Comic Review: “Joker: Killer Smile” #1

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Were “Joker” stories ever entertaining? I’m not asking if they were ever good—but were they ever entertaining?

Oh yes, the Joker: Killer Smile #1 review.

Before I review this comic—written by Jeff “writes many many comics” Lemire and illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino—I want to expound on a certain type of horror movie I call a “feel bad” film. This is not necessarily a film of poor quality—it’s just sort of sordid and depressing and kind of wallows in a dark place nestled beneath the old fuzz and junk in your bellybutton.

For example, the movie Hereditary would be considered, in my terminology, a “feel bad” movie. So would Midsommer. In fact, you can almost guarantee that anything Ari Aster directs is going to be a “feel bad” movie.

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“Midsommer”: a “feel bad” film

What’s that? Oh, the Joker: Killer Smile review. Right. I’m getting to that.

Now, we can move along to the most recent cinematic iteration of that classic Batman villain the Joker. A fine movie—but certainly, for the most part (outside of that Gary Glitter dance number but that’s a whole nuther topic isn’t it), it’s a “feel bad” movie.

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“Joker”: somewhat of a “feel bad” cinematic enterprise

Large parts of 2008’s The Dark Knight were also “feel bad”…but that doesn’t detract from Heath Ledger’s stellar performance. It’s just… “feel bad,” that’s all.

Whereas…the 1989 Batman was largely not a feel bad movie. I would argue. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was not—at least, most of the time—a “feel bad” Joker. Sure, he was villainous…he just didn’t leave you feeling sordid and sad.

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1989’s “Batman”: a “feel good” film (being younger certainly helped)

(So there was an enjoyable Joker story once! And then of course the Mark Hamill version.)

Joker: Killer Smile—part of DC’s newish “Black Label” line—is a “feel bad” Joker comic. As opposed to, say, the current Harleen miniseries, which is largely a yandere wank-fest.

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“Harleen”: yandere wank-fest

And yet both Joker: Killer Smile and Harleen have very similar premises—a psychiatrist is trying to understand the Joker and possibly treat/“cure” him. In Harleen the doctor is obviously the future Harley Quinn, and in the Lemire book it’s family man Dr. Ben Arnell.

Arnell is so obsessed with the Joker case that he’s kinda sorta subconsciously willing to put his wife and especially child in danger. And I guess…how “subconsciously” we’re talking about may or may not play into the drama of future issues of this title.

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And that’s…kinda “it,” in terms of the first issue at least. I mean, there’s a part with a children’s book with decapitated cartoon animals. And there’s a first page whose possible subconscious metaphorical “meaning” seems to fit the very definition of “feel bad” story (and…we’re back in Gary Glitter territory once again).

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Now, the “feel bad” element of the story is not a criticism against Lemire’s writing. At least a solid 2/3rds of every comic I’ve ever written are admittedly “feel bad” comics.

I think some of the problem here, however, lies in a larger dilemma I have with comic books not both written and drawn by the talented double-threat Lemire.

As you see in a series like Image’s excellent Royal City (whuuuut, I have a review of that series right here?), a lot of the nuance of Lemire’s storytelling comes out in his actual art. And in books where he’s not also illustrating, like this Joker comic and the current Inferior Five series…even if the art is great, a lot of the deeper meaning and heart of the story gets lost.

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a page from Lemire’s “Royal City”

This is not to say Sorrentino’s art is not well-done, or that he doesn’t present an intriguing and unique Joker design. If you are a fan of the Joker and just want some really cool Joker images, this comic’s got ’em in spades.

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And it’s not to say that Joker: Killer Smile isn’t well-written. It’s just…there’s something slightly “missing” here that I know if Lemire was illustrating, would be present. (For those who’ve read Inferior Five—compare the main feature to the Peacemaker backups also drawn by Lemire).

So, as in a number of these types of series…I sort of rather wait for the eventual collected edition to finish the story. The story would serve me better as a true graphic novel, as an organic whole. And then I can revisit the entire thing and probably give a more informed review.

That said: as far as I know, DC hasn’t whored out a billion Joker comics over the past several months as they might have done in the past when a successful movie starring their characters came out. So there’s that.

And also…apparently Jeff Lemire can’t be cloned out to draw even more comics. So there’s that.

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Joker: Killer Smile #1 is on sale now wherever things like comics are sold.

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