THIS WEEK: Batman: Three Jokers #3 concludes the series that’s been years in the making, and we examine whether it was worth the wait, and what it has to say about the struggle between Batman and The Joker.
Batman: Three Jokers #3
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jason Fabok
Color Artist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover Artist: Jason Fabok & Brad Anderson
Back in 2016, Batman asked the Mobius Chair what The Joker’s real name was, and was told instead that there were three Jokers. This week sees the conclusion of that dangling plot thread with the final issue of Geoff Johns, Jason Fabok, and Brad Anderson’s Batman: Three Jokers. Billed as “The ultimate story of Batman and The Joker,” the series has put Batman and two of The Joker’s most famous victims, Batgirl and Red Hood, on the trail of the trio of Jokers, and at each other’s throats over their differing methods of how to deal with them once they’re caught.
Fabok and Anderson’s work throughout Three Jokers has been excellent, and the series finale is no different. Fabok’s storytelling is strong, and he uses the nine-panel grid and its variations to great effect. His linework is realistic and well-rendered, and Anderson’s colors complement it well. It’s the kind of unflashy work that almost goes unnoticed, which is a sign of how highly-skilled the artists are and how well they’re executing on this series.
Unfortunately, the artwork aside, there’s not much to praise in Three Jokers. Comparisons between this book and other famous Joker stories are not only inevitable but encouraged, which is not always to the book’s advantage. The series’ original trade dress was a direct homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal The Killing Joke, and much of the marketing for the book seemed to place it as a spiritual successor to that one-shot, but aside from the aforementioned nine-panel grid and a few visual references, that’s about where the similarities end. The Killing Joke had something to say about the relationship between Batman and The Joker, framing it as an ideological battle in which The Joker, with his belief that ‘one bad day’ is all it would take to make someone just like him, represents chaos and societal breakdown, and Batman (along with Commissioner Gordon) represents order and the refusal to give in to darkness no matter how bad the day might be.
Conversely, Three Jokers doesn’t have much — if anything — to say about Batman and The Joker that we haven’t already seen before. The eternal question for Batman is why he allows The Joker to live after everything that he’s done, and that is raised again here, but no answer is offered or even hinted at. The Joker’s (singular on purpose here) obsession with being the most important thing to Batman is also on full display in this series, but it’s not explored to any degree of depth. The clown prince of crime’s motivation throughout the series hinges on something revealed towards the end of this issue, but it’s not something that’s ever even alluded to elsewhere in the series, and the ‘reveal’ falls flat as a result. The questions of how there came to be three Jokers, why they were all working together, or for how long that had been the case are also ultimately left unanswered, and one gets the sense that it really doesn’t matter, which is disappointing considering they’re the premise this whole series was based on.
Perhaps even more disappointing is the way that Three Jokers treats Barbara Gordon. Batgirl and Red Hood seem to function as the angel and devil on Batman’s shoulders, respectively, throughout the series, which actually works to a degree for Jason Todd, a character who has vacillated between violent antihero and less-violent undercover outlaw since his return from the dead. This book finds Jason pretty firmly in the former role as he grapples with the trauma of what happened to him, and rages against Batman’s unwillingness to end The Joker once and for all.
Barbara, on the other hand, is largely in this series so Batman has someone to talk to. She also scolds Bruce for the way he handles things with Jason, and acts as a mother hen for the wounded former Boy Wonder until an ill-advised kiss between the two of them leads Jason to decide he’s in love with her. Barbara’s path back from her own trauma at the hands of The Joker is touched on only briefly in the series’ second issue, and only as a counterpoint to what Jason’s going through. If Three Jokers had truly intended to serve as a companion or follow-up to The Killing Joke, the least it could do would’ve been to spend some more time giving the character who was treated the worst in that book more attention and characterization. Instead one gets the sense that she’s only there because she was also in The Killing Joke.
Aside from the Killing Joke comparisons, it’s also a little unfortunate for Three Jokers that it happened to come out around the same time as the “Joker War” storyline in the main Batman title. The two storylines featured some similar trappings and themes, but James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez’s six-part storyline ultimately presented a greater threat to Batman than The Joker: the insidiousness of his ideas being embraced by the everyday people of Gotham. “Joker War” elevated The Joker beyond being a character to make him a concept that could be adopted by others. That’s a much more terrifying way to present multiple Jokers than just dumping a bunch of people into a vat of chemicals.
In the end, Three Jokers is just another Joker story. It doesn’t have any new ideas to present about the relationship between Batman and his archnemesis, and the journey to get to that conclusion is fairly run-of-the-mill. The final twist in the closing pages completely contradicts the inciting incident for the story, and a sequence involving a note and some remarkably poor tape is both entirely out of left field and laughable in its attempted manipulation of the reader. At least it was pretty to look at.
Final Verdict: Skip.
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Hmm..that’s a pretty harsh analysis of Three Jokers, Joe, but I think you might just be right, Joe.
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