Batman: Joker's Asylum

Written by Various Authors
Illustrated by Various Artists

I have to admit, I recognize none of the names associated with this project, which probably tells you something about how much I read new comics on a timely basis. I'm very sorry to writers Arvid Nelson, Jason Aaron (that name vaguely rings a bell), JT Krull, David Hine, and Joe Harris--but I got no idea who you are and what you do.

Ditto for artists Alex Sanchez, Jason Pearson (again, name seems to stick out, but I don't know why), Guillem March, Andy Clarke, and Juan Doe. You're probably doing things, I just don't know where.

The point of this series was to apply the House of Mystery/Tales from the Crypt idea to the Joker, who as we all know is a chatty fellow who likes to run his mouth. So what better to have him do than start telling stories about his fellow rogues, including a story about his favorite subject--himself?

It's a cute conceit that some writers use better than others. A one-shot about the Scarecrow might have a limited following but toss the Joker's name on it, and more people become interested. I can live with that. The only problem is that because the five stories are written by five different people with five different artists, I can't help but feel like there was an opportunity lost to link them up a bit more strongly. (Perhaps they did that in trade? I only read the single issues.) It is fun to have the Joker pop in to give the story a moral, as one writer does, or to talk about what people say about his own adventure, however, so I'm not complaining. Just making a notation for the future, should they ever try something like "Superman: The Luthor Files."

I'll takle these in the order I read them: Scarecrow's story is done in a rather odd art style that seems a bit out of place in Batman's world, and lacks a sense of the creepy I think it needed to be better. The theme is the terrors of high school bullies and how Crane tries to manipulate them. My big problem is how a post-Scarecrow Crane is still out there practicing psychology without getting nailed immediately. I just can't get into Scarecrow as a character so you might enjoy this a bit more than me.

Two-Face was second for me (heh heh). I liked this one a lot, as it showed that Harvey is extremely intelligent and exposes a streak of cruelty that I liked a lot. (Too often he's shown as a tortured soul--it's nice to let him out to play.) A man with a similar ailment to Dent is given the chance to rehabilitate him (nice twist on a common theme of Two-Face stories), but instead, Harvey flips the situation to his advantage. I especially loved the detailed, almost Bolland-like artwork on the scarred side of the characters. My second-favorite, but that's no fault of the team. Besides, that seems to be appropriate, too.

I'm afraid I didn't care for the pin-up, "ha-ha-she's-almost-naked-every-other-panel" style chosen for the Poison Ivy story. We get it, she's sexy. Flashing her not-quite-naked ass and tits doesn't make for a quality story. Writer Krul gives us another origin story for Pamela and acts like Ivy brutally killing people is unusal for her. I was definitely disappointed, as I felt like the writer didn't try to read up on her before putting this one together.

It's a little strange to me that the Penguin ends up in this series, as I'm pretty sure modern, post-Crisis continuity has him as DC's version of the Kingpin rather than an insane capering criminal. There's even no mention of Arkham in the entire issue. This is the story of how Oswald Cobblepot never forgets a slight. It's also a love story. I think you can see where this one's going. I really enjoyed a scene between Batman and Copplepot that may be the most gentle conversation they've ever had.

Last up for me but probably first in the trade is the Joker story. Oh my, was it ever nice to read a story by someone who gets the nature of the Joker. Yes, he's insane, yes, he's a killer. But there's usually some point to the madness. (Like in the Animated Series, when he decides to copyright Joker Fish.) Nelson ges that, and in this jibe at modern game shows, puts the Joker on stage with just the right amount of terror and humor that makes for a perfect comics Joker. I liked this one so much I read it twice, and even recited the ending of the story to Erica because I thought it was so good. (Depending on how you read this story, you might even call it a commentary on the expectations of the modern comic book reader. But perhaps I exaggerate.) By the end, we realize that the Joker is not the only evil in Gotham. Not by a long shot.

This is a fun idea that, while not quite as good as it could have been in places, works well overall and makes for some nice reading, even if the idea is more of a 90s thing (remember when one-shots were so popular?). And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the person reliving the 90s isn't Rob Liefield.