Overview: In The Joker #5, Jim Gordon recounts his first encounter with Joker and the damage that encounter took on his relationship with his family and District Attorney Harvey Dent.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story 1: “The Joker” by writers Matthew Rosenberg and James Tynion IV and artist Francesco Francavilla
Synopsis: Years ago, Captain James Gordon awaits backup outside of a warehouse in Gotham City. He remembers something an old partner from Chicago once told him, that there are two kinds of people in the world. Some people are in the right place at the right time, and other people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gunshots ring out from inside the building, and Gordon orders another officer to radio for backup again. Then, he runs in, gun drawn. Gordon finds one cop who is bleeding out, then follows voices down a hallway and saves the other officer just in the nick of time. Gordon barrels through a criminal with a gun, pushing the criminal and himself out of a second-story window.
Later, Gordon rests in the back of an ambulance. District Attorney Harvey Dent arrives to inform Gordon that he interrogated the criminal and uncovered the location of a potential Carmine Falcone deal. Gordon tells Dent that he’ll put together a team of officers he trusts the next day, despite being off duty. Dent agrees to meet Gordon at the spot, pushing Gordon to summon Batman as well.
After they agree upon a plan, Dent tells Gordon that Joker has been sentenced to Arkham Asylum, which Jim doesn’t like. Jim doesn’t believe Joker’s truly insane, and he lets Harvey know it.
The next day, Jim is at couples counseling with his wife, Barbara. Barbara talks about the steps Jim and herself are trying to make in order to be there for each other, but Jim’s mind is elsewhere, thinking about work. Jim tells the counselor that he has to cut the session short, as he has something to attend to. Barbara begins to protest, but Jim promises that it won’t be too long.
Gordon visits Arkham Asylum next, taking a tour of the secure wing after Joker’s arrival. The secure wing is home only to one resident, Billy Sampson, a cannibal and a member of the Sampson Clan that was last seen hunting Joker in The Joker #4.
Dr. Jeremiah Arkham shows up on Gordon’s tour, and Gordon questions Dr. Arkham about Arkham’s security and handling of Joker. Jim asks Dr. Arkham to move Joker to the secure wing and move Billy Sampson, who has been docile for years, somewhere else. When Arkham refuses, Gordon presses, learning that this wing was specially funded and constructed by Billy’s brother, Sawyer Sampson.
Jim calls Sawyer Sampson to ask if Billy could be moved out of the secure wing in order to make room for the Joker. The two exchange words and Sawyer tells Gordon that a favor must be offered in return. Gordon also tells Sawyer about Joker’s attempted poisoning of Gotham’s water supply, describing in detail exactly what Joker’s toxin does to people. This seems to strike Sawyer’s curiosity.
Outside of Arkham, Gordon is on the radio calling for relief officers to guard the Joker overnight. Dispatch tells Jim that Commissioner Grogan has denied the request, informing Jim that he’ll have to guard the Joker himself and without overtime pay.
There’s a commotion inside Arkham Asylum, and Jim runs toward the cafeteria, where Joker, after upsetting the other patients, is eating pie by himself. Jim orders Joker back to his cell. Joker complies, telling Jim that Gordon just can’t get Joker out of his head. He also gets Jim to reveal personal details about himself, namely that he has children.
Once inside his cell, Joker begins to rant about what it is he thinks Jim is disturbed by. Gordon, meanwhile, is keeping guard outside. When Joker mentions the name Falcone in his ramblings, this reminds Jim that he’s supposed to meet Harvey Dent.
As Jim finds an orderly to guard Joker, Joker asks Jim, “…if you’re watching Falcone, who is watching people like me? Who will keep your kids safe from people like me?!”
Jim tries to radio Harvey from his squad car, but the radio is spotty at best. He tells Harvey that neither he nor Batman will be making the stakeout tonight, hoping that the message made it through.
Back inside, Jim is horrified to see that Joker’s guard has left. Joker has left his cell. Jim runs around Arkham, ultimately finding the Clown Prince of Crime back in the cafeteria eating more pie.
In the morning, Dr. Jeremiah Arkham informs Jim, who has been guarding Joker’s cell all night, that Sawyer Sampson has agreed to fund a whole new wing of Arkham and that Joker will be transferred to the secure wing. The one caveat is that Gordon has to leave.
While driving back to Gotham, Gordon hears of a shooting at the building he was supposed to meet Harvey at. Once Jim arrives, he’s accosted by Harvey, who informs the captain that several officers were killed by Falcone’s men because Gordon was in the wrong place.
Jim comes home to a dark and empty house. Remnants of his anniversary dinner with his wife are still on the table with not a soul around. He’s defeated, but Gordon believes he was in the right place last night, noting that the Joker is the beginning of something new for Gotham.
Analysis: In The Joker #5, writers Matthew Rosenberg and James Tynion IV take a break from the action of the last few issues to tell a flashback tale of Jim’s first real meeting with the Joker. Francesco Francavilla fills in for art and colors as well, and while Francesco’s style is a vast departure from series artist Guillem March, the penciling and muted colors work for this issue-long flashback.
The colors are muted, and the linework seems to embrace a more classic approach to character design and paneling. The art in this issue recalls a style similar to the very early years of Batman comics. It’s a neat tactic, one that really sets the tone for this story set shortly after the Joker’s first appearance. It takes readers back in time without being too noticeable.
The story reinforces foundations set for later Batman stories. Readers see the uneasy friendship and the beginning of a rift between District Attorney Harvey Dent and then Captain James Gordon. There’s also a loneliness to Jim, as he sacrifices time with his wife and family in order to hold Gotham together. Though Jim believes he was in the right place at the right time, the opposite may have ultimately been true. In the final panel, Jim finds himself alone at home, staring at the anniversary setup intended for his wife and himself to enjoy.
Jim not being there for his wife also echoes with later encounters with the Joker. In this issue, Jim lets slip that he has children, who, as readers know very well, will both suffer at the hands of Joker.
The biggest kicker, however, is in how The Joker #5 opens and closes. In the beginning, Jim is clearly in the right place at the right time, as he manages to save the life of at least one officer with his bravery and dedication to police work. By the end of The Joker #5, the appearance of the Joker has thrown Jim off his game, and he’s forgotten about a raid. This forgetfulness ultimately costs the lives of good, honest police officers, as well as puts a friendship with District Attorney Harvey Dent on shaky grounds. It’s a nice touch, one that subtly tells us how the Joker changed everything in Gotham.
This story also provides some background for the Sampson Clan, last seen hunting Joker in the previous issue. We learn that the patriarch of the family, Sawyer Sampson, has built more than one wing for Arkham, due to accommodating the arrival of Joker. We also learn that Jim let details slip about Joker’s toxin to Sawyer, which may or may not be a clue as to who gassed Arkham with Joker toxin back in Infinite Frontier #0.
Overall, The Joker #5 is fun, despite taking a break from the adrenaline rush of the series thus far. There are some nuggets of information that we learn here, and there’s a subtle poetry to how Joker changed Gotham buried within this issue’s framework. Though poetic, this issue just lacks the umph and excitement of the first four issues.
Story 2” “Punchline: Chapter 5” by writers Sam Johns and James Tynion IV and artist Sweeney Boo
Synopsis: The backup of The Joker #5 beings at an arcade in Park Row, Cullen Row meets up with some fellow gamers. He gets into a conversation with a boy named Chuck about the Punchline podcast. Chuck’s a big fan, and Chuck tells Cullen about how Punchline live-streamed the burning of the Narrows. Chuck then laments how he wishes Punchline was around when Joker did all his really big stunts, like the killing of a Robin.
Cullen leaves the arcade in a hurry, and his friend, Bluff, runs after him. Cullen expresses his concern about Bluff’s friend, Chuck, having a sick fascination with Punchline’s live-streaming of violence. Bluff tries to smooth it over, saying that he has to be there for Chuck in order to tell Chuck off. Cullen points out that Bluff did nothing.
Meanwhile, at Blackgate Penitentiary, Harper Row visits her father, Marcus. Marcus assumes that Harper is looking for him to get something on Punchline that she can use. Marcus tells her that it’s not going to happen, that Punchline has the whole women’s prison under her thumb.
Punchline has crowned herself the Queen of Diamonds and has told her followers to find fellow inmate Kelly Ness. Kelly Ness, as mentioned in previous backup stories, is a former friend of Punchline’s who might have some dirt that Harper can use to put Punchline away for good.
Analysis: In previous issues, we’ve seen Harper Row come up with dead ends or almost die trying to find dirt on Alexis Kaye (Punchline). In The Joker #5, we’re given a Macguffin for Punchline and Harper to fight over in Kelly Ness, Alexis’ former friend.
The next few issues should prove interesting as Harper figures out how to get Kelly out of Blackgate before she can be killed. Meanwhile, Cullen, who was seen showing support of Punchline at the very beginning of this series, is walking back that support. He’s encountered something that disgusts him, and it’s enveloping him in the form of his friend’s other buddies.
With so few pages, it’s hard for these backup stories to carry any tension. Just when there’s some direction or momentum, these backups end. The narrative with Harper Row in the backup found in The Joker #5, despite having a goalpost, comes across as lackluster and forgettable, especially since much of the previous Punchline backups have spent so much time showing Punchline’s rise to power in prison, burying the Harper narrative beneath prison violence. These stories are just there, and the only one that might hold weight is Cullen’s disgust at his friends. Cullen’s story, at least, feels like it has something to say in the long run.
Ultimately, these backups are just filler for those looking for more Gotham worldbuilding.
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 either through Comixology or Amazon.