Writer: Judd Winick
Artists: Tom Raney (p), Scott Hanna (i)
The book opens with Lex Luthor learning why the Joker has gone to such extraordinary lengths to secure a meeting with him, as he discovers that the Joker is an unhappy customer whose latest order from Sivana Industries has failed to show up, and the Joker feels that Lexcorp's recent acquisition of Sivana Industries is to blame. As the Joker demands satisfaction, we see he believes torturing the former head of Lexcorp will result in the delivery of the death dealing devices of mass destruction he ordered. We then look in on the Outsiders who are busy trying to locate Grodd, as they are under the belief that he is using his telepathic abilities to control this army of rampaging gorillas. This theory is soon proven wrong though when they tag Grodd with a device that shorts out his telepathic powers, but the gorilla army continues their aggression. However, when the team comes up with a plan that dumps most of the gorillas into the Hudson River we see a desperate Grodd confesses that their attack is a distraction, and they were blackmailed into service, after the Joker unleashed a deadly plague upon Gorilla City. The Outsiders then race to rescue Luthor from the Joker, and while they are successful in this rescue, we see the Joker is able to slip away when he triggers the explosive devices he had planted throughout the underground bunker.
Most of this issue is taken up by the antics of Lex Luthor & the Joker, as the Joker lets Luthor know that he's not exactly pleased that Lexcorp acquired Sivana Industries, his favorite supplier of deadly toys, and then failed to deliver his last shipment. Now I was quite pleased to see the Judd Winick actually crafted a reason for why the Joker would target Luthor, as far too often writers seem to hide behind the rational that since he's crazy, the Joker rarely requires a motivation beyond his continual bid to create as much chaos as he can when he's not locked up in Arkham. What I had a bit of a problem with is that Judd Winick didn't really play to Lex Luthor's strengths as a character, as while he is extremely bullheaded, he's also a highly intelligent man who should be able to recognize that the Joker actually enjoys torturing him, and as such the only thing he's accomplishing by his continual defiance is more torture. I mean Luthor has worked along side the Joker before, and as such he has to know the man is deeply disturbed, and continuing to refuse the Joker's request is a bit like trying to placate a mad dog by poking it with a stick. I mean it plays up his ability to be stubborn & his iron will when it comes to getting his own way, but Luthor should've been smart enough not to end up in the position that this issue places him in.
The rest of the issue focuses on the Outsiders, as Judd Winick offers up a bit of a surprise in that Grodd's current attack is not driven by his regular hostilities toward the human race. Now I'm not sure that Grodd would be so easily manipulated that he would buy into the idea that Nightwing would let the soldiers drown, as even without his ability to read their minds, Grodd is smart enough to recognize that Nightwing's teammates were actively upset by his decision, and he could count on at least one of them being true to their heroic nature. In any event this scene with Grodd simply felt wrong, as it makes the character dumb enough to trust the word of a known psychopath, and willing to accept the aid of a super-hero in a time of crisis. It just doesn't feel like a Grodd moment, and frankly I feel it would've been a far better story if Grodd had remained locked away in Gorilla City, while this invasion had been lead by the city's current, seemingly peaceful, ruler. I was also a bit disappointed that the Outsiders' entire encounter with the Joker consisted of their arriving to witness the Joker pressing a button that provides the explosion that allows him to slip away to fight another day. Than again perhaps asking that the Joker would last any amount of time against the combined might of the Outsiders would be asking a bit too much from Judd Winick.
Tom Raney's version of the Joker was a little too polished & suave for my liking, as while the character doesn't need to be foaming at the mouth, or pulling out tuffs of his own hair, it would be nice to get some visual indicator of the madness that lies within. I mean even when the book is trying to convey a sense of danger from the Joker the art simply isn't up to the task. The same goes for the scene where Grodd reveals that his current attack is the result of blackmail, as the art offers up a shot of Grodd expressing concern for his drowning soldiers that is far too emotional. I mean there are just certain expressions that look wrong, and Grodd pitiful puppy dog gaze simply felt wrong on so many levels. On the other hand the art does some wonderful work detailing Luthor's unwillingness to cooperate, as one has to love his smug expression when he defies the Joker that final time before his rescue. There's also a pretty decent shot of the Outsiders when they arrive to rescue Luthor, though the explosive scene that follows was a bit understated, as the art delivers the big explosion in a tiny panel. The scene in the Batcave was pretty solid though, as I love Batman's unchanging expression, when it's contrasted against Dick's ranting & raving, and the fact that the final panels of both characters have them sharing a smile. I also enjoyed the conversation of the cover, as you don't really see this cover device used much anymore.
I like that Judd Winick pulled out the big guns on these early issues, as far too often the early issues of a new series are focused on developing the chemistry between the cast that the threats tend to be rather run of the mill. Now, using three fairly major league villain during this opening arc has set the bar rather high, and to a certain extent it has come at the expense of the heroes, as a sizeable chunk of this issue is handed over the Lex Luthor/Joker plot. I also have to openly wonder about Luthor's steadfast belief that the best way to deal with the threat the Joker presents is to continually antagonize him, as given Luthor has lasted as long as he has, is thanks to his ability to maneuver his way into a positions of power, one has to wonder why he displayed such extremely poor judgment this time out. Still the interaction does a pretty fair job of showing use that Luthor is not one who is easily intimidated, and given he's still alive after this encounter, I guess one could argue that he knew what he was doing.
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