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Joker: Killer Smile #2
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Pencils: Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Steve Wands
Publisher: DC Comics
Maturity Rating: M+
Release Date: December 18th, 2019
In Joker: Killer Smile #2 Dr. Ben Arnell can’t tell what’s real from what’s imaginary. With Arnell’s sanity splitting at the seams, could The Joker hold the key to his salvation?
Red Pills & Rabbit Holes in Joker: Killer Smile #2
For Dr. Ben Arnell—the Arkham psychiatrist tasked with “curing” The Joker—things are beginning to unwind. As sanity and reality begin crashing down around him, Ben is forced to face a truth long since forgot, locked deep in the recesses of his mind. Joker: Killer Smile #2 is a full-scale descent into madness; a harrowing depiction of both the frailty and power of the human psyche.
Last month Jeff Lemire showed us the door. This time around, he’s kicking it down, handing out Red Pills as if they were Skittles on Halloween. Joker: Killer Smile #2 is a descent into madness, with Lemire poised to explore just how deep the rabbit hole goes. I’ve said it before, that Lemire is the king when it comes to full-circle narratives, and Joker: Killer Smile #2 is arguably one of his best yet.
A constant theme throughout the issue is the idea that there are two worlds: the “real” world and the world of “madness”. In keeping with this concept, Joker: Killer Smile #2 can be viewed through the lens of each perspective. The first time through, readers are accepting everything thrown at them for face value. There’s no reason to question anything yet. Upon its conclusion, however, and after a much-warranted repeat read, everything is turned upside down. The holes in Ben’s reality begin to reveal themselves, as does his madness.
Jeff Lemire is weaving one helluva psychological horror story. He’s pushing the boundaries and redrawing lines in the sand as he sees fit. Lemire presents the question “when you go mad, will you even realize it?” with terrifying implications. It’s one of those age-old quandaries like “are you the dreamer or the dream?” Even more interesting is Lemire’s idea that what is “sane” and what is “insane” is nothing more than a collection of fleeting perspectives. If that’s true, then what’s the difference?
There’s a ton to unpack in Joker: Killer Smike #2. Let’s begin with yet another incredible variant cover drawn by the proverbial comic book Jack of All Trades, Kaare Andrews. Seeing the Clown Prince of Crime seated at a breakfast diner, being waited on by some of Batman’s most notable and troublesome Rogues, is magic. Maybe it’s a comically hairy Bane, the fact that Two-Face is depicted in his finest BTAS form, or the subtle irony of Joker staring down at a plate of smiling bacon & eggs. Everything about this cover is exceptional, as is pretty much everything Kaare Andrews touches these days.
Between the covers, Andrea Sorrentino weaves a tapestry of horrors and frenetic foreshadowing. One of the most memorable panels of Joker: Killer Smile #2 is served up almost immediately. It depicts a dream sequence wherein The Joker literally eats Dr. Ben’s brain as he watches in shock; tears of terror streaming down his face. There are no subtleties here; Sorrentino wants to get his message across as plainly as possible. You mess around with the Joker, and he’ll make a meal out of your mind.
“You think I’m the one who’s out of place here, Doc?”
Complementing Sorrentino’s work ever so effortlessly is the sublime color scheme of Jordie Bellaire. Jordie once stated in a brilliant essay titled Why I Believe in Comics, that Coloring possesses an inherent, almost insidious quality. Coloring, at its best, is a synaesthetic experiment intended to make a reader feel, rather than just simply see. No one does this better than Jordie; just look at the flashback sequences. Done up in crimson-red and jet-black, you can sense the fear; the urgency, as well as Ben’s weakening grip on reality.
Lastly is the cryptic calligraphy of Steve Wands. Without question, Wands has separated himself from the pack. His lettering is always impactful and offers true insight into the theme or motif of a book. The way a word looks can have just as heavy an impact as its definition. Steve Wands knows this perhaps better than anyone.
What is “madness”? What is “reality”? In truth, they’re nothing more than lines drawn and re-drawn in the sand, forever changing, and always open to interpretation. A crazy person in a room full of sane people will always stand out; likewise, a sane person in a room full of crazies. Our minds are precarious things; one little slip and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. What makes Joker: Killer Smile #2 such a pivotal read is its ability to present a story from both sides of the spectrum. To constantly be able to make readers ask the question “Is this really happening?” Joker: Killer Smile #2 is a philosophical examination into the very fabric of sanity and reality; a non-stop psychological thrill ride guaranteed to send chills up and down your spine.
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