Friday, 26 December 2014

Batman Annual #3 Review (James Tynion IV, Roge Antonio)


Do you remember this news story? It was during Bush’s War on Terror and US Forces were forcing terrorist suspects/brown people to listen to Nancy Sinatra or Metallica as a method of information extraction. I remember the reaction in the media too, one of humour over the silly and seemingly whacky, almost gentle turn that 21st century interrogation had taken - “Ho ho, I know how they feel - Andy Williams, ugh!” etc. - as if they were sat in a comfortable room with the music itself being played at a normal level. 

Then later it was revealed that the suspects were placed in shipping containers with the music turned up to deafening levels playing continuously for hours and hours and hours. They wouldn’t get food or water, they couldn’t sleep, it was horrendous. 

A similar thing happens occasionally when the Joker is brought up. Not often, because most people aren’t this clueless, but sometimes you’ll come across a dumb “article” that makes fun of the character. “He’s not scary, he’s a clown, clowns aren’t scary! He doesn’t have any superpowers, he’s just a guy, that’s so lame! His name is a joke, it’s right there: Joker! This character’s CRAP!” etc. 

James Tynion IV turns that attitude into a character for Batman Annual #3 - a journalist called Tommy who’s recently joined the Gotham Gazette and doesn’t buy into the Joker as a viable threat. He writes mocking pieces about the Joker, saying he doesn’t have any friends and that he’s “the loneliest clown” - and that gets Joker’s attention. Joker decides that Tommy will be his best - and only - friend. And you don’t want Joker as your pal. 

The issue follows Joker’s long-term and systematic destruction of Tommy’s life. He may get captured by Batman and thrown in Arkham, but as any readers of Batman knows, these are temporary solutions and, because Batman doesn’t kill, keeps happening. Joker breaks free after six months and brutally murders one of Tommy’s oldest friends. Joker goes away for two years then shows up and murders Tommy’s wife. Joker goes away and a year later he reappears, shattering what’s left of Tommy’s nerves.

This happens over and over again until Tommy’s psyche is completely destroyed. Joker won’t kill him - friends don’t kill each other! - so his mind disintegrates to the point where he becomes an inmate of Arkham Manor, the temporary location for the Asylum these days. There he befriends an orderly called Eric… 

What’s brilliant is that Joker’s not doing anything different from what he normally does - but he sustains this behaviour over time until it becomes excruciating, and THAT’S the horror of Joker. He keeps doing terrible things - human things, but still terrible - and keeps going, year after year after year, forever, and we see those effects on an ordinary person in this issue. 

My point about the music torture and the Joker is that seemingly benign things - pop music and clowns - become more sinister if you use them imaginatively. Look deeper into the issue of interrogation techniques and you see some sick things - ditto when you look beyond the surface qualities of the Joker’s character. And this is why he’s the most inspired villain in comics. 

While it says “An Endgame Tie-In” on the cover, referring to Scott Snyder’s current Batman arc, it’s actually not an essential issue to read. I liked it as a Joker fan but you can certainly miss this and still follow Endgame perfectly. Unless Tommy plays a part later on in Snyder’s story but I don’t really see how. 

I really enjoyed Batman Annual #3. Tynion writes an excellent Joker story that brilliantly reveals the darkness beneath his character that’s the perfect argument against the tiresome complaint that the Joker is boring, while also being a terrifically entertaining comic in itself. Well worth a read! 

Maybe I went too heavy with that War on Terror analogy at the start - sorry Andy Williams fans, his music’s not THAT bad!

Batman Annual #3

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