Three Jokers: A “spiritual” Sequel to the Killing Joke, literally

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The Three Jokers is the “2020” Novel of the year for me from its deep and grounded lore to its almost perfect structure throughout making it really distinctive from other novels.  The Three Jokers takes someplace in the timeline after Batman: Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, showcasing how the Joker has tormented not only Batman through the years, but his allies.  Red Hood and Bat-girl play a big role in the book with them engaging in a bit of a romance.  The Three Jokers all symbolize a different era of the Joker, one of them is symbolizing the early years of Batman comics with its goofy crimes like Jokerized fish, while another is more of a modern take on the Joker and his broken sense of philosophy.  The book however, while being one of the better books of 2020, is very flawed, trying too hard to be something special and gives off a strong sense of being an Alan Moore book with Alan Moore having no involvement with said novel.  A “Spiritual” sequel to the Killing Joke, The Three Jokers gives us a Batman story that can please many newer fans of the character but can also really disrespect some of the longtime fans as well. 

One of the most intriguing things about this book however is it showing the relationship that Batman and the Joker have and how it is very different than anyone can think it ever was, but that can also be a bit of a let down to what many fans expected.  It may seem like I’m trashing on the book but it actually proves to be one of the better books of 2020, even if we waited 3 years for it to come out.  The Three Jokers was split into 3 different issues spanning 3 different months, ending in October 2020.  The best part of this book that I have to admit really shows how much work was put into this novel was its art.  With bold and modernized art from Jason Fabok it really holds the reader’s attention.

BEHIND THE AUTHORS

The authors of this novel have a wonderful timeline of notable works that I would recommend to you, one of these authors is Geoff Johns.  Geoff Johns is most known for his works on DC novels as he started out with DCU Secret Hero Files (1999), Day of Judgement (1999), Justice Society of America (2000), The Flash (2000), Beast Boy (2000), Return to Krypton (2002), Avengers Vol. 3 (2002-2004), Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 (2004), Infinite Crisis (2005-2006), the extraordinary reboot, 52 (2006-2007), Final Crisis (2008), and Superman Up, Up, and Away (2006).  Geoff is mostly known for his JSA comics and his take on most of its characters like Stargirl and Doctor Fate with Justice Society of America (2007).  His other famous work, Sinestro Corp War (2006), was one of the first big Green Lantern stories showing us more and more of the vibrant colors of the Lantern Corp with their attributes.  Last Son (2007-2008) is a Superman story written by Geoff Johns and one of the directors for Christopher Reeve’s movies.  He then did Blackest Night (2009-2010), Brightest Day (2010-2011), and the infamous Flashpoint (2011).  Post Flashpoint he worked on Throne of Atlantis (2014), Doomsday Clock (2018), and Action Comics #1000 (2018).  His latest work (that we are reviewing today) is the spiritual sequel to the Killing Joke (1989) with Three Jokers (2020).  Geoff is a very well-known author as he has won many awards from 2005 to 2010 mostly from Spike Tv, Project Fanboy, and Wizard Fan.  He was promoted to the CCO of DC Entertainment in 2010 and retired in 2018. He is now currently working on his new company, Mad Ghost Productions, that works on plenty of DC media

Jason Fabok, The artist of Three Jokers, is one of the most popular artists for Batman throughout his work on Batman: Eternal and the Detective Comics run.  He started his DC Career as an artist with Batman The Dark Knight: The Golden Dawn (2012), The Joker: Death of the Family (2012), Batman: Night of the Owls (2013), Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls (2013), Detective Comics Vol. 3: Emperor Penguin (2013), and Batman: Eternal (2014-2015) a 2-year epic and one of the first DC Black Label graphic novels.  We then got some of his best works with Detective Comics Vol. 5: Gothtopia (2017), Suicide Squad Vol. 1: The Black Vault (2017), Justice League vs. Suicide Squad (2017), and The Button (2017) a prequel to the Doomsday Clock, which is a sequel to the Watchmen.  He finally did Justice League: Darkseid War (2018), DC Holiday Nightmares (2019), Swamp Thing: Talk of Saints (2019), The Man of Steel (2019), and Three Jokers (2020).  He has won an Eisner Award for Best Short Story for Swamp Thing Talk of Saints in 2019.  Jason Fabok’s art is definitely one of the most unique giving off a modern yet bold style of comic book art. 

Batman: Three Jokers (2020) Cover Art

SYNOPSIS

The Three Jokers explores the mental and physical scars that the Joker has inflicted on the Bat-family. The first panel shows the Bat-Mobile ramming into Thomas and Martha Wayne’s grave as Batman, gravely injured, rushes to the Batcave to be healed by Alfred. As he is being stitched up from being impaled by the Penguin’s umbrella. We get a montage of all the scars that Batman has with one being from the Riddler’s staff, and one of Bane breaking his back. The ending of this montage, however, mostly consists of the Joker’s actions with one being from acid and another from a bullet wound. We get yet another look at Bruce’s origin with the night from crime alley, pushing his crusade forward in ridding Gotham of its evil injustice. This section is called the Criminal. It then pans to Barbara Gordon, aka. Batgirl, On a treadmill. She overhears on the television of the Joker murdering the Moxxan Family, an organized crime family, and gets enraged from the report. She ends up breaking the treadmill and leaves the gym. We get a look back at the Killing Joke as Barbara takes a shower. She massages the bullet wound that paralyzed her during one of the Joker’s most heinous crimes, Barbara’s section is called “The Comedian”. The book transitions to Red Hood, aka. Jason Todd, brawling with a group of Joker Goons in hopes of finding the Joker’s location. He receives the Joker’s news story in his Helmet’s radio frequency that gives him PTSD of his tragic death in Batman: Death in the Family. 

The Bat-Family consisting of Batman and Batgirl investigate a crime scene of three victims being Jokerized at Ace Chemicals. Batgirl enters the scene and they come to the conclusion that the three victims were quite possibly homeless and were only used as a clue the Joker wanted the Caped Crusader to find. The scene is missing a truck and a vat of chemicals that are unidentifiable, probably the same chemicals that made the Joker. One of the victims suddenly erupts in laughter and is sent on an ambulance in hopes of recovery. Red Hood ambushes the ambulance and tries to interrogate the victim. Batman intervenes to prevent the victim’s heart rate from beeping too high, causing him to go into cardiac arrest. We transition to the truck that was declared missing at Ace Chemicals heading towards a cabin. The Joker enters the cabin and is encountered by, well, another joker. This Joker dons the outfit that the Clown Prince of Crime wore in the Killing Joke. They discuss for a while but soon end the conversation as the Comedian announces that “the boss” has a job for them.

Red Hood teams up with Batman and Batgirl to stop Joker once and for all. The two jokers encounter the Boss who is indeed another Joker, taking heavy resemblance with that of modern-day Joker in plenty of comics. The plan that they discuss is to make a “better” Joker in hopes of finally perfecting their formula. They begin to execute their plan. The Bat-Family head to the Gotham Aquarium due to Red Hood’s info that he has on the thugs. They head to see in one of the displays Jokerized fish with one great white in the center of the tank. Red Hood’s helmet picks up multiple security doors opening. Behind the squad is a group of thugs and one of Joker’s oldest allies, Gaggy, leading them. The fight commences in a bloody all-out fight with Gaggy attacking red hood with a knife. The fight ends with Gaggy being eaten by the Great White, scaring the rest of the thugs. The Joker surprises Batman with a bowl of Jokerized piranhas but quickly gets taken down. Batman heads to Jim Gordon’s location as he claims that he has another Joker sighted. Batman leaves Red Hood and Batgirl with the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime antagonizes Red Hood and results in the Joker being shot in the head by Jason. Batgirl leaves Red Hood in shock at what he did, Jason stands in front of the dead body, hoping that it was the one that beat him to death years ago.

The comedian Joker goes back to his family household in a fantasy where he and his family are living peacefully.  The Criminal Joker destroys his illusion telling him that that kind of life does not exist for him anymore.  With the Clown dead they have to figure out a backup plan to continue with their final scheme.  Batman and Bat-Girl go on the hunt for the remaining Jokers without Red Hood’s help.  Bruce goes to Blackgate to converse with Joe Chill as they believe he has something to do with the Three Joker conspiracy.  He encounters a sick Joe with terminal cancer. Looking to have weeks left to live, Bruce takes him out of the case.  Red Hood finds the two Jokers’ location at a community pool.  He enters the building to see hundreds of dead bodies in the pool, which is filled with Joker chemicals.  Red Hood tries to contact Batman but is kidnapped by the Clown Princes of Crime.  Jason is tortured by the Jokers getting beat to near death from a crowbar, taking heavy resemblance from the Death in the Family.  Barbara and Batman save him and nurture him back to health.  Barbara and Jason engage in a conversation about their trauma and end in them kissing, pretty awesome considering how they both come from the same livelihood trying to stop the Joker.  Joker during this kidnaps Joe Chill and asks him the one question that everyone has been wanting to know for a long time, why did he really kill Thomas and Martha Wayne?

The Bat-Family discuss the matter at hand and contemplate why or what the Jokers’ final plan is.  Jason and Bruce get into an argument on Jason’s action in killing the Clown.  They come to the conclusion that one of the Jokers has to be the original and the rest were made afterward.  Batman gets an alert coming from Blackgate island when he receives the news that Joe Chill was kidnapped.  Batman investigated his cell where he spots a collection of letters that Joe has been writing to Bruce Wayne as an apology for what he did. Jason and Barbara discuss the little moment they had but Barbara dismisses it as just a moment. Jason feels regret for killing the clown.  Joe’s letters were all sent in regret for what he did that night in crime alley, but due to his learning disabilities and dropping out of school when he was 13, none of the letters were finished.  The reverend exclaims to Batman that Joe was truly a changed man.  Batman notices an invitation in the bundle of letters to the theatre for the newest showing of “The New Joker”.  Batman signals Barbara to go through the rooftop entrance and Jaso to go through the side door as he heads into the theatre.  He enters the theatre to his surprise with the film being a confession tape that the Joker forces onto Joe Chill.  Batman examines the room to see on the upper level the Criminal Joker holding Joe Chill hostage. Batman tries to confront the Criminal but to his surprise the Joker has a bomb vest attached to him.  Barbara and Jason are both encountered by dozens of Jokerized thugs in the upper and lower levels of the building.  The Criminal explains that Joe Chill is the perfect subject to become the Joker for being with Bruce from the start and was the reason Batman even exists.  Batman shows sympathy for Joe Chill and tries to save him as Joe’s confession tape plays in the background about how he regrets ever killing the “good people of Gotham”. The Comedian fights Batgirl and Red Hood downstairs in a bloody fight to the finish.  The Criminal tries to cut the rope holding Joe above the vat of chemicals and succeeds but Batman quickly saves the Killer from ever hitting the vat. The Criminal’s lighter drops however and engulfs the theatre in flames as some of our beloved heroes and villains fight in this epic conclusion.  

The Comedian escapes from Barbara and Jason but the Criminal and Batman are still fighting.  Batman gets Joe out of the building and in doing so, kicks the Criminal through a brick wall. Joe Chill confesses to Batman that he knows who he is and apologizes for all the hardships he bestowed upon Bruce, Bruce accepts the apology.  The Criminal gets up but is quickly shot in the head by the Comedian, there is only one left.  The Comedian turns himself in and ends the Three Joker’s final plan.  Jason tries to ask out Barbara for a chance for them to be together, but Barbara sadly doesn’t feel the same way.  Joker and Batman take the convoy together to make sure he gets to Arkham safely where the Joker confesses his true plan.  Joker explains to Batman that he knows all of their true identities but couldn’t turn them in so they can keep doing what they’re doing.  The Comedian describes that both the other Jokers were horrible copies of him, interpreting that he was the true Joker.  

The “Perfect Joker” plan was the Criminals which the Comedian saw as the perfect way to rid Batman of his greatest trauma, Joe Chill.  Now that Batman has forgiven Joe for his actions, Joker can be Batman’s greatest threat, which is what he wanted all along.  Joker wants Batman and him to be forever till the day they both die, that was his plan and in the final result, he succeeded.  Bruce makes amends with Joe Chill and takes care of him till his death.  Jason leaves a letter on Barbara’s doorstep confessing his love for her and is thrown in the trash before she could grab it.  We learn something however as a bit of a big lore drop in the Batman character.  It has been revealed that Batman has known who Joker was since the first week he encountered him.  In a surprise ending we learn that Joker’s family in The Killing Joke isn’t actually dead, but in Alaska on protection as the wife reported domestic abuse on the Comedian.  The family lives a good life protected by Batman who knew ever since he and Joker’s first encounter but couldn’t say anything because it could get to the press and then the Joker, the family would never be left alone if he knew.

One of the final panels in Three Jokers (2020)

MY THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSION

Three Jokers was a splendid piece of work with incredible artwork but not so fantastic storytelling.  The character building in this novel really sets it apart from other books with great character plots like Red Hood revisiting his trauma with the Joker or the scars that each character has to face in order to beat their greatest enemy.  The biggest problem with this book, however, is how much of a borderline parody it is to Watchmen.  Many artists in the present are inspired by the Watchmen novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons but sometimes get way too close to the actual source material.  Three Jokers had the possibility of being one of the greatest books of the decade if Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok did the book their way.  I have a feeling that DC Comics wanted this book to give off Watchmen vibes just from the 9-panel structure and the gritty tone of the book. The novel is a jumbled mess trying to be something it’s not, an Alan Moore book.  This is not the first time these authors have made this mistake, Geoff Johns did the Watchmen sequel, Doomsday Clock, and Jason Fabok did the spin-off to the series with the Button, a Flash/Batman series centered around the Button from the Watchmen book.  The best thing the book has that I have to give credit to is its art, it’s just borderline flawless and really pulls you into the book.  This is Geoff Johns’s biggest mistake in the comic media and one that he should learn from, to make the novels the way you want to make them, and maybe stop trying to be the Alan Moore of modern-day graphic novels.  The storytelling had great potential but did not pay off in the great scheme of things.  The Three Jokers from Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok in 2020, deserves a 6.5/10.

All the cover arts for Three Jokers (2020)

WORKS CITED

“Jason Fabok.” DC, 4 Mar. 2012, http://www.dccomics.com/talent/jason-fabok. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.

“Geoff Johns.” DC Database, 2020, dc.fandom.com/wiki/Geoff_Johns. Accessed 22 Sept. 2020.

PeoplePill. “People Pill.” PeoplePill, PeoplePill, 2010, peoplepill.com/people/geoff-johns/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2020.

“Geoff Johns | Wikiwand.” Wikiwand, 2010, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Geoff_Johns. Accessed 22 Sept. 2020.

These images were used from Three Jokers (2020) by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok from DC Comics

“BATMAN: THREE JOKERS #1.” DC, 21 Aug. 2020, http://www.dccomics.com/comics/batman-three-jokers-2020/batman-three-jokers-1. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.

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