joker: Last Laugh #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 3, 2001

Cover date: December 2001

Writer: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty
Penciller: Pete Woods
Inker: Andrew Pepoy

"Stir Crazy"

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (Earth1Superman@aol.com)



Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon share a romantic dinner in a Maryland restaurant. Babs can't believe that she has taken the night off and feels she should be back at her post as Oracle, the information source for the heroes of Earth. Dick tells her that she needs to take a break and that the world can get along without her for an evening.

Meanwhile, at the Slab, a high security meta-human prison, a riot has broken out. The warden of the facility watches video of the cause of the riot, the Joker. The video shows the Joker's reaction to when he is told that he has a brain tumor and is going to die. In the space of five minutes the Joker goes through the seven stages of grief shock, numbness, denial, bargaining, rage, and acceptance. After the video ends Keaton (or Keating), the Slab's doctor, tells the warden that since the Joker is going to die that he is going to take the Slab with him.

As the bartender for the restaurant Babs and Dick are eating at switches the coverage of the riot at the Slab, Black Canary makes a surprise visit to Bab's apartment. After discovering that Babs is not there she finds Oracle's work station and sees the surveillance footage of the riot from the camera Oracle had set up to keep track of the Joker.

At the Slab, the Joker makes his way through the super-villains who are busy trashing the place. As the villains take out the jail surveillance cameras, the warden orders the regurgitants in the prisoners restraint collars to be released, which causes the affected prisoners to begin to vomit profusely. The unaffected Joker locates the prisoner he had been looking for, Multi-Man. The Joker had been crunching the numbers of Multi-Man's powers and figured that MM could help him with his plans.

Over the Slab in the Blue Beetle's airship, the Beetle watches as Black Canary descends on the prison to do some recon. Inside, Shilo Norman, Marshall Dina Bell and several armored guards run through the prison trying to get a handle on the situation. Shilo becomes upset when he learns that Warden Zimmer is attempting negotiations. Shilo tells Bell that Zimmer doesn't realize what he is dealing with. Shilo produces a mother box, which causes Bell to question what the "alien Rubik's cube" are going to do against a prison full of super-villains. Dismissing her concerns, Shilo refuses an offer for a sidearm as they discover that the person who was in the Joker's cell is not the Joker but a shape shifter named Chiller.

In the meantime, Babs and Dick sit in Bab's all-terrain vehicle and continue their discussion from dinner. Babs admits that she may be too focused with her surveillance of the Joker, but counters that the only reason she did it was to feel safer. She now realizes that she was wrong and the only way she would feel safe is if the Joker was dead. Dick tells her that that's not the business they're in and the two debate the issue until Dick finally asks to change the subject.

Back at the Slab, the Joker is busy killing Multi-Man to activate his power, which is that each time he dies he comes back to life with a new power. The Joker is looking for a particular ability and finally finds it just as the regurgitants wear off of the other prisoners. Crowding around the Joker they watch as MM begins to glow and finally he burns his way through the floor to the level beneath them. After several levels, MM freezes up and the Joker tips him over, causing the bald villain to shatter. The Joker then reveals that they are after a particular villain, Dr. Polaris.

Shilo and Dina realize the same thing. Shilo asks the warden to open up the area where the prisoners are to let him and his crew take them out. The warden tells him that the prisoners are contained and that they will release the metagene inhibitor. Shilo can't shake the feeling that there is more to the riot than they are realizing.

From his position, the warden negotiates with a prisoner named Black Mass who reveals that all the guards that came after the prisoners are dead. The warden orders the release of the metagene inhibitor as the Hellgrammite breaks through the wooden cage that holds Dr. Polaris. The Joker pops his head into the cell and explains that he needs Polaris' powers. The good doctor counters that the collar inhibits his powers to which the Joker replies with a Multi-Man who can now shrink. As Shilo and Warden Zimmer listen, Polaris' collar falls off and his power is released.

His first act is to create an electromagnetic pulse to fuse the circuits in the other prisoner's collars freeing them to use their powers. As this happens, the metagene inhibitor gas is released. As the prisoners fear that their powers will be taken away again, the Joker simply smiles and watches. His plan finally comes to fruition as he explains that the chemical compounds of the regurgitants combined with the active ingredients of the metagene inhibitors combine to create a third formula, one the Joker says he is very familiar with.

As Shilo and Dina listen to the rising laughter, Black Canary finally reaches where the Joker and his crew are located. She is shocked to find that all of the prisoners who were with the Joker have been "Jokerized."

Babs and Dick finally get back to Bab's apartment. The alarm Babs has set up in case of emergency is going crazy and Dick and Babs are shocked when they enter the Monitor Room to see the Jokerized villains through Black Canary's live feed from her goggles.

At the Slab, Shilo and Dina discuss their situation. The power has been knocked out, as have communications. They are cut off and outnumbered with no way to contain the upcoming breakout. Shilo comments that they are on their own.

Across the river from the island where the Slab is located the Batman watches.

4Story - 4: So we get two crossovers in one year? Wow, I guess DC is trying to make up for the fact that 2000 had no major company crossover.

You would think that since this is the second major crossover of this year that Joker: Last Laugh would be hurt because of it. Crossovers that stretch into most of the other titles are a dodgy proposition in the first place. Fans in recent years seem to, at least to me, be turning against having to buy all of the titles involved to get the entire story. To a certain extent I can agree with this. The more company wide crossovers that happen the more diluted the concept and fun of seeing all of the heroes together in one adventure becomes.

J: LL seems to be a little different, at least from how the first issue shaped up. While the series would probably be appreciated more if you did read all of the comics that crossover into J: LL you still get a really solid story. Like Our Worlds at War you don't have to collect them all to enjoy the series. Again, this is my feeling from the first issue. This could change as the series progresses but I don't see that happening.

The first issue of J: LL had some very good writing from Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. Dixon is one of the best action writers currently working in comics (if not the best) and while this story didn't have the usual wall-to-wall fight scene action that are mainstays in most of his Nightwing and Robin stories, the story is in high gear from the start. The drama of the jailbreak escalates nicely in the issue and is paced very well.

Another high point was seeing how the Joker's plan came together. Some of the better Batman stories have been seeing the villain's plan play out through the issue. To a certain extent you are pulled in to figure out what the Joker is up to despite knowing what is going to happen. Seeing the mechanics of the plan and how disturbing and Machiavellian the Joker's tactics are was both entertaining and slightly disturbing. I mean the man kept killing Multi-Man over and over and over again just to get to the one power he needed for the situation.

This leads into another aspect of the story that made it work so well. The attention to detail and characterization was evident. Dixon and Beatty obviously did their homework when it came to DC villains. I'm a pretty big DCophile and I couldn't name all of the villains that popped up, which may have to do with the fact that some new villains were thrown in. Either that or I'm not that good at spotting villains out of costume. In any case there were nice touches that advanced the story and gave the readers some fanboy moments. The aforementioned use of Multi-Man's abilities was one example. Another was having the Chiller disguised as the Joker to fool the guards at the Slab. I haven't seen that character in years and it was a nice use of him.

The Joker was handled very well. This makes sense considering Dixon has some experience with him from writing not only Detective Comics but also Robin (who's second mini-series had the first clash between Tim Drake and the Joker). Here the question is posed of what would the Joker do if he found out he has a brain tumor that was going to kill him? The answer is to do what he usually does which is to be the most evil human being on the planet and take everyone down with him. The concept of the Joker making other villains just as crazy and violent as him is novel and has great story potential.

In addition, I really liked the way Beatty and Dixon wrote the Joker's dialogue and action. Having him go through the seven stages of grief in the space of five minutes was amusing and fitting considering how crazy the Joker is. There are also some touches of his sheer malevolence and sadism as well. The previously mentioned use of Multi-Man is the best example of this. The two writers also show how intelligent and calculating the Joker is. I have always liked the Joker that was shown to be crazy, violent, murderous and intelligent and I got all of that in this story.

The scenes with Dick and Babs worked well to balance the frenetic pace of a prison break with a couple having dinner and talking. It also let us inside the mind of Barbara Gordon and how she thinks. Mostly when Babs is shown, even in her own book, it is in the setting of being Oracle, the 411 of the super-hero set. The recent romantic involvement with Dick (something that was a long time coming for most fans) has led to a more personal view of the character. In this story two things are examined. The first was that Babs is very dedicated to her position, almost bordering on obsession. The second is that Bab's hatred of the Joker goes much deeper than previously shown. There have been glimpses of this here and there, but here we get to see that unlike Bruce Wayne or Dick or Tim Drake the thought of the only good Joker is a dead Joker has obviously crossed Bab's mind.

It was also nice to see Shilo again. For those of you who don't recognize him, Shilo was the one time apprentice to Mister Miracle a.k.a. Scott Free. To see him working at the Slab was enjoyable and fitting.

I'm not sure whether the events of this story take place before or after the events of Suicide Squad (vol. 2) #1. According to that story, Multi-Man was killed on a mission with the Squad. Since MM can apparently comeback to life it is unclear just how dead he is.

(As a brief aside, Cluemaster was also killed in SS #1. This makes two characters that Dixon and Beatty have been using or used that have been whacked despite appearing in other comics at the same time.)

My main problem with the story has to do with my main problem with the concept of the series. There is something about the Joker making all of the villains in the Slab (or at least all of the ones who managed to follow him to Dr. Polaris's wooden cell) like himself. It was a little too convenient that the chemicals in the regurgitants combined with the chemicals in the metagene inhibitor would create the same chemical that made the Joker his own badself. While it is possible that the chemical components that created the liquid that the Joker fell into could have been split up to form the inhibitor and regurgitants it does seem farfetched. I think Beatty and Dixon were stretching here. I know that the idea was simply a means to an end but the premise seems a little thin and, for me, took away from the story.

Despite that I really enjoyed the first issue. It had a lot going for it in terms of story and characterization and the concept is interesting no matter the means it takes to get there. In other words, it's a lot of fun no matter what.

4Art - 4: I have really come to like Pete Woods' artwork on Robin and I'm kind of glad that I have gotten used to him there because his style took some getting used. In terms of layout and design he is good at keeping the reader's attention. His work conveys the emotion the writers were going for in both the action scenes and the slower scenes with Babs and Dick.

Where Woods' really comes into his own is his handling of so many characters on one page. Event books like this are always hard on the artists. (Yes, I know they are hard on the writer too, especially if it is a weekly series like this one, I was just trying to be nice.) Woods manages to cram a lot of characters in a relatively small space. The characters he drew were distinctive as well. Woods obviously did his own research in character design.

The best work of the issue was the Joker himself. Woods shows a good handle on the Clown Prince of Crime (ah, the '40s) and manages to have him appear both mirthful and evil at the same time. The best page for the Joker, and the comic in general, had to be page 24. Using a "close-up" Woods draws an eerie scene as the meta-human inhibitor gas seeps into the room and begins to transform the villains into Jokers. The smile on the Joker's face was worth the price of admission.

5Cover Art - 5: Brian Bolland draws one of the best Jokers on the planet. This cover worked on several different levels. The layout was eye catching and gave Bolland's art the necessary room to breath. There was no ornate logo, just a simple one, which worked just fine. The detail put into the Joker was very nice from the Flatbush cemetery smile to the texture of the Joker's suit. It was also cute that he was tossing the DC logo like a ball.

The only problem I had was that the Joker's hand seems a little out of perspective. It appears larger than it should be. Otherwise, a great cover.


Mild Mannered Reviews

2001

Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic was on sale.

January 2001

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