The Life of a Madman
I have been meaning to read this story for quite a while now, and after reading, and reviewing Batman: Broken City, I decided to buy more work from Brian Azzarello, including, Superman: For Tomorrow (which I also wanted for Jim Lee's art), which I've read, and reviewed since, this book, and Luthor. I'm also a huge Batman fan, and Joker is my favourite villain, so that was another reason.
This was a brilliant book, and very enjoyable. To be honest although I'm a big fan of both Batman, and Joker I didn't know what to expect from this story. This is the case for most Joker stories, and that's one of the things I like about the character, his mysteriousness, although I'll talk more about Joker later on in my review. Brian Azzarello did a tremendous job in this book, and it was probably the most unique Joker story I have ever read. As I said in my intro I've been trying to read more of Azzarello's work, and that's mainly due to his brilliant Wonder Woman run that's out the now. This however isn't the first time I've read Azzerello's work on a Batman themed book, as like my intro also said I've read Batman Broken City. I wasn't the biggest fan of Broken City, but I did enjoy it, and I can see the odd similarity in this story. Azzarello has however taken all the things I liked in that story, scrapped the rest, and added more bizarreness, all of which I liked. Azzarello also did a very good job of writing the Joker, and although he hasn't done better than the other great writers that have wrote the character, he has done him justice, and showed his unpredictability.
Lee Bermejo's art was nothing short of phenomenal on this book, and it really helped set the tone of the story. I have to be honest I haven't seen much of Bermejo's art before, which I'm ashamed of as it's awesome, and some of the best art I have ever seen. I was actually introduced to Bermejo's art with the Before Watchmen: Rorschach series (which was also written by Azzarello), and I really liked it. I then started to see his art on covers like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and when I decided to get this book, and Luthor I was very happy to get the chance to see more of his amazing artwork. The detail in Bermejo's artwork is fantastic,as there is nothing that lacks detail. I also love how he deals with expressions, as some artists have beautiful artwork, but awkward expressions, whereas Bermejo's doesn't. What I especially liked about Bermejo's art was that although he made it very obvious who all the well known characters were, he added his own unique look to them, like having Riddler with question mark tattoo's, and Penguin with a small mohican like hairstyle. Also unlike Broken City I liked the realistic looking Killer Croc, as it fitted with the realistic story setting. I also loved the Bermejo's cover, and liked that it was nothing more than a smile, Joker's most distinguishing feature, making a simple, but bold statement. Patricia "Trish" Mulvihill's colours were also nice, and really helped to make Bermejo's art even better.
I was going to start by talking about what I thought about the Joker in this book, but I decided to start with Jonny Frost, who in my opinion is the main character. Although Joker is the title character, and main focus of the book, Jonny is the character who is telling the story, his story. This story is basically the telling of Jonny's life since meeting the Joker, and how it's changed his life. I personally liked that the story was getting told this way, as it felt like the film Goodfellas, with Jonny being similar to Ray Liotta's character Henry. I say that the two are similar as in Goodfellas Henry is aspiring to progress in the mobster lifestyle, whereas in this story Jonny is aspiring to become a known name, and sees Joker as his way to that. It's also similar as both stories are told with a monologue. Anyway I actually really liked Jonny as a character as although he felt like the normal crook, he had some personality, and a goal. I also loved that he knew how to act, as although he was scared of Joker he wouldn't admit it. I also think that having someone like Jonny telling the story makes sense, as it would be hard to write a story from Joker's point of view as it would need to be constant madness, which would be hard to write.
Now I'll talk about Joker. I really liked Joker in this story, and with his name on the cover I'd hope so. As I've said I'm a huge Joker fan, and he's been my favourite villain for as long as Batman's been my favourite hero (since the 90's Batman Animated Series). The impracticability of Joker is something that I really like, and it's the characteristic that sets him above any other villain. I also love that Joker doesn't really seem to care about what he's doing, as long as he can laugh whilst doing it, and that also makes him more unique. What was different about Joker than most times was that he seemed to actually be in a crime family, or something similar, with him in control of the other villains (or most of them anyway). As I said earlier I think that Azzarello has done an amazing job with Joker in this story, as he's kept enough of his characteristics to make long time fans of him enjoy this story, but changed enough to make them go, "oh, that was something different." I especially liked the relationship between Joker and Jonny as Joker is trying to make something out of him, whilst using him at the same time, and Jonny is looking to become a big name. It's always apparent that Joker's associates aren't his top priority (take Monty in this story for instance), so whilst reading this I was expecting something to happen between them, but I won't say whether there was or not, as to avoid spoilers.
When I said earlier that Joker was controlling most villains, the one he wasn't was Two-Face. Apparently whilst Joker was in Arkham Two-Face had taken over most if not all the Racket's in Gotham City, and Joker wasn't happy about this. I liked that there was conflict between Joker, and Two-Face, as a story where everyone kisses up to Joker wouldn't be fun, or enjoyable, and wouldn't seem right. It was nice to see the two get into a mini gang war, as it makes the story feel more realistic than most Batman related stories, something that this book has done all the way through. I don't really want to talk too much about the conflict as to avoid spoilers, but it was fabulous, and I loved that there were two characters that driven to be on top that they wouldn't back down.
I'll move on to talk about Penguin's appearance in this book. I wasn't actually going to mention his appearance anymore that that he made an appearance, but there were a few things that made his appearance stand out more than say Riddler's. The main thing that stood out was that Joker called Penguin Abner, the only thing that Penguin is called throughout the story. I like to think of myself as a fairly knowledgeable Bat fan, and I can't recall Penguin ever getting called Abner before or after this (if anyone know why Joker's calling Penguin Abner please let me know by leaving a comment). To be honest the only way you can tell it's Penguin is due to his obvious features (beak like nose, and round stomach). I did however like Penguin's appearance in this story, as although we know Penguin for being a business man, we all know that deep down he's a coward, and this story shows that. I liked that Joker, and Croc shoved Penguin around, and got him doing whatever Joker wanted.
Now I'll finish off by talking about Batman's appearance. It was nice to see Batman as a background character, and that was one of the things I liked most in this story. With the title being Joker you want it to be centered around Joker as much as possible, and having Batman as a heavy feature wouldn't help that. I did however like that he made an appearance in this book, as at the same time it wouldn't be right if he didn't. There were two things I liked about Batman's appearance more than anything. The first was the way Bemerjo drew him, as it was simply fantastic, and the second was the way people talked about him, as whenever they were talking about him they wouldn't say his name, which I really liked.
A very interesting, and entertaining book. Azzarello, and Bermejo have done a brilliant job of giving us something that's not only enjoyable, but unique. The story is dark, but also emotional, and above all else, a very good read. I would highly recommend this book as it's very enjoyable, and well worth the read.