“Three things cannot long be hidden: the Joker, the Joker, and the Joker.”

§ August 26th, 2020 § Filed under batman, swamp thing § 14 Comments

[SPOILERS for Batman: Three Jokers ahead]

So Monday afternoon, I did something I almost never do at the shop…I read a comic book.

I’ve heard plenty of times over the years “wow, it must be great to work in a comic book store and just read comics all day,” and I think in the 32-years-next-month I’ve been doing this, I’ve maybe read…a half-dozen comics while on the clock? I mean, my lunch breaks don’t count, I would assume, but even then I wasn’t reading comics…I’d maybe poke through Wizard or screw around on the internet.

But this time, after I’d broken down the DC Comics shipment, and did all the comic saver pulls, instead of doing anything useful like pricing that stack of Deadpools I obtained from that defunct store stock, I decided to just straight up read that Batman: Three Jokers comic that’s all the rage at the moment.

And you know…I thought it was fine. Geoff Johns in his particular wheelhouse here, just doing a plain ol’ Batman story despite the weight it’s carrying from the hype and the marketing. Like a good percentage of Johns’s work, it is directly building on a foundation laid by Alan Moore decades prior. However, unlike Doomsday Clock, where the reach for Watchmen exceeded the grasp, here he’s fiddling around with The Killing Joke, a comic that critical history, and Moore himself, have decided is one of the writer’s lesser works. As such Johns here feels a little less out of his depth, addressing not only the consequences of The Killing Joke but the decidedly dumb-but-impactful “Death in the Family.”

In fact, I think that’s one of the clever bits of Three Jokers, in how it entwines both of these events together, and forces the two characters directly affected by these events (Batgirl and the second Robin Jason Todd, now “The Red Hood”) to confront their respective histories with the title character(s) of this story. In fact, Johns somehow managed to make Todd’s past experience even more excruciating and terrifying…and I should clarify, I mean this as a compliment, as I found this probably the most effective scene in the issue.

As to the overall plot…I won’t delve too deeply into spoilers, if at all, but I’m glad this seems to be more of a Batman-milieu rather than a “DC Multiverse” thing. Given the origins of this whole “three Jokers” business to begin with, involving the Justice League and the New Gods and Batman using Metron’s Mobius Chair to find out “wait, how many Jokers?” — well, in the, what, four years since that info dropped I’d been expecting some kind of parallel universe explanation. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I mean, who knows, there are two more issues to go, maybe Pariah will show up.

Well, one thing about the conceit of Three Jokers is that it provides an alternate explanation for the many versions of Joker we’ve seen over the years to the one Grant Morrison has been trying to sell us since his Arkham Asylum graphic novel in 1989 (as occasional partner-in-crime Ken Lowery reminded me). The specific example I’d mentioned was the more recent Batman #663 from 2007. In essence, the Joker reinvents himself, undergoes a shift in personality, which is something we witness directly in that Batman comic. It seemed like a perfectly good way to explain the multitudes of Joker’s personalities we’ve had over the decades, and fit very well with the character.

Johns’s premise is not so elegant, presenting instead the idea that there are literally three people running around as the Joker, each with their own style and tone. As I saw someone point out on the Twitters, you’d think this would make Batman look bad, being unable to tell that was what was going on. I don’t want to use the term “idiot plot,” but maybe we can just suppose that Batman had some kind of brainfart and overlooked the fact that the Joker maybe had a slightly different jawline than he remembered, or that his eyes were spaced differently. Or maybe Batman attributed the differences to the affects had by the beatings he’d give him. Who knows.

I should note that the art is great…Jason Fabok really puts in a good show here, especially with the various portraits of the Joker he’s prepared for the many variant covers (as well as a few of the Batfamily). Given the content of the story, the deliberate biting of the panel layouts of The Killing Joke is actually quite fitting. If a Killing Joke sequel has to be made (SPOILER: it probably doesnt) then you can do worse than tying the new work to it visually. Anyway, it’s definitely a gorgeous looking package.

A couple of continuity points, or lack thereof as the case may be:

A line of dialogue notes the Joker’s first appearance “decades ago,” which means at minimum two, if we’re being literal. I presume this is Johns’s way of saying that the five-year-timeline of the New 52 is good ‘n’ gone after the events of Doomsday Clock.

However, when I mentioned that on the Twitters, it was pointed out to me that Three Jokers isn’t mainline DC continuity, so maybe that “decades” comment doesn’t apply to any other DC Universe title outside the series. Given that nobody really has any clue what constitutes continuity or not at DC anymore, I don’t suppose it matters that much. If I recall correctly, even The Killing Joke wasn’t necessarily intended to be in the regular DC continuity…which of course changed once Batgirl debuted as the wheelchair-wielding Oracle in Suicide Squad.

It does seem weird, though, that a mystery set up in that most in-continuity of DC Comics, Justice League, would get answered in an out-of-continuity series. Would that mean the mystery remains unsolved in-universe? Well, I think DC’s “Rebirth” was since then, anyway, so maybe they made that event Never Not Was. Or we could just not worry about continuity and enjoy the story as is…like some kind of crazy person.

Oh, and is there a Swamp Thing connection? Your bet your tubers there is! Say so long and farewell to the late Dr. Roger Huntoon, who first appeared during Rick Veitch’s Swamp Thing run, killed off panel in Three Jokers #1. Here he is in Swamp Thing #79 (1988), bothering Lois Lane:

Alas, we hardly knew ye, Dr. Huntoon. We’ll see you again, in the next reboot.

Ultimately, will anything going on in this series stick to the character? Joker seems awfully resistant to any long-term alterations to him or his premise. I think the whole “Red Hood” thing that was retroactively added to his history back in the ’40s, and the shooting of Barbara Gordon and the crowbarring of Jason Todd have both stuck (hence this series). Everything else just seems to slough off…any attempts at giving him a Real Name don’t last (“Jack Napier” seems to have lasted the longest, having returned after a long hiatus in the out-of-continuity “White Knight” series). Three Jokers seems to be foreshadowing a revelation regarding the Joker’s name, but I’m sure that’ll eventually go the same way. (Maybe some Jokers will be named, and others won’t…we’ve got plenty of them to work with here.)

To wrap up this already overly-long post, I think Batman: Three Jokers is fine. Beautiful art, a serviceable script, and a weird game-changing premise that may or may not survive the end of the series. But boy, those covers are nice.

14 Responses to ““Three things cannot long be hidden: the Joker, the Joker, and the Joker.””

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I am going rather off the topic, but this post reminded me of something. Back in the day (by which I mean the late ’70s), there were fans who would complain a lot about Bob Haney’s stories for “The Brave and the Bold” and “World’s Finest” being out of continuity. As proof of this, they would point out that he once wrote a story in which the Joker was captured because he was unable to swim (“The Brave and the Bold” #111, February 1974), despite the fact that “The Man Behind the Red Hood” (“Detective Comics” #168, February 1951) had explained the Joker’s appearance as being due to him once swimming through a stream of chemical waste. In those pre-“Simpsons” days, there were people unironically hoping Haney would be fired for that “blunder.”

    I have not been following this “Three Jokers” business, but I take for granted that it carefully explains that at least one of the Jokers can indeed swim, and another cannot. Really, the story would seem to have no reason for existence except to explain this.

    In case Haney needs a defense here: Clearly, his policy was to approach each story as a self-contained thing, rather than as merely one chapter in a decades-long saga. That approach is looking better and better to me now–and at the time, it meant that each issue could be enjoyed by anyone who happened to pick it up. So, for example, if an issue of “The Brave and the Bold” teamed Batman with Green Lantern, it could be read with equal comprehension by a Batman fan who had never paid much attention to Green Lantern, a regular Green Lantern reader who had never cared much for Batman, and a first time reader who had never heard of either character before but who had been enticed by Jim Aparo’s cover.

  • rubber cat says:

    Even one Joker is too many if you ask me!

  • Chris G says:

    Another Haney joint was the Super-Sons stories in World’s Finest, which featured the teenage sons of the married Superman and Batman (whose unnamed wives faces were never seen on-panel). Most readers assumed these were imaginary stories (TM), but an editorial note in a letter column insisted that the stories were in-continuity and taking place concurrently with the stories in Action Comics, Batman, etc. every month. It was just that those stories never happened to mention the heroes’ wives or sons.

  • Randy Sims says:

    If their names aren’t Moe, Larry and Curly, Johns dropped the ball.

  • Maybe he’s going to go the John Byrne path. Any Joker appearance where he didn’t directly interact with Batman was a Doombot. That would solve the problem of Batman not seeing Joker had thicker eyebrow hair in issue whatever.

  • James G says:

    That was actually the first time I have heard of “idiot plot,” although it is something I’ve seen plenty of. Now I was an entire story designed as idiot plot but everyone is sincerely idiots, and can’t get over their idiot ness to solve something that everyone can see. It would be so frustrating to read. Something that could be take care of if the people involved just could stop being idiots long enough to fix it. I don’t think that’s been done before (looks around, sees world today, shrugs). Nope, completely original!

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Chris G, the weirdness of the Super Sons was entirely on the editor, Murray Boltinoff. This was all his idea; Haney just followed the guidelines he was given.

    Though I suppose that any writer other than Haney (and maybe Robert Kanigher) would have pressed Boltinoff more on the matter…

  • Roel Torres says:

    Hi Mike! If I wanted to understand current DC continuity, what is my best resource? Is there a website that would help clarify where things stand, and maybe point out key issues that can get me up to speed? Thanks for any suggestions!

  • Ward Hill Terry says:

    “never cared much for Batman, and a first time reader who had never heard of either character before but who had been enticed by Jim Aparo’s cover”
    That was me in late February of 1977. Aparo’s cover to Brave and Bold #134 was irresistible! (Of course, I had heard of Batman, and had seen him and GL in Justice League, but I hadn’t bought any of their titles until this point.)

  • Mikester says:

    Roel – will try to address that in a future post (if not Friday, then Monday). Be prepared that there may not be a good answer!

  • Snark Shark says:

    Turan: “Bob Haney’s stories for “The Brave and the Bold” and “World’s Finest” being out of continuity.”

    I believe that also came up in a SGT Rock/Batman story, where Rock was still alive in modern times, while Rock’s writer, I believe Robert Kanigher, stated Rock died BEFORE the end of WW2.

    (Good story, though).

    “Jim Aparo’s cover.”

    He has SO MANY great covers!

    Roel Torres: “If I wanted to understand current DC continuity, what is my best resource?”


  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    The fact that Kanigher stated in interviews that Rock would die in WWII does not count as “continuity.” That was Kanigher’s wish, not a fact. Rock’s death had not been shown or mentioned in any story, and therefore Haney was not contradicting continuity by presenting Rock as alive in the present day. That is not considering the fact that the choice of B&B guest stars was made by the editor not Haney, or the fact that Kanigher himself wrote a story in which Rock makes a post-war visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

    This, put more generally, is a point that annoys me: Some large portion of the claims that Haney violated continuity are simply not true. He wrote stories that contradicted what others wrote LATER, or he introduced elements that other writers chose not to use (such as Bruce Wayne becoming a senator, or discovering that his parents had hidden the existence of a brother with Down’s Syndrome), but in these cases it is the other writers who are violating continuity.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I will throw in that the first Batman/Sgt. Rock team-up was another case of fans claiming something was out of continuity when it really was not. This story had the pair meet during World War II, something the fans initially claimed was impossible; eventually, they decided that this was really a story of the Earth-2 Batman, even though nothing in the story indicated that.

    You see, having the Earth-1 Batman fight in World War II was something impossible only in the continuity established AFTER this story was published. At the time (1969), there had been no indication when the Earth-1 Batman began his career, or how old he was. Making him a veteran of WWII required him then to be only in his late 40s or early 50s, and that was possible (he was in exceptional shape for a man of that age, but then, he IS Batman).

  • Thwacko says:

    Do you think we’ll ever reach a point where new entertainment isn’t a reference to something that happened 35 years prior?