Awful. The best thing about Batman #23.1 is this review.
Imagine yourself late into the Saturday night of a con weekend. You’re in the swanky hotel’s lobby surrounded by a small group of friends you only see at this con. The chairs are surprisingly comfortable, the lively conversations have been thoroughly enjoyable, and the pizza and beverages were plentiful—until now. There’s only one semi-warm piece of pizza left, and your companions are casting wary glances around to see who will dare to claim it.
In an inspired moment, you cleverly borrow a scene from Notting Hill (love or hate the acting as you please, but you have to admit that the script was well constructed) and suggest that the final piece of pizza belongs to the person who invents the worst origin story possible for the Joker. Delighted at the challenge, everyone takes a stab at it. But defining a truly terrible Zero Year story for the Clown Prince of Crime takes a particular brand of late-night mind-numbed haze that eludes the merry band of comic fans until the last tale.
After quietly listening to all the previous attempts, the last bard is your friend from New York. He drains the last of his adult beverage, motions to the barkeep for a replacement, and sets the bottle on the stylish end table. One by one, he works his way around the circle and explains why each story was not nearly bad enough to win. Then he evaluates yours.
“Unrequited love and a fatal car crash that will keep the object of Joker’s affections from him permanently make this a good attempt, but it’s not nearly trite enough. What you need to win this contest is the most trite, banal, hackneyed, and platitudinous excuse in today’s fiction for bad adult behavior—childhood abuse, of course—but transformed into a cliché.”
Transformed? The group casts confused glances around, but no one speaks because our friend from New York is on a roll.
“It’s not enough to just suggest that Joker came from a broken home, or was raised by a crazy aunt. No. What this story needs is a combination of overused causes topped off by one original twist that is so out of character and unbelievable that the guys over at DC would laugh you right out of the booth tomorrow and fans would hit the Internet in droves to whine about the atrocity of publishing the story in the first place.
“Mine is a Joker origin story where he’s raised by a sadistic aunt who abuses him emotionally and physically. That’s a given. Her contempt for humor is as bright as the shade of red lipstick she always wears as she screams at him. Young Joker is an odd duck so he’s bullied at school. His only friend is a mangled stuffed animal that just happens to be the same shades of purple and green that he later adopts as his costume.
“The childhood neglect will be done in flashbacks. Layer after layer of the most textbook abuse any character has ever suffered and they are all inflicted on him—so many types that the reader is rendered immune to the horror of it. The real kicker is that in the present, the Joker decides to start a family and steals a baby gorilla from the zoo…
As he goes on, everyone realizes that between sips of his cold beverage, he is weaving the worst origin story for any character ever. Silently, you hope that because the Joker has such an impeccable reputation as a serial liar, this story is going to turn out to be one big Joker fiction, leaving us none the wiser about his real origins. But when your friend from New York describes the Joker raising that gorilla in a sadistic fashion parallel to Young Joker’s own warped childhood and how they embark on a murderous crime spree—you push the pizza box his way, begging him to stop right there.
(Reviewer’s note: the above is obviously a work of fiction and the result of reading Batman # 23.1 and searching for an apt description of how disappointed I was in it. I have no idea how the story was actually conceived or why DC went in this direction. If you guys know, please add a comment.)
Andy Kubert (W), Andy Clarke (A), • DC Comics, $2.99 or $3.99, September 11, 2014.