“Joke's On You”
Writer: Judd Winick
Artists: Tom Raney (p), Scott Hanna (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
Rating: 3 Stars
The Joker has captured President Lex Luthor while on a state visit to New York City. Gorilla Grodd and an army of apes have simultaneously attacked the Big Apple, enveloping the city in an invisible, impenetrable force field. The Outsiders, led by Nightwing and Arsenal, were already on-scene and have begun fighting their way through Grodd’s army en route to the Joker’s lair. Has the Joker teamed-up with Gorilla Grodd you ask or is it just bad timing?
Are the Outsiders a parody of super-hero teams or a serious take on sub-JLA adventures? I really don’t know, but I must be missing something because nearly every reviewer on the Web is praising this comic except me. Now I’m not a fanboy but I have a healthy respect for team dynamics in the DC Universe – even the solo comics these days are pretty much team books (Flash, Green Arrow and Batman come immediately to mind). I like the concept of a super-team that goes looking for trouble before it happens rather than showing up after the fact; an argument Nightwing makes to Batman during the closing pages in a nice baton-passing sequence. But Gorilla Grodd and the Joker? Are real terrorists off-limits or just not scary enough for DC?
Writer Judd Winick is doing a bang-up job on Green Arrow, he nailed the voice and tone of that book within the first two issues. But in the Outsiders Winick’s cast is much, much larger and he doesn’t seem to have the same grasp of each personality; in fact, he’s edging into stereotype territory: Nightwing is the burnt out loner who trusts no one but himself, Thunder wants to follow in her father’s footsteps but since Dad disapproves so she’s gonna prove him wrong, Metamorpho is the comic relief with a heart of gold – every character has something they’re running from or proving. It feels like Winick was gritting his teeth while writing their dialog, willing us to believe his characters are different from the JLA, the JSA or even the Teen Titans.
Last issue The Joker appeared in New York City and took President Luthor hostage. This issue we learn it’s because of a failed business transaction with a LexCorp subsidiary. Now Joker wants the goods he paid for and he’s gonna torture Luthor until he admits fault. That’s all the detail we’re provided. It feels like the kind of dim-bulb, low-watt idea shows up on a cocktail napkin at 2 a.m. I can imagine how the pitch meeting would go the next day “sure it’s a ridiculous, but there’s a cranberry vodka stain over the part explains everything, so I says we go with it anyway, who’s gonna care right?” Furthermore, Winick depicts the Joker as gay or as we say in San Francisco: queer. This is accomplished via some obvious and groan-worthy dialog. In fact, pretty much everything the Joker says is unfunny, clichéd and totally forgettable, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Gorilla Grodd’s role in this half-baked caper is equally bizarre and pedestrian. I kept thinking to myself, am I supposed to be taking this seriously or should I be laughing along with it?
Fortunately, Tom Raney and Scott Hanna make a pretty compelling art team. Raney knows his anatomy and flaunts it in every panel, Nightwing looks the part of a gymnast and much as I dislike Metamorpho when he speaks, in action he’s pretty cool to look at. Hanna’s inking style is a big departure from his Spider-Man work over John Romita Jr.’s pencils. In the Outsiders Hanna ink line is thinner and he lays down a lot more black – it’s definitely moodier and I respect the different approach he’s taking. But there’s something just wrong about the women in this comic, their costumes are absurd if not impractical, especially the sadly named Indigo, who looks like a cross between Tinkerbell and pretty much any videogame Anime girl. Overall the artwork is complex, detailed and pretty easy to follow.
So, we’re three issues into the Outsiders and my opinion now is lower than at the end of issue one. If the villains had been remotely compelling (say real world terrorists?) and the situations somewhat plausible or at least logically explained, then the Outsiders would be a terrific team comic book. I have all the confidence in the world that Judd Winick will clean up his characterizations and write understandable dialog in due time, but I have to wonder at the need for another comic book that doesn’t have anything new to say or respect it’s readers enough to at least try. Even the title is insulting: "Joke's on You." I'll say.
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