Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The Batmobile crashes into the tombstone of Thomas Wayne just outside of Wayne Manor. A wounded Batman climbs out and stumbles up toward the mansion on the hill. In the Batcave, Alfred catches Batman just as he’s about to fall.
“What was it this time?” Alfred asks as he cuts off the batsuit and stitches up Bruce Wayne’s wounds.
“An umbrella,” Bruce answers. His back and arms are covered almost completely in scars. As we look at his body, we see the many wounds given to Bruce by his enemies. There’s a bigger scar down Bruce’s spine from when Bane broke Bruce’s back, a burn from a question mark cane from Riddler, claw marks from Catwoman, teeth marks from Killer Croc, pitchfork wounds from Scarecrow, and more. More than any other foe, we see that Joker has left the most scars on Batman’s body.
As Bruce reflects on his scars, he hears laughing. The echoing of laughter brings Bruce back to his first, most powerful scar — the death of his parents in Crime Alley.
“This wound is deeper than the others,” Alfred says while Bruce is still miles away, remembering that fateful night. “It’s going to leave another scar, not that you’d notice.”
On the television, a news report blares about how the last members of the Moxon Crime Family, implicated for the death of the Waynes, were executed this evening by the Joker.
Elsewhere, Barbara Gordon runs on a treadmill at a gym. The television in front of her serves up an advertisement for a restless leg syndrome treatment. The tagline to the ad is “for unstable nerves in an unstable world.” The news cuts in and brings up the murder of a famous comedian, Kelani “Fatman” Apaka by the Joker. It was live-streamed from the comedian’s home. As Barbara watches the news report, she runs faster and faster until she breaks “another” treadmill.
In the gym showers, we see Barbara’s scars. As she rinses off, her mind flashes to the fateful night that Joker broke into her home and crippled her.
At a cemetery, Red Hood beats up Joker goons while a news report blares of a third Joker sighting at Ace Chemicals. All of these Joker sightings have occurred on the same night. During the fight, Red Hood’s helmet gets knocked off.
“No more helmet,” a Joker goon says. “Let’s crack his head open.”
This comment propels Jason Todd back to when the Joker beat him and left him for dead. Jason, now on the ground, musters a second wind and beats back the goons. He interrogates them, asking for the location of the Joker. None of them know, so Jason leaves.
At Ace Chemicals, Harvey Bullock removes a red hood from one of three victims lying on the ground. The victim has been Jokerized. Bullock notes the impossibility of Joker being in three places at once, and the GCPD debate which of the three crime scenes is the true Joker sighting.
Batman arrives on the scene, and Commissioner Jim Gordon looks to Batman for answers. Batman examines the body, noting that due to the chemical poisoning, the victims are unidentifiable. Batman presumes that they were most likely homeless, as all of the Ace Chemical staff are accounted for. Batman also notes that he can’t decide whether this is a message or a distraction, as there was a truck stolen from Ace Chemicals as well.
Up above, Batgirl watches. She notes that this was where the Joker was born and makes her descent down to the crime scene. Batgirl informs the GCPD and Batman that Joker looked into all of the camera feeds at Ace, and she notes that Joker made sure to be seen at all of the crime scenes this night. Before making off with the truck, Joker also drained a vat of chemicals, one that Batman presumes to be a mixture similar to the one that created Joker.
Just then, one of the victims wakes up and starts laughing. He’s loaded onto an ambulance and driven off. Batman escorts the ambulance, and Batgirl hops on her motorcycle. Over their comms, Batman tells Barbara that she doesn’t need to accompany tonight. She insists, noting that she’s not going to allow Bruce to go after the Joker alone. On the ambulance, Red Hood starts strangling the victim and attempting to interrogate him.
Outside, Batman and Batgirl notice the ambulance swerving. Batman climbs onto the ambulance and kicks his way in through the rear doors. Batman and Red Hood fight while Batgirl takes out the ambulance’s wheels outside.
On a desolate stretch of road, the stolen Ace Chemicals truck swerves toward a raccoon while it leaves a trail of leaking chemicals in its wake. As the raccoon races to escape the truck, a purple gloved hand waves out of the window.
The truck pulls up to an abandoned house in the woods. The Joker, wearing a “Large Marge Trucking” hat, knocks on the front door. Another Joker opens, this one dressed in the tourist attire from The Killing Joke. We learn that The Joker with the trucker hat is “The Clown” and that The Joker from The Killing Joke is “The Comedian.”
Inside the ambulance, Batman administers an antidote that should help the Joker victim. Outside, Batgirl and Red Hood argue about Hood’s actions. Hood defends himself by saying that the victim is from a halfway house and has a rap sheet that includes domestic violence against children. Batman leaves the ambulance and proposes that the three of them need to work together since Joker isn’t working alone.
At the abandoned house in the woods, the original Joker, “The Criminal,” tells The Clown and The Comedian that they’re going to do what they always do; they’re going to create a better Joker.
At the Gotham City Aquarium, Batman and Red Hood pull up in the Batmobile. Hood explains that one of the Joker thugs he was fighting used a wrench with traces of seawater on it, which led him to believe Joker was using the aquarium since it has been closed down the last two days. Batgirl follows on her bike, and the three enter the aquarium together.
Inside, Jason muses out loud that this can’t be different than any other time victims have been Jokerized and driven mad. Batman disagrees, noting that normal victims lose control. These three Jokers are very much in control. Batman uses his gold emblem on his chest as a flashlight as they walk down the hallways of the aquarium. At some point, the fish in the tanks behind them go from normal in appearance to Joker fish.
Batman, Red Hood, and Batgirl stop at a tank housing a Jokerized shark. Hood notes that his helmet is registering others entering the aquarium. They’ve got company.
Old-fashioned goons in cabbie hats and sweaters arrive with a little man in a jester outfit named Gaggy. Batman, Red Hood, and Batgirl trade blows with this crew. As bullets fly, the tank with the shark gets severely damaged. Gaggy stuns Red Hood with a cattle prod, which Hood responds to by firing his gun. The shark tank breaks open, and the Jokerized shark devours Gaggy.
As the heroes catch their breath, one of the Jokers attacks them, taking down Red Hood. Joker goes for Hood’s mask, noting how he wants to see those eyes again. Batman steps in, and Batgirl assists. They take down Joker. Batman signals to Gordon that they’ve captured one of them. Gordon replies that he has another Joker cornered.
Batman tells Batgirl and Red Hood to prep Joker for transport back to Arkham. He’s going to fetch the second one from Gordon.
Red Hood and Batgirl have Joker tied up to a chair. Some razor-edged playing cards fall out of Joker’s sleeves as the two heroes debate whether this is the real Joker. They go back and forth debating how this could or couldn’t be him, wondering if there have always been three all along. Jason notes that the laughing fish and cards are old hat, as is the acid-spraying flower.
Joker laughs and says that he is the one, true Joker. He mentions that he is the cycle of pain both of the heroes are trapped in, citing Jason’s use of the Red Hood moniker as an example. This pushes Hood to get defensive and withdraw his gun.
Batgirl stops Jason, noting that this isn’t Batman’s way. Joker says that Batman isn’t here. Joker then goes on to antagonize both of them, saying that Batman always brings him back to Arkham, maintaining the cycle of pain.
When Joker notes that he killed Jason, Hood retorts that it only made him stronger. Joker counters with a comment about how maybe he didn’t want Robin to truly die because it would mean that the cycle of pain would come to an end. He then throws Todd’s old words in his face, citing how, when beaten nearly to death, Todd cried out, “I’ll do anything you say. I’ll be YOUR Robin!”
Joker laughs, noting the irony of Jason Todd wearing that Red Hood moniker. Jason responds with a bullet through the Joker’s brain. Batgirl tried to stop him, but she missed.
The two heroes argue. Batgirl says that she didn’t want this, but Red Hood counters that she did, noting that she missed intentionally. Batgirl storms out of the aquarium.
Jason stands over the Joker’s corpse. “Man. I hope that’s the right one,” Jason says.
Analysis: It’s rare to find a book so well-orchestrated, from the penciling to the colors, lettering, and writing, that each turn of the page creates a sense of poetry all on its own. Batman: Three Jokers accomplishes the nearly impossible.
It’s a well-layered story that promises a fresh, exciting mystery (where did the three Jokers come from and who are they?), drawing from some of the most monumental moments of Batman history without coming across as tired or old hat. Neither Red Hood nor Batgirl (especially Batgirl) have been able to encounter the Joker without constant callbacks to A Death in the Family or The Killing Joke. In many ways, the repeated callbacks to these seminal moments feel tired in lesser stories. In this first issue of Batman: Three Jokers, writer Geoff Johns ties their individual traumas to Batman’s, theming this all under the guise of scars that we carry with us. In this way, their traumas are still centered around them, but these traumas are tethered to a greater idea as well — an exploration of something deeper and so very human.
The first fifteen pages of this issue focus singularly on how our heroes (and we, as readers) work through scars and carry on. These first fifteen pages are about resolution and strength, about overcoming obstacles and managing to pick ourselves up and move forward. The scars haven’t healed (and they may never), but in this introductory issue from Johns and artist Jason Fabok really beats home this idea of the cycle of pain our heroes, and we, often endure.
It’s beautiful and poetic, tying into this debate near the end between Batgirl and Red Hood, where the two fight over what to do with the captured Joker. Do they end the cycle and keep the scars from reopening, or do they endure some more? Batman would endure some more, as evidenced by his moral code and the multitudes of scars encompassing every inch of his body in the first few pages. Batgirl and Red Hood are different people though, and their traumas from the Joker are arguably more penetrating than Batman’s.
This case study in trauma and endurance is what elevates Batman: Three Jokers to rare heights. Johns and Fabok clearly have an idea beyond the mystery of who the three Jokers are, and in this first issue, they set up a tremendous precedent for the rest of the series.
Fabok, in particular, is masterful. Many pages in this book are devoted to a nine-panel grid, and this grid works well in achieving a constant flow to this poetry that he is creating with Johns. The best moments are when the nine-panel grid is used to offset the present from the past. In particular, the pages where we see specific scars on Batman’s body and where they came from in the following box exemplify this perfectly. This tactic is also used well to capture what’s flashing through the minds of Batgirl and Red Hood when they’re triggered into reliving their traumas.
Brad Anderson’s colors bring Fabok’s penciling to life in a way that both highlights the vibrant colors of Batman’s world and sets a moody, gothic tone. In a book that’s more showing than telling, the color emphasizes where we should be looking and how much we should be paying attention to certain details — and it’s loaded with little details.
The use of the gold emblem on Batman should also be noted. It’s always nice to see this return, and in this book, it even serves a purpose as a flashlight when the heroes are searching the Gotham City aquarium. How cool!
Final Thoughts: This book should be experienced by every serious Batman fan. It’s a culmination of so many things we love about the character set within the framework of a new, exciting mystery. It’s a must-read.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic digitally and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue through Comixology.