Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Only Your Undertaker Knows For Sure.

Happy nearly-Halloween, everyone. I trust you've all dug out your favourite horror flicks to watch this week? If you're in need of some ideas from off the beaten path, might I suggest John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS? The highly-underrated (if a bit talky) EXORCIST III, perhaps? If you're in the mood for something goofier yet infinitely more psychologically damaging, there's always SLEEPAWAY CAMP...can you figure out the nasty twist ending before the hapless camp counsellors do? If you're in the HRM on Thursday the 30th, Empire Dartmouth is showing a 35mm print of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH at 8:30 PM. Not a great movie by any stretch, but it's certainly the best of the series, and a pumped-up crowd can really enhance a movie's strength...seeing RE-ANIMATOR and the original HALLOWEEN turned me around on both, two movies I didn't think much of when I saw them for the first time by myself.

But enough of that. This is a comics blog, right? So, a little movie called THE DARK KNIGHT made a proverbial shitload of money this past summer, and continues to do so, ensuring that Heath Ledger's Joker is now going to be regarded as the "definitive" version of the character for some time to come (heck, don't take my word for it...count how many Ledger Jokers you see at parties this Halloween). It was only a matter of time before Ledger's take on the Clown Prince of Crime started to influence the four-colour version; witness this week's original JOKER hardcover graphic novel by Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS) and his LEX LUTHOR, MAN OF STEEL collaborator Lee Bermejo, featuring a Joker with scarred cheeks, hobo-like fashion sense, and a particularly dour demeanour. The plot concerns a young hood named Jonny who becomes the Joker's new go-to guy (not a good position to be in...anybody remember Bob the Goon in Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN? Or that poor shmuck the Joker shoved in front of an oncoming truck in "The Laughing Fish"?), who witnesses a newly sprung-from-Arkham Mr. J going on an epic criminal rampage. This book features Christoper Nolanized versions of familiar Gotham rogues like Killer Croc, Riddler, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, among others. It also features a seriously deranged and disturbing Joker who, not to be outdone by his pencil-stabbing, hospital-bombing, cross-dressing big screen alter ego, stabs a guy in the face with a broken bottle, murders an elderly couple in their home at random, and commits an off-panel rape. Kind of makes me miss Cesar Romero and his mustache.

I like Azzarello's writing, particularly on his criminal conspiracy magnum opus 100 BULLETS (I recently re-read all 96 issues, in preparation for the final few installments--but that's a post for a few months down the road), but I'm not sure his ultraviolent approach is what I really want in a superhero book. Sure, the guy does noir like nobody's business, and I always appreciate his characters' unique verbal sparring, but...I just don't think it's a good fit, mostly because I get the feeling he really hates the genre (much like Ellis and Ennis, who, regardless, can't seem to quit mucking around in it). Even with his ear for distinctive dialogue, and Bermejo's creepy artwork--his Joker is definitely striking--the whole thing seems a bit off. For instance, why does the Joker get to run riot through Gotham for what feels like a pretty extended period of time (120 pages or so), destroying property, gleefully murdering cops, crooks, and civilians, and Batman only finally shows up to stop it when he's summoned by...Two-Face?!? There's also a PULP FICTION-style briefcase, with mysteriously glowing contents, that shows up once or twice but doesn't really serve any function. Maybe it was supposed to represent his sanity or his soul or something, but it doesn't drive the plot in any sort of McGuffin-y sense of the word--it gets introduced way late in the story and is mostly M.I.A. until it gets mysteriously mentioned by Two-Face near the end, and then it's forgotten for good. I think superfans of the late Ledger's (admittedly very compelling) interpretation of the Joker, who are craving more of something they can never have in a sequel, will enjoy this exercise in depravity, but me, I just kept wondering why the Joker kept calling Penguin "Abner".

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