Comics

Joker

Kevin M. Brettauer

In their follow-up to the brilliant Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo take us on a twisted, depraved ride through a strikingly recognizable America – and our tour guide is a Joker who acts less like any Joker we’ve ever seen and more like a guard at Abu Ghraib.


Joker

Publisher: DC
cat_label_url: www.dccomics.com
Contributors: Artist: Lee Bermejo
Price: $19.99
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Length: 128
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-10-28
Amazon
“You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds, Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twist.”

-- Bob Dylan, Jokerman

There is an episode of HBO’s lauded television series Six Feet Under that features protagonist David Fisher getting abducted by a sociopathic hitchhiker. He spends the duration of the episode being psychologically and emotionally tortured before inexplicably being released from his captor. Not only is this similar to the odyssey of reader surrogate Jonny Frost in Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s new Joker graphic novel, but is strikingly akin to the reading experience of anyone who dares to crack open this impressively grim graphic novel.

One cannot help but feel that Azzarello’s Joker is not any Joker that comic fans have come to know. In fact, it seems as if Azzarello’s goal with Joker is to refute every previous incarnation of the arch-villain and replace it with a cipher, a sieve for modern depravity. In stern contrast to Denny O’Neil’s view of the character, Azzarello’s Joker is depicted as a misogynistic rapist; as opposed to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s animated incarnation, he is foul-mouthed and vulgar at every possible opportunity; and as if to laugh at those who repeatedly spent their ten dollars on The Dark Knightthis past summer, the Clown Prince of Crime is now a criminal iconoclast of Machiavellian proportions, not “a dog chasing cars” who “just do[es] things”.

Instead of being reminded of The Killing Jokeor even Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Azzarello’s dark title character behaves in such a manner so as to perhaps remind the reader of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Like those involved in Abu Ghraib, he uses intimidation, mockery, embarrassment, torture, sexual debauchery, murder, fear – and, above all, shock and awe – in order to debase, defame and ultimately destroy his carefully-selected targets with a near-surgical precision.

In Joker, Azzarello’s dark protagonist rapes, curses, murders and plots to protect and re-fortify his once-strong criminal empire. He is not Heath Ledger’s charmingly psychotic anarchist, but a man obsessed with regaining control of “his city”. He makes back-room deals with fiends like Killer Croc, Two-Face, The Riddler and The Penguin (here, drawn in a way that resembles a mutated Dick Cheney and, inexplicably, referred to only as “Abner”) as he stages his coup to rig the Gotham underworld’s proverbial pendulum swing with nary a hanging chad in sight.

It would be remiss not to mention Jonny Frost, the criminal Everyman who the Joker takes under his wing at the start of the graphic novel. He is Lemuel Gulliver or Walter Raleigh, a man who, after a horrible series of events brought about by his “boss”, becomes forced to reconsider everything he knows about his life, much as the American public has been forced to in recent years. By the end of the book, he considers the Joker a “disease”, symptomatic of the world that Jonny concludes is not just falling apart at the seams, but is actively tearing itself asunder. Depressed, he admits to himself that there are no “cures” to tyrants and torturers like the Joker, but only mere treatment in the form of the vigilante Batman. Azzarello, in clear contempt of America's current lame-duck administration, has the black-clad hero swing in to dispense unseen justice on the maniacal Joker right as the book ends.

If any of this seems contrived or muddled in description, this is only because of Azzarello’s clear desperation to see his characterization of the Joker as far removed from the recent cinematic incarnation as possible. It is easy to tell that Azzarello’s work here is well-intentioned (and Bermejo’s work is exceptionally gorgeous and just as well-suited to Batman’s rogues gallery as it was to Lex Luthor), but his insistence on separating his Joker from Ledger’s, or, indeed, any other iconic take on the character, is more than likely the book’s largest flaw. While it does give nods to past Bat-creators (I can’t help but feel that Joker’s middle-finger “salute” is a tip of the hat to Frank Miller), the book is as desperate to find its own identity as the Joker is to regain his criminal empire within its very pages. While the political metaphor is certainly welcome, its importance is lost under the weight of the writer’s good intention to, in the wake of perhaps the characters’ ultimate depiction, leave a mark on a character who, sadly, may now be forever unchangeable.

Or maybe not. Maybe there's something else to it, to this Joker, and the punch line just isn't obvious enough.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image