Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)
The book opens with the Joker standing over the body of Thomas Elliot (Bruce Wayne's childhood friend), and this latest blow only serves to dredge up the past tragedies that the Joker has been responsible for. As Batman remembers the shooting of Barbara Gordon, and the murders of Sarah Essen (Jim Gordon's wife) & Jason Todd (the second Robin), we see his normally cool, collected reserve goes out the window, and Batman finds his actions driven by pure, unrestrained rage, as he lashes out at the Joker. As the Joker proclaims his innocence in the shooting of Thomas Elliot, we see Batman's not in the mood for what he believes to be another game that the Joker is playing, and as it becomes clear that Batman has every intention of killing the Joker, we see several attempts are made to stop him. As Harley Quinn's attempted rescue of her beloved Mr. J fails, and Catwoman's attempt to reign him is unable to quell his murderous rage, we see the task of stopping him falls to a man who has even more reason to want to see the Joker dead. However, Jim Gordon manages to reach Batman, and make it known that killing the Joker out of revenge for his past misdeeds, or to keep him from committing future acts of evil will never be a justifiable act, and Batman stands down before he becomes a murderer.
Why has Batman never killed the Joker? The simple answer is that no writer would be silly enough to kill off the golden goose that is the Joker/Batman rivalry. However, in the buildup leading up to this issue, Jeph Loeb pretty much came right out and stated that this issue would deliver the answer to this question. Now in the interest of preserving the answer this issue provides from the readers who have never read a comic before I must warn you that in the next sentence I'm going to reveal the answer Jeph Loeb offered us. The reason why Batman never kills the Joker is that doing so would make him just as bad as the Joker. In other major revelations J. Jonah Jameson will portray Spider-Man's most heroic deeds in a negative light, and Superman is not a bit fan of kryptonite. I mean surely Jeph Loeb didn't expect this answer to blow readers away, as essentially it's the exact same answer that's always been offered up when a hero is struggling with the debate of whether they should let the villain live. Now, yes Batman had to be talked down off the ledge by Jim Gordon, but the final destination is the same. I've been reading comics for long enough that I know writers engage in hyperbole to sell their stories, but I honestly bought into what Jeph Loeb had been selling during the pre-hype, so getting this familiar answer was quite disappointing.
The big question that this issue fails to address is why the readers are supposed to find this battle entertaining, as in comparison to the other Joker versus Batman bouts this one is a pretty one-sided affair. I mean the Joker might as well have been a punching bag for all to opposition he managed to deliver. Now I realize the intensity of the anger that Batman is feeling is what's driving this encounter forward, and that the real selling point comes during the climax where we see Batman has decided to kill the Joker. However, aside from providing a history lesson of all the past atrocities that the Joker has been responsible for, this issue utterly fails to convey the idea that the Joker is even a threat. I mean basically this issue has Batman encounter the Joker, Batman pummels the Joker senseless while thinking back on the past evils the Joker has committed, and in the final climax, Batman has to be talked out of killing the Joker. Needless to say this is not the most impressive showing the Joker has been given, and speaking as a fan who believes all fights should provide moments when it looks like the villain stands a chance of winning, I have to say this issue completely misses the boat. The Joker is one of the most dangerous villains in the DCU, but you wouldn't know it from his performance in this issue.
First off I have to say that the cover to this issue is absolutely fantastic, as how can one not want to read this issue after getting a look at the Joker's insane expression, that nicely conflicts with the idea that Batman appears to be on the verge of killing him. As for the art inside the book is basically a series of panels that show Batman letting out his frustrations upon the Joker, and this is inter-cut by flashback images of what amounts to the Joker's greatest moments as a villain. Now there's the occasional moment of comedy, as how can one not smile at Harley Quinn's rescue attempt of her beloved Mr. J, and the scene where the Joker is fleeing the scene does a wonderful job of conveying the character's almost mad delight that he's driven Batman past the point of no return. The brief little tussle that Batman has with Catwoman was also a nice momentary distraction, and it managed to break up the monotony of what had been a rather tiresome display of Batman's anger toward the Joker. I will give the art credit for visually conveying Batman's anger, as there's a great panel where Batman is looking down at his blood soaked hands, and this image is one of the most powerful images Jim Lee has delivered during his time on this book. The panel where the Joker makes his final declaration of innocence is also a nice looking shot.
This issue was really pushed as being the ultimate encounter between the Joker & Batman, where the question of why Batman never killed the Joker would finally be resolved. However, speaking as a fan who read dozens of stories where an incensed hero entered a battle with every intention of killing the villain, I have to say this one is hardly breaking new ground. In fact the material is almost tentative in how it delivered the big moment, as when Jim Gordon starts delivering his big speech, one could almost sense the tension dissipating from the material, rather than building. I also have to question how much entertainment value one can really draw from an encounter where the Joker is made out to be such an ineffectual opponent. I mean the people trying to stop Batman from killing the Joker actually came across as more dangerous than the Joker himself, and this in turn leaves me completely unconvinced that this issue will be considered the greatest Joker/Batman clash. In fact I doubt it would even rank among the top ten.
What did you think of this book?
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