DC Comics has put so many Joker products on the shelves this month, I’m suffering from Clown Fatigue.
It actually started as a Joker kind of year, with the “Harleen” graphic novel in February. It was another in a series of Harley Quinn origins — collect ’em all! And “Harleen” isn’t really a Joker story. But “Journey to Joker War,” which began in March, and “Joker War” itself, which ran from July to October, definitely are.
This massive story took over all Bat-related books for nearly four months. For the uninitiated, that means “Batgirl,” “Batman,” “Catwoman,” “Detective Comics” “Nightwing” and “Red Hood: Outlaw,” plus the one-shot “Batman: The Joker War Zone” #1. For some of these books it was a swan song, as DC cuts back on titles (thanks to WarnerMedia’s latest corporate implosion).
“Joker War” is the latest in a seemingly endless cascade of Joker stories. There was the 23-issue opus “Death of the Family (2012)”; the six-issue “Endgame” (2014), in which Batman and the Joker literally kill each other (spoiler: they get better); the eight-issue “War of Jokes and Riddles” (2017); “Dark Nights: Metal” (2017-18), a 26-issue crossover, and 2018’s “The Wedding,” wherein the Joker pops up now and again during Batman and Catwoman’s failed nuptials, at one point stabbing the bride.
How could “Joker War” possibly top “Endgame”? Spoiler: It doesn’t.
It is a pretty good setup, though. The idea is that the Joker steals all of Bruce’s money and property to finance his depredations. More important, he steals all of Batman’s wonderful toys. So the Dark Knight has to call in all of the Bat-family to beat his Batmobiles, Whirly-Bats and Batwings.
The Wayne quadrillions are now in the possession of Lucius Fox, who is suffering from Joker toxin and hates Batman. So the Gotham Guardian has lost his one superpower: He’s not rich anymore.
And some of the Bat-kids are going through changes, too, which the cynic in me thinks is to help the comic books line up with the “Batwoman” TV show. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) seems to have discovered that she’s more useful as behind-the-scenes computer guru Oracle (cue the new, black Batwoman). Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Jason Todd (Red Hood) are having second thoughts about their roles. Cassandra Cain (Orphan) and Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) are going the opposite path, emblazoning big bats on their chests to serve as symbols of hope.
Meanwhile, DC published two other Joker projects during “Joker War.” In “Batman: Three Jokers,” DC’s TV guru Geoff Johns followed up on a tease back in “Dark Nights,” Batman is told that there were three Jokers (just roll with it). Despite my Clown Fatigue, I found it plausible and entertaining.
The other project is “Joker: Killer Smile,” a three-issue miniseries, followed by a one-shot coda. It’s not a very original story — the Joker drives his Arkham Asylum psychiatrist insane — but writer Jeff Lemire is very deft at keeping the audience in suspense as to what is real and what isn’t. And Andrea Sorrentino’s photo-realistic artwork is a revelation.