Overview: In The Joker 2021 Annual #1, Gordon realizes that his absolutist approach to fighting crime only emboldens the Joker.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The Joker 2021 Annual #1 begins years ago, as Commissioner Jim Gordon arrives at First Gotham Federal Bank. There’s a hostage situation, and one of Carmine Falcone’s former henchmen, Anthony Rigatoni, is inside. Before SWAT can head in, Gordon calls them off, so he can go in solo. Inside, he finds that Rigatoni is wearing a fake bomb, one made of hot dogs instead of dynamite, and he’s disillusioned because he has bills to pay and a family to feed. Gordon has locked up Falcone, so Rigatoni is out of work.
Before the two can continue their conversation, SWAT storms in, gassing everyone inside. Later, Gordon admonishes the SWAT sergeant who led the assault, telling the sergeant that people almost died. After the sergeant leaves, Harvey Bullock tells Gordon to go easy on some of the men. Gordon notes that he has a department full of gangsters and cowboys with nobody for them to shoot at.
Elsewhere, Joker hires Catman for a heist. Catman is suspicious, as are Joker’s men, but Joker keeps them in line, putting on the charm to woo Catman over.
Meanwhile, Gordon has dinner with his daughter, Barbara. Barbara fills her dad in on how mom and her brother, Jim Gordon Jr., are doing. She encourages Gordon to visit his son, but he tells her that he’s too busy. When Barbara points out that her dad locked up all the mob bosses, he’s interrupted by a call. Catman is robbing El Payaso Candy Company.
Batman and Batgirl are already fighting Catman when Gordon arrives. They defeat Catman, and he’s sent away by the GCPD.
The next morning, Gordon asks for updates on the Catman burglary. His officers are slow to process it, so he takes the notes himself. Bullock drops by his office and tells him that Jurgenson, one of the cops from the bank job the other day, is interrogating Rigatoni. Gordon heads to the interrogation room to find Jurgenson torturing Rigatoni. Once Jurgenson leaves, Gordon coaxes Rigatoni to tell him which of his officers are on Falcone’s payroll.
Later, Gordon threatens Jurgenson. Either Jurgenson retires immediately, or Gordon will perp-walk him out of his office in handcuffs. Jurgenson retires, and afterward, Gordon summons more officers he suspects of being on Falcone’s payroll. Bullock tries to convince Jim not to fire every officer who may have made some bad decisions, but Gordon won’t hear of it. He’s set on cleaning up the GCPD.
Later, Joker meets with Black Mask, Penguin, and Killer Croc. He tells them that the GCPD have paved the way for them to take over Gotham City. He also heard that Gordon cleaned house, meaning that there are a lot of very bad men looking for work out on the street.
At home, Gordon and Barbara get into an argument. Barbara tells her father that he now put a bunch of bad people out on the street, which is dangerous. When Gordon reminds her that organized crime is way down, she storms off and slams the door behind her because he’s obviously not willing to see beyond an absolutist approach to crime-fighting.
That night, Gordon gets a call. GCPD officers are pinned down and taking fire from Joker’s henchmen. When Gordon arrives, he runs into the building where Joker is supposedly hiding out. His officers are surprised at how effective these new henchmen are, and Gordon realizes that he sent these men to work for the Joker.
In the building, Gordon takes a shot to his bulletproof vest. When he returns fire, he ends up shooting Jurgenson, who tells Gordon that he should have left it alone. After calling for backup and help for Jurgenson, Gordon finds pinatas with people inside. There’s also a pig pinata, and the person inside has a note stuck to his chest. It says, “Thank you for cleaning up the city for people like me. You inspired me to do my part – The Joker.”
Analysis: The Joker 2021 Annual #1 written by James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg isn’t necessary for enjoying The Joker series, but it does tie in, thematically, with James Gordon’s shades of gray morality we’ve seen in the regular series. In this annual, we get a backstory as to why Gordon’s different from Batman, and it revolves around Gordon being too overzealous in cleaning up the GCPD. Because he demanded the highest quality of officers, he sent some effective but questionable police into the arms of the Joker, which effectively undid all the work that Batman, Gordon, and Dent put into cleaning up the various mobs that ruled over Gotham.
Both Barbara Gordon and Harvey Bullock argue with Gordon on his absolutist approach in this issue. Bullock points out that Gordon could have put them on other duties, and Barbara warns her dad of what exactly will (and does) come to pass. Gotham is now more dangerous, and it’s under the rule of the likes of Killer Croc, Penguin, Joker, and Black Mask.
Interestingly enough, this annual ties in nicely to the themes of corruption shown in the recent Batman Secret Files: Peacekeeper-01 one-shot. Tynion had a hand in writing both, so this makes sense, but it’s nice to see connections between the two titles.
Francesco Francavilla covers art and coloring duties in this one-shot. While the art isn’t the horrific, noir-inspired tones that Guillem March brings to the bulk of the series, it has its own muted, blockier tones that evoke a style similar to Batman: Year One. This definitely feels intentional, as it takes place in the early days of Batman, existing in that space between Falcone rule and the supervillain craziness of Gotham now.
The color red plays a prominent role in the coloring in this issue. Many other colors feel muted or washed out, but the color red proves to be a focal point of almost every panel. It’s in Gordon’s hair and mustache, Barbara’s hair, Joker’s twisted smile when he’s meeting with other rogues, and the pinatas stuffed with people in the issue’s final pages. It’s a neat touch, especially when paired with the Joker.
In Joker’s first appearance in The Joker 2021 Annual #1, his trademark red lips are absent as he meets with Catman. This plays into the idea that, at least for the past year, Joker has been more of a prankster and viewed as a non-threat by most of Gotham’s police force. When those red lips show up, it’s in a depiction that evokes Joker’s look in The Killing Joke, hinting at the sinister and twisted things he will commit in the near future. Again, it’s a neat touch that adds some depth and layering to the concept of this story, one that squarely blames a misstep by Gordon in creating the environment Gotham now finds itself in.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.