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Review – Joker: Killer Smile #1 (DC Comics)

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Joker: Killer Smile #1

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Steve Wands
Variant Cover: Kaare Andrews
Maturity Rating: Mature
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: October 30th, 2019

The Joker is locked up and Dr. Ben Arnell has one crazy idea—he thinks he can cure him. Can the good doctor steel himself away from the lures and seduction of the Clown Prince of Crime or will he be the unwilling victim in yet another mad plot?

Creating Beauty from the Chaos in Joker: Killer Smile #1

How do you cure a monster? That’s what psychoanalyst Dr. Ben Arnell needs to discover in Joker: Killer Smile #1. Ben has steeled himself and his family away from the Clown Prince of Crime. He knows that he will be the one to succeed where others have failed. As his ego blindly leads him into the belly of the beast, Ben quickly comes to learn the dangers of allowing a true psychopath like the Joker into his mind. 

Writing 

Joker Killer Smile #1 (DC Comics) main cover by Andrea Sorrentino
Joker: Killer Smile #1 (DC Comics) main cover by Andrea Sorrentino

What makes Joker: Killer Smile #1 such a captivating story is largely thanks to writer Jeff Lemire. His ability to encapsulate the most thrilling and chilling aspects of the Joker’s persona is what sets the book apart. The Clown, psychopath, genius, and above all—the artist. Lemire is attempting to make the audience see the world through the lens of the Joker. In his mind, he’s not a destroyer, but rather a creator of worlds. “Some people will always want to ruin what is beautiful” is a persisting theme throughout the book, as well as the Joker’s lasting lament.  

There are echoes of The Silence of the Lambs that radiate throughout the pages of Joker: Killer Smile #1. Dr. Ben is the young, naive Clarice Starling, in way over his head; the Joker, fittingly, falls into the role of Dr. Hannibal Lector, patiently waiting to devour Ben’s body and psyche. It’s a proverbial power struggle of the minds. A dangerous quid pro quo where the reader is actually able to witness the Joker leeching into Ben’s mind like cancer. 

Over the years and through the many iterations of the Joker’s character, the one element that has been truly lacking is the fear factor. The comedic element has always grounded the Joker in a somewhat “safe space” even whilst he’s perpetrating his horrendous acts. He’s a nuisance but rarely has he become the stuff nightmares are made of. In Joker: Killer Smile #1 Jeff Lemire (in true Joker fashion) is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He’s delivered something fresh, something not seen before—a Joker story that is truly terrifying.

Art

I mentioned previously that there are several archetypes the Joker embodies. In most cases, the artistic rendering usually provides some indication of which archetype readers can expect to see enacted on the page. A purple suit and long jaw are usually an indication of “The Clown”, whereas a Glasgow Smile and splotchy makeup have become synonymous with “The Anarchist” or “Psychopath”. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Andrea Sorrentino‘s offering in Joker: Killer Smile #1 is that there is no such indication—he’s a completely blank canvas.

In fact, aside from the pale skin, green hair and supple red lips—this is the most “normal”-looking Joker of the last decade. Now that I think about it, he kind of looks just like Dr. Ben… By giving the Joker a more “human” appearance it would seem that Sorrentino is saying that the Joker could be any of us. That there is something of ourselves in the Joker.

“Some people will always want to ruin what is beautiful.”

By stripping the character of his “comic book” element and revealing his “human” essence, it makes it that much harder to regard him as a monster that goes bump in the night. The Joker is the personification of the very darkest, ugliest, and most dangerous of all human desires. The only difference between us and him is the Joker has freed himself from the societal constraints which prevent him from acting upon these impulses. Impulses that we all share, no matter how much we deny their existence. 

Lastly, I want to take a moment to talk about the Queen of Colors—Jordie Bellaire. Jordie is an absolute juggernaut; her name commands respect in the comic world. She single-handedly breathes life into the pages of Joker: Killer Smile #1. Perhaps one of the greatest unsung heroes in the comic industry, without her jaw-dropping palette Joker: Killer Smile #1 has no punchline. Bellaire’s palette is like the score of a horror film, eerily guiding the audience along and enveloping readers along the way. 

Conclusion

If you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a brilliant example of the power of comic book storytelling and an excellent affirmation of Nietzchean philosophy. It’s a spinetingling showcasing of creative talent that is sure to stick with you long after you’ve put it down. Most of all—it’s disturbing. Lemire and Sorrentino take you to a place where few writers and artists have ventured to go. They challenge their audience to look at the Joker in a way that’s never been attempted before, and to cast away the fear that comes when the Joker, inevitably, looks back at you. 


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Jordan Claes

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