Friday, July 25, 2008

Batman: The Joker's Last Laugh by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty

The Joker has been in prison for quite a while, imprisoned in a facility for incarcerated super-powered villains. But when he finds out he's dying of a brain tumor, he decides to break out and cause mayhem until Batman goes after him and kills him. Yep, you got it, he wants to commit "Death by cape"!

He starts out by jokerizing the entire section of the prison into clones of him, then inciting his brothers to help him break out of the prison. As he and his newly joker-fied brothers go on a rampage of destruction, Joker decides he wants to pass on his genes, and who better to bear his joker baby than his longtime girlfriend, Harley Quinn, aka Harlequin?

Harley isn't exactly sold on this idea, and she flees from Joker's new "brothers" when they come to abduct her. She also calls on Oracle to rescue her. Oracle calls on some friends to rescue her, and take her to the Lab of Kirk Langstrom, also known as the Man-Bat, who has been working to neutralize the Joker Juice. However, there is a drawback. If the Joker Juice isn't neutralized within 48 hours, the effects are not only permanent, but fatal.

Back at the supernatural prison, the head of security and one of the female guards struggle to stay alive. Joker convinced another villain, Black Mass, to put the entire prison into a singularity, and somehow Shilo Norman and Dina Bell must get him to return them to normal space.... a plan that goes awry when Marshall Bell blows a hole right through Black Mass's skull. Then, they will have to come up with another plan, one that involves Captain Marvel foe Mr. Mind and Multi-Man, to get the Slab back to where it belongs.

Meanwhile, Oracle and Batman coordinate all of Batman's friends, allies and partners to end the Joker's mayhem. But when Tim Robbins, aka Robin, is killed and eaten by Killer Croc, Nightwing becomes enraged enough to provide the dying Joker with the end he seeks. But is he really dying after all?

This was an interesting novel, focussing on the wacky cracka-loonery of the Joker. Apparently, even believing he is dying doesn't cure his insanity... it just amps it up to 11, so to speak. It's also about the lengths people will go to when faced with death, and the possibility of revenge, and shows us that even if Batman is personified Ice in the Veins, some of his students are not. The ultimate irony is that neither the Joker nor Tim is actually dead at the end. It all turns out to have been a Hoax on the Joker by his own doctor!

The art varied widely from issue to issue, going from near-realistic (for a comic book) to extremely cartoony. Now I could have understood it if certain sections were done in one style, and others in another, but each page was done by a separate art team, and the results vary so widely and wildly that it was just completely jarring to read. Lex Luthor, now President of the US, goes from a stocky-looking man in the first issue, to a cartoonish fatty by the fourth. For this reason, I found the collected story rather a disappointment as far as the art was concerned. They should have either picked one sty;e/art team and gone with them, or done each section (The Slab from Shilo Norman and Dinah Bell's perspective, The Joker's perspective, The Oracle and Batman's perspective, and so on) in a different style/art team.

It was okay, but to me, not worth spending money on. I found the multiple art styles distracting to the storyline, and worthy of more attention than the story itself. Not one of the better art decisions. The story, taken on its own, is respectable, but the changing art just ruined it for me.

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