Overview: Batman and Batgirl save Jason Todd from the clutches of the Joker. Meanwhile, Batman’s oldest enemy, Joe Chill, is abducted from Blackgate’s hospital wing.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): In the suburbs, one of the two remaining Jokers, the one known as “The Comedian,” walks into a house. He’s greeted by a fearful wife, and she has a dinner of octopus tentacles ready for him. Upstairs, a little boy, “Junior,” watches from up high. His mother comes over and pleads with him to come down for dinner, noting that it’ll keep tensions between them and the Joker down.
When the boy joins the table, Joker begins to talk about his week in a very 1950s fatherly manner. Midway through telling a joke, Joker’s octopus tentacles turn into canned food, and the original Joker, known as “The Criminal,” asks the Comedian what he’s doing. The scene changes to a dingy, dark room where the Comedian finds himself at a table with a mannequin and a ripped teddy bear. The two Jokers argue over letting Batman in on their secret, which resulted in the third Joker dying.
At the apartment of Judge Walls, Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the GCPD investigate the murder of the judge. They note how he was forced out in disgrace, as he was the dirty judge responsible for Arkham Asylum’s revolving door. Batgirl arrives, asking to speak to Batman privately.
Batman is in his Batmobile, and Batgirl is driving beside him on her motorcycle. They discuss Red Hood’s murder of the third Joker. Batgirl pushes Batman to step in and take Red Hood in. Batman is reluctant, revealing his guilt over what happened to Jason Todd. Bruce Wayne tells Barbara Gordon that Jason became more violent after Joker killed him, while Barbara grew stronger.
Batman’s solution is to talk to Jason. Batgirl disagrees, noting that Bruce should have done that years ago. When asked why he would wait until now to talk to Jason, Batman only confesses that he was hoping Jason was more like Barbara. Batgirl stops her bike momentarily while Batman drives on.
In an alleyway, Red Hood is beating up more Joker goons, searching for the whereabouts of the other two Jokers. He scans one of the goons, noting the heavy amount of pool cleaner on the goon’s clothes.
Batgirl catches up to Batman again and gets him to agree to tell Jason to put the Red Hood and guns to rest. When asked if he was tracking Jason, Batman says that he can’t track Hood. Rather, Batman is driving to Blackgate. The murder weapon used to bludgeon Judge Walls had Joe Chill’s fingerprints on it.
At Blackgate, Batman marches toward Joe Chill’s cell and kicks down the door. He notes that Joe Chill knows his identity. When Batman finds the cell empty, Batgirl says that Chill is sick and has been moved to the hospital wing. Joe Chill has stage four cancer and only has weeks to live. Batman muses that someone must have slipped in and taken Chill’s fingerprints to lead Batman here. Before he can check the surveillance footage, Batman gets a notification that Jason has accessed the Batcomputer.
At an abandoned Gotham City public pool, Red Hood finds a pool full of bodies floating in chemicals. Before he can alert Batgirl, one of the bodies comes to life and grabs at Jason. Jason fights it off, only to be apprehended by the real Joker.
Tied to a chair and naked, Jason finds himself sitting before the original Joker. The Criminal Joker points out the strange choice in Jason adopting the Red Hood moniker. Jason retorts by pondering if each Joker is going to keep asking him the same question. The Criminal Joker then tells Jason that they hoped he would be next in line to become one of them, but sadly, it’s not in the cards.
The two remaining Jokers beat Jason mercilessly. The Comedian Joker tells Jason that he hopes the former Robin proves them wrong and assumes the clown makeup.
Batgirl breaks into the pool with Batman, and the two follow laughter down the halls. They find themselves surrounded by that pool of Joker victims, now very much alive and on their feet. Batman and Batgirl fight off the horde of Jokers, with Batman having to call in the Batmobile to run them down. After the fight, they find a door labeled “Oops!” with bright, red letters. Behind it is Jason, beaten and bloodied on the floor.
Jason blames Batman for what happened, throwing his broken Red Hood helmet at Bruce. Jason is having a breakdown, and Batgirl comes in to comfort him while Batman maintains some distance.
At Barbara’s apartment, Batman tells her that he’s going to follow up on some more leads. Batgirl stops Bruce, questioning why he won’t stay to help Jason. Bruce says that Jason is safe, but Gotham isn’t.
Jason wakes up and scouts out Barbara’s bedroom. He sees her wheelchair, her calendar with physical therapy appointments, and a book on chronic pain management. Batgirl enters, and Jason tells her that he doesn’t think that he’s ever been okay. He keeps thinking about how the Joker told him he’s been on the path to becoming a Joker for years now, but Jason doesn’t want to turn into something horrible.
Jason points out that Barbara has kept everything that reminds her of her trauma. He asks her if it’s a burden and brings her pain. Barbara says it can, but she notes how she has a support system that has guided her and helped her heal. Jason says that he never received any of that, to which Barbara tells him that no one knew he was alive. If they knew he was alive, they would have been there.
The two share an awkward kiss that they immediately regret. Barbara tells Jason that she cares about him, to which he says that no one has ever told him that before.
At the Batcave, Batman goes through his files on the Joker. He looks at a globe on his desk, sees Alaska, and is reminded of Joe Chill.
In a van speeding away from Blackgate, Joe Chill finds himself in front of the Comedian Joker with a camera. Joker tells Joe Chill that it’s time to confess.
“Why did you really kill Thomas and Martha Wayne?” Joker asks.
Analysis: This is the midway point for the Batman: Three Jokers story by Geoff Johns, Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, and Rob Leigh, and we find ourselves deep in parallel story threads propelling readers to parts unknown.
In this second installment, Batman is a character clearly at odds with himself. When Jason isn’t around, he confesses his desire to have a heart-to-heart with Red Hood, but when the two are brought together in the latter half of the issue, Bruce is the cold, distant Batman we’ve seen from time to time, the one more recently emphasized in the second half of Tom King’s Batman run. The juxtaposition of both of these Batman portrayals in this issue is interesting, however, in that it highlights an indecisiveness in Bruce. It’s as if Bruce Wayne is Hamlet, and he’s not sure if the way he’s been doling out vigilante justice thus far in his career is right anymore. He wants to engage, but he doesn’t take the opportunities offered to him. He confides in Barbara, but he distances himself and hides in the Batcave when confronted with the horrors of what happened to Jason Todd again. Like Hamlet, Batman can’t seem to make up his mind, and he resorts to mulling things over, which allows The Joker to dictate the next move.
We’ve been here with Bruce before (more than once), and this isn’t necessarily anything new. Fabok’s paneling and penciling here, however, crafts this in a way that makes this retread beautiful, more moody and subtle, and unique. Particularly the scene in which Barbara and Bruce are driving side by side, we see how Bruce raises the window of the Batmobile to hide his face, to mask himself, and wall himself off from Barbara after confiding in her. Pair this with how Batman notes that Jason killed “a Joker” rather than “the Joker,” as if that’s supposed to absolve Jason of murder, and we have a Bruce who’s grappling with deep-seated trauma by making excuses and hiding. It’s an interesting approach, and it feels more adult-oriented, which is the ultimate goal of Black Label books.
One of the other threads in this narrative is the dual traumas between Barbara and Jason and how each of them tries to overcome their issues. In the first issue, we were reintroduced to their individual scars from the Joker. In this second issue, we are shown the result of where each of them are today. Batgirl is more of a model vigilante who has only grown stronger. Red Hood copes by burying his trauma and killing his problems. Batgirl is on the path to becoming Batman. Red Hood is one step away from becoming the Joker. It’s a neat idea, one that propels forward mostly in the background until Barbara and Jason have their awkward kiss and conversation in the latter part of the issue.
The last notable thread in Batman: Three Jokers is in the actual plot. This is where the story gets a bit muddied. The two remaining Jokers abduct Jason Todd, taunt him with how he’s on the path to becoming one of them, then reject this idea forthright. The end of the issue sees them apprehend Joe Chill, who seems to be a very likely candidate for becoming the Fourth Joker. This retread with the Joker once again beating Jason Todd appears to serve no clear purpose to the story beyond suggesting that Red Hood is becoming more like the Joker than Batman (which was pointed out in the first issue). We could have had this Jason and Barbara conversation in any number of other ways, and it didn’t have to come about from another Joker beating.
The addition of Joe Chill in this issue is exciting though. Not only does it reintroduce Batman’s trauma in an issue more focused on the traumas of the Batfamily, but it sets up the possibility that Joe Chill could become the next Joker. This would more closely align Joker with the 1989 Tim Burton characterization, where Joker (Jack Napier) is also the man who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents, thus creating Batman. This film in particular seems to be having a moment again (with Michael Keaton being announced as wearing the cape and cowl once more). Having Joe Chill become Joker could also tie in with the current Batman title, in that writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jimenez’s Joker knows the identities of each member of the Bat-Family, as well as what movie Bruce Wayne saw the night his parents were murdered.
One area where this multiple Jokers theory doesn’t jive with is Harley Quinn. With her character being so intimately close with the Joker, one would assume that she’d know if there were more than one Joker running around. With that in mind, her absence in this series, even as a brief, passing mention, is greatly felt.
We’ll see what answers we get, as well as what story threads are brought to a close in the next and final issue. The creative team has clearly crafted a multi-layered story, and it’s put together so beautifully by Fabok and Anderson. The pacing, the visuals, and the mood are all on point, and the characterizations of each Joker, in particular, are haunting and really set the tone. This story just needs to stick the landing.
Final Thoughts: Thus far, Batman: Three Jokers has been a well-crafted, moody, Noir-ish crime thriller that continues to deliver in its second issue. We have high hopes that it can wrap everything together and solidify itself as an important Batman story.
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.