It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve read a trade that featured the Joker prominently. Sure, he pops up every once and a while here and there, but he hasn’t been the star for quite some time.
Thankfully, when he makes his comeback, he does it in a big way.
The Joker: Devil’s Advocate opens with a handful of scenes of unconnected people, all in the process of mailing an envelope (hardly a dramatic opening, to be sure). As soon as they lick the stamps, however, they immediately begin seizing and wind up dead, a grotesque smile splayed across their faces.
There’s no doubt about it, the Joker’s nerve toxin is to blame.
Cut to a scene of the Joker, raising hell in a post office as he angrily questions why he wasn’t chosen as an honoree for the “comedians” special edition stamps. He starts shooting up the place, killing anyone he pleases, until Batman and Robin intervene and throw him in jail.
It’s a rather ridiculous opening plot, but this is the Joker: Somehow, it just works.
As the Joker goes through the motions of being read his rights, given a lawyer, etc., we’re given the first hint that all may not be as it seems.
I was unsure how to take this comment. After all, it wouldn’t be out of line for the Joker to feign innocence while he sends the police on a wild goose chase. Still, something about the crime just felt off.
The story that unfolds is enthralling, but the true star of the comic is Joker himself, in all of his unhinged glory. The D.A. makes the bold decision to forgo the typical insanity plea and try the Joker for his crimes. Unsurprisingly, he makes a farce of the courtroom and is ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death.
Of course, the Joker takes this news in stride, acknowledging the celebrity this sentence will bring him.
He pushes for a quick execution, threatening to sue Gotham City should they delay the matter. All the while Batman is hunting down clues, convinced that the Joker has been convicted of the one crime he didn’t commit.
Ultimately Batman discovers the true culprit, a throwaway character who gained access to Joker’s nerve toxin through an old storage unit, and the man is brought up on charges. The stay of execution call is made with mere seconds to spare, but the Joker seems unconcerned with the whole situation.
It would seem the Joker has won in this case, escaping death and returning to the familiar walls of Arkham. As the comic closes however, he receives a visit from Batman in his cell. Batman points out that Joker owes his life to him, a debt Joker undoubtedly doesn’t wish to be in.
While I didn’t care much for the “Who actually committed the crime?” side of the story, I loved the Joker’s portrayal. Everything about him in this story felt organic, which is more than a little terrifying given how abnormal all of his reactions are. Unconcerned with death, desirous of fame and glory, the Joker is a complete enigma. It’s a difficult feat to write a character who’s totally unpredictable yet make their actions fit their personality, but this story pulls it off perfectly. I’ve read plenty of Joker stories at this point, and while it’s easy to see why Joker is an intriguing character study to many, this comic proves why he’s a fan favorite. His dark humor and maniacal actions combine to make an entirely unique and unforgettable character, and one whom you want to survive only because you want to read about more of his exploits.
I was thoroughly surprised how much I liked this comic, and particularly enjoyed the subtle characterizations that helped show the unstable nature of the clown prince of crime. Joker always makes for a fascinating read, and while I cringe at many of his crimes merely due to their sheer brutality, they are completely absorbing and leave me wanting more.
Does this make me crazy or a little unhinged? Perhaps. Then again, aren’t we all?
Aaaaand now I’m having serious doubts about myself after having typed that last line. Okay, Jess, time to step away from the comics for a little while…