||[Oct. 10th, 2009|03:16 pm]
BATMAN: JOKER’S ASYLUM COMIC REVIEW|
The “Joker’s Asylum” was a weekly comic series which run for five weeks in 2008.
It consisted of five short comic stories, each one centering about a specific villain of Batman’s rogue gallery, and each one written and illustrated by a different pair of authors.
The interesting common element of all the five issues, was Joker’s role as the narrator, addressing the reader directly, much like the old “Horror Picture Show” tv series.
JOKER’S ASYLUM 1 – THE JOKER IN ”JOKER’S MILD”
And the first issue of “Joker’s Asylum” is of course centered about the Joker. It actually turns out to be a nice little story which makes the saga off to a good start. “Joker’s Mild” presents your standard, average Joker modus operandi: for no rational or discernible reason, he takes control of a quiz show and imprisons the participants there to take part in his own twisted variant of the program. Nothing new here. But there’s a little twist, however, which I won’t spoil here since all the suspence of the issue is derived from that. There’s also an ethic moral, which unfortunately loses all its poignance both because we’d seen it coming from miles away and because it is openly force-fed to the reader in a very preachy manner. Still, it’s a nice exercise in style. A little negative note about the drawings, however – they just seem “off” and undefined, and not in the good artistical way.
LUN’S VOTE: 6 out of 10
JOKER’S ASYLUM 2 – THE PENGUIN IN “HE WHO LAUGHS LAST”
Surprisingly enough, the second issue is about Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, the man known as the Penguin. We already see that something is not quite right, because the Penguin isn’t an inmate of the criminal asylum, since he isn’t insane. So why making him one of the cast members of a series about psychopaths? And that’s ultimately why “He who laughs last” (a title which would fit the Joker a lot better, by the way) fails short of all its remarkable potential: because it tries to cram sociopath, disturbed personality traits into a sane individual like mr.Cobblepot. Sure, that isn’t necessarily doomed to failure: we’ve seen Tim Burton turning the Penguin into an effective, charismatic madman in the movie “Batman Returns”. But the concept, however, doesn’t work here, mainly because the author knows he can’t make the Penguin a full-blown nutjob, but yet he seems convinced that the character doesn’t work as a fully sane individual. Wrong: the whole plot, which is an interesting one, is utterly ruined by the writer’s obvious indecision in how to portray the deformed, ugly-looking protagonist of the story. Had the Penguin been fully sane and in control, like he’s normally represented as in the comics, this story would have been worth a good 7 out of 10. But when in this comic the Penguin goes through all that trouble to completely ruin the life of a man whose only fault was that, maybe, he may have laughed while looking at him, the reader immediately thinks it’s stupid and preposterous. Then ask yourself, why is that so? The Joker’s actions are often whimsical and nonsensical, yet we never question the lack of logic in his cruel deeds. The Riddler fixates so much on the Batman that he ruins his own life and goes on a convoluted, brainy crime spree merely for testing the Dark Knight, and all this for no other reason than because he just has to do so. And what about Two-Face, who isn’t even able to choose which necktie to wear for the day, if he doesn’t let chance make his decisions for him, by the toss of a coin? All the Gotham villains do nonsensical deeds all the time and we never wonder about how stupid it is. But when the Penguin does that once, in this comic, our suspension of disbelief is immediately broken. We feel it makes no sense, and we can’t enjoy the story. Because we know the Penguin isn’t like that.
Then why does this comic still score a sufficiency for me? Because of all the potential I mentioned above, which doesn’t lie in the depiction of the Penguin, but in the depiction of how his girlfriend sees him. Yes, girlfriend: the story here is about mr.Cobblepot finding a soulmate. For most of the comic, I was prepared for the classical scene: for the revelation that she never loved the hideous-looking Penguin and that she just faked it to use him and obtain something for her own personal agenda, and that she, no matter how beautiful, is the real monster and yadda-yadda-yadda. Thankfully, much to my surprise and delight, nothing of the sort happens this time. No, she really, genuinely, sincerely loved Oswald. And that’s the real key, that’s what the comic got juuust right: it knows that being a deformed freak with a tragic past isn’t what makes the Penguin a villain. No, it’s all in how he behaves (and let’s pretend to turn a blind eye in how Cobblepot’s tragicomic existence, in this comic, is very poorly and childishly represented as…. high school girls badmouthing him. Uhm, the… horror?), it’s all in his nature – maybe it’s his fault for reacting in such a way to his fate, maybe it’s the world’s fault for mistreating him; either way it doesn’t matter, but still what really makes the Penguin a villain is the fact that he is evil. How much more poignant it would have been, then, if the Penguin had been correctly represented as a sane individual; if instead of his fiancée discovering that he ruins some random people’s lives for the hell of it, she’d instead found him making accords with drug dealers, killing policemen and casual bystanders to steal from a bank, getting a poor little fellow beat up by his goons because he didn’t pay the “protection” fee in due time. But luckily, the moral still works, and the comic reminds us that while we should indeed sympathize for the lonely, sad Penguin, we should also realize that he’s not a little fuzzy Disney character; he’s a cruel, evil criminal boss. And that’s precisely when his girlfriend, the one woman who genuinely didn’t care about how short, how fat, how long-nosed, how deformed and ugly he was, would look at him as if she was seeing him for the first time, and make that sad and fearful comment: “You’re a monster, Oswald. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”
LUN’S VOTE: 6 out of 10
JOKER’S ASYLUM 3 – POISON IVY IN “DEFLOWERED”
Definitely the worst issue of the series, which is a shame because the drawings aren’t bad at all. Sure, all of the episodes so far have followed the most traditional and predictable clichés: the Joker taking control of a tv show and the Penguin falling in love with a fine woman. But they also added something, a little twist, that at last made the difference. Not in this case, however, nossir. What’s the story about? Poison Ivy murders some people, because those people caused some unspecified damage to the Nature. Stop. That’s really all the story. Nothing else happens. Don’t even waste your time reading it. And even the death of her victims is boring, boring, boring. It always disappoints me to see Poison Ivy being a wasted villain. The concept of some hippy individual who loves nature and wildlife and especially plants so much to the point to decide that killing human beings is the only way to preserve our beautiful world, is an intriguing concept. But as usual, we don’t see even the edge of that being exploited here. This is a mad woman who’d rather save a tiny blossoming daisy than a kindergarten full of little children. And yet, all she gets are crappy stories like this one.
LUN’S VOTE: 4 out of 10
JOKER’S ASYLUM 4 – SCARECROW IN “DARK KNIGHT OF THE SCARECROW”
Apparently, the writers at DC still haven’t gotten tired of overusing the knight/night pun. Anyway. This story had all the cards to possibly be the best one out of all five. But then... you guessed it: it became yet another typical case of “wasted potential for a Batman story”. Here, the writer clearly decided to play on the traditional pattern of the teenager horror movies, you know, like with Freddy Krueger or Jason and Scream all the others: the typical situation of a group of unbelievably stupid and annoying teens, who all are in some specific place (an house, a wood, a beach, you pick it), and who get picked one by one by the typical eccentric maniac who may or may not have an enigmatic supernatural element to his figure. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is a great idea to use the Scarecrow. It could have turned up into a story of pure, mindless, thoughtless entertainment. But at this point, the writer didn’t know how to concretize the idea: sure, it’s fine if the victims are empty and lacking of any convincing personality. But, at the very last, you should focus on the important part: their fears. Each of them is supposed to be scared of something, and we see Scarecrow using his hallucinatory fear gas to make each of them experience their worst terror (a bit like Freddy Krueger with a pseudoscientifical explanation) . That’s great, isn’t it? “Nightmare” movies were a big hit. Alas, but this payoff just never happens. It’s one clumsy scene (often lacking logical chronology sequence: how can dr.Crane move so fast from one victim to another?) after the other, each and everyone of them empty and boring, and we never get the chill of going inside the victim’s mind and seeing him or her falling prey of their own phobia. Why, why building all the promising set-up, and then not being able of letting it just HAPPEN? Lots of other things went wrong. For example, the figure of the usual shy, isolated girl who turns out to be no less than a patient of dr.Crane, and as such is linked to him. Yet, we never see her express anything: we don’t see her relishing in the dark pleasure derived from Scarecrow showing her those barbiegirls who mocked her to be finally whimpering in horror, but on the other hand we also don’t see her repulsed and horrified when Scarecrow makes her darkest fantasies turn real and she finds out she really didn’t mean them. No, nothing of the sort. She’s just…. there. Like an empty shell. I could conclude the systematic destruction of this badly told story, by adding how little sense it makes that she wouldn’t even know her psychiatrist was no less than Jonathan Crane, the madman know as the Scarecrow. Surely she must have seen his face in the news, somewhere????
The drawings don’t help either: the story is drawn in the same stylized Disney style used for those modern cartoons aimed little girls. I see the idea may have seemed great, and that was supposed to be a great parody; but the point is, the illustrations never seem like a mockery of that pretty cute Barbie illustrations. They just, well, they just look exactly like pretty cute Barbie illustrations.
LUN’S VOTE : 5 out of 10
JOKER’S ASYLUM 5 – TWO-FACE IN “TWO-FACE, TOO!”
And finally, here’s the only issue which worked, completely and fully. The drawings quietly do their job, clean and tidy. The story may not have much significance, but at last it goes on smoothly and pleasantly and gets everything right and in-character, and never has any hiccup. And just like the story about Penguin explained us that its protagonist is evil because he is evil and not by means of his deformed looks, here, this story about Two-Face reminds us that Harvey Dent is insane because he is insane, and not because half of his face happens to be hideously damaged. We see him face to face (ehe) with another guy, who, like him, got his face partially damaged, but who isn’t some kind of loony or criminal. This guy, alas, makes the mistake of thinking that Two-Face is what he is because of the incident that disfigured him; thus the error of misplacing the effect for the cause. Harvey does explain that he doesn’t despise at all his freakish appearance, that he loves himself. But the other guy’s self-righteousness, and unintentional sense of superiority (look, I’m disfigured like you, but ME I’m such a good and honest fellow), gets on his nerves: he can’t compare himself to Harvey, and pretend to understand Harvey’s pain. Like it sometimes happens with missionaries and catholic do-gooders, they mean to do good but they just don’t even understand the real problem they’re supposed to help solving. And so Big Bad Harv solves the situation in his own way. I’ll let it to you to find out what he does – suffice to say, you should keep a coin by your side while you’re reading the comic. You’ll see why.
LUN’S VOTE: 7 out of 10