DC’s Black Label has done it again and the Eisner Award-winning team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino have produced something special with Joker: Killer Smile (hardback collection published 29th September 2020).
The DC Black Label books are giving us stand-alone stories that both add to the mythology of Batman and co. but also allow the reader to pick them up without needing to know the intricate DC history/timelines. Batman: Damned was the first title in this series, released in September 2019. A semi-sequel, only in the loosest terms, to an earlier Joker book this follows Batman and John Constantine as they investigate a potentially supernatural threat to Gotham.
The next release, Stjepan Sejic’s Harleen is a magnificent work. It gives the first real insight into Harley Quinn’s psychology, looking at how she developed a relationship with Joker from psychiatrist to lover and how they both came to depend upon one another. It treats the subject with surprising respect and intelligence. The art style compliments the writing, with the colours really popping when they need to emphasise something on the page, allowing the reader to easily become engrossed in this title.
There have been several other titles released on the Black Label imprint, with Joker: Killer Smile being the latest. We follow Dr. Ben Arnell as he tries to understand Arkham’s most enigmatic resident. He realises he has a lot of work to do, but feeling he can somehow get to the core of the man, Dr. Arnell asks for more time to be allowed to interview Joker but is told in no uncertain terms that his time is almost up and he will be assigned to new cases. Dr. Arnell spends more time with his patient but we soon realise that, of course, Joker has a plan for him and we see the medical man’s sanity unravel as Joker’s insidious intelligence eats away at him and Dr. Arnell begins to take his work home with him in the very worst ways…
It’s a fantastic book.
The artwork is incredible, with both the colours and the lettering screaming out for attention when called for, and Joker himself is drawn with a sly hand that makes him appear as both part friend part blank-faced twisted nightmare. Again, the Black Label imprint allows writers to explore darker paths and, boy, is this book dark. I’ve always liked that the Joker has no concrete origin story and this leans into that, showing his fluidity with the truth and his glee at simply entertaining himself. Tellingly, in an almost throwaway moment, we see him mention Batman with some tenderness and it cements the relationship between those two characters in one simple panel. There are discussions on some of his previous escapades (poisonous gas, fish with rictus grins) and they are both amusing and terrifying in equal measure. The artwork truly does make some of this book terrifying and although not graphic it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted!
If you’ve enjoyed Alan Moore’s seminal Batman story The Killing Joke or the brilliant Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, DC’s Black Label series is going to be something you want to get stuck into. It covers plenty of Batman, without you necessarily needing to be up-to-date with the character, plus there are more titles in the series (Superman, Wonder Woman, etc).
Proving that comics aren’t always just for kids, Joker: Killer Smile is an essential read for any fan of good writing and great artwork.