Batman: Three Jokers Retrospective

Batman Three Jokers Cover

Batman: Three Jokers has been one of the most highly anticipated comic books since Geoff Johns dropped a major tease about this story towards the end of his Justice League run. Ever since Bruce Wayne discovered that there was more than one Joker that has existed over the course of his career as Batman. Now along with artist Jason Fabok and colorist Brad Anderson, Geoff Johns has finally completed his story about the Three Jokers.

I’ll be honest when I read the first issue there was a feeling of incompleteness after finishing. Even reading the first issue multiple times it was tough to figure out if I enjoyed or disliked Batman: Three Jokers #1. Because of that I decided to pass on reviewing Batman: Three Jokers until the series was completed. Now that it has my thoughts on Johns and Fabok’s Batman: Three Jokers is clear. So with that it is time to take a look back at what Batman: Three Jokers did for the franchise and the impact it may have in the future.

EXAMINING JOKER OF EVERY ERA

From the moment Batman: Three Jokers started we were given the clear indication that Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok were going to dive right into the different versions of the Joker we have gotten. With the way Johns and Fabok framed the story of how the Golden Age, Silver Age and modern versions of Joker are each represented in the three Jokers the series is titled after. While having similar appearances the Criminal, Comedian, and Clown versions of the Joker came across as individual characters when they first appear together.

Working in iconic points in Batman’s history, from when the Dark Knight debut to more recent events in Scott Snyder’s Batman run, was a double edge sword. At first it certainly helped drive the mystery around the intention of each of these Jokers as a group and individuals. But as the story goes on Johns becomes a prisoner of how he can integrate Golden Age history with things like Killing Joke. All these references are just used to make the reader remember an event but never explore how each Joker had an impact. It ends up with characters just running around in circles making references that triggers something in Batman fans mind but never goes deeper than that.

Batman: Three Jokers #3

Joker reveals the fate he and Batman share as eternal rivals in Batman: Three Jokers #3. Click for full page view.

The other part of the story where things fall apart for Batman: Three Jokers does fall apart is the timeline. As someone who is seen as the master of knowing DC Comics history this is where there is a lot expected from Geoff Johns. Unfortunately, Johns isn’t able to work his magic on this aspect of the story. The most that we are told is that the first Joker appearance happened several decades before Batman: Three Jokers takes place.

Adding to this problem is that we don’t get an indication of how much time has passed for the Batman Family since Joker’s initial debut. Just on Batman, Batgirl, and Red Hood’s designs alone there is a sense that this story takes place in a time when these characters have only been active for a decade at most. Little things like having Bruce Wayne be shown with greying hair would’ve added to this story being about exploring the existence of Joker across multiple eras of Batman’s history.

BATMAN AND JOKER’S WAR WILL NEVER END

One of the running themes across Batman: Three Jokers is the fact that Batman has never put a permanent end to Joker. This is brought up multiple times throughout the mini-series by Batgirl and Red Hood. And it is something that is directly tackled by Joker himself when Batman talks with the last remaining version of the character. Throughout these conversations it is made clear that even though Batman has had thoughts of killing Joker he can never bring himself to cross that line.

This further paints the picture that for as long as there is a Batman there will be a Joker.  Much like in the recent “Joker War” in the main Batman series, Joker once again reiterates that he does not care who is under the mask. As Joker himself states, Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, and the rest of the Batman Family are just players in the war between Batman and Joker. All of that makes you wonder if there will ever be a time when we do see a time when this Batman vs Joker story will truly get a final chapter. And maybe that was the point Johns was trying to make.

WHO JOKER IS WILL NEVER MATTER

With the three different Joker’s we are given version of the Clown Prince of Crime that are motivated very differently. Johns makes it clear that each of these Joker’s have their own backstory. That is furthered with how a major theme of Batman: Three Jokers turned out to be the Criminal version of Joker bringing the other two together so they can create perfect, fourth, version of Joker. That all points to possibly exploring the deeper meaning of who Joker is and what he represents to the overall Batman franchise

But when all was said and done this exploration of who Joker is did not matter. Even when the Comedian version of Joker from Killing Joke backstory becomes a major hook to how Batman: Three Jokers ends it is all unnecessary. At the end of the day what makes Joker the most compelling comic book villain in history is that he is a pure representation of chaos. There is no need to explore the why when it comes to what lead a person to become the Joker. Because as soon as we do in fact learn that the magic of the Joker is taken away.

Which is really where the final scene of Batman: Three Jokers #3 is a big mixed bag. In Johns’ attempt to expand on a major part of the Killing Joke’s backstory for the Joker we are left wondering if this all even mattered. At the end of the day this adds nothing to the interest around Joker. Instead it just comes across as a desperate attempt to make Joker’s history sympathetic. That is all honestly unnecessary because Joker is a character that should never have a point where you have a shred of sympathy for who is. The fact that Joker has told various stories of who he was before his transformation makes the fact we don’t know the real backstory a unique character trait in an era where so many feel a need to know or reveal everything.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES IN JOKER’S IMPACT ON GOTHAM CITY

One major thing that Batman: Three Jokers only briefly touched on is the impact Joker has had to the order of things in Gotham City. That is at least how Batman: Three Jokers starts out with a news report on Joker’s recent killing spree against a major mob family. Unfortunately, that is as far as Johns goes in exploring the impact of Joker has had on the city. The rest of the time we are in just one big cat and mouse game between the Batman Family and the Jokers.

Going that route kept this story being extremely small in scope when there should’ve been more. Actually showing how Joker’s presence since he debut has impact the state of order in Gotham City would’ve added so much to how different each version of the character are. We are only ever told through Batman’s words how each Joker is different. But if we would’ve gotten how the GCPD, the mafia, and even regular Gotham City residents act when around one of the three Jokers the story would have been better. Without that we can just rely on Batman and the Jokers as narrators to tell us how each version of the Clown Prince of Crime is different beyond visually.

Without any of that exploration all the character development Johns tries to do just does not hit on the notes you expect them to hit. Especially with where the final battle takes place the journey there is something that could’ve happened much sooner. But because there was so much spinning the wheels of this story that all the callbacks to past storylines are just a way to appear deeper than what was the reality of Batman: Three Jokers.

BRUCE WAYNE IS THE BATMAN FAMILY’S WORST ENEMY

Batman: Three Jokers #3

Batman, Batgirl, and Red Hood discuss the history of each Joker in Batman: Three Jokers #3. Click for full page view.

Outside of exploring the different Joker’s of each era another running theme for Batman: Three Jokers was Bruce Wayne’s attitude towards his family. And unsurprisingly a lot of that exploration came down to how irresponsible Bruce is as a mentor and father-figure. The biggest spotlight of that fact is with how Bruce treatment of Jason Todd throughout Batman: Three Jokers. While Johns does have Bruce admit to Barbara that he feels remorse over not knowing that Jason was alive before he became Red Hood you would not know from how he treats Jason. Every time they are on screen together Bruce pushes Jason on how they’ll either do things his way or Jason can leave the Batcave. To a lesser extent Bruce does this with Barbara as well as he treats her more of a sidekick that with a need to know basis in their investigation.

When you add Batman: Three Jokers along with storylines like City of Bane and Joker War we again are remind of how poorly Bruce treats those closest to him. From how he treats Jason and Barbara in this series to his hands off approach during Dick Grayson’s Ric Grayson turn to only showing up to reprimand Damian when his son does something truly terrible, Bruce is a horrible mentor and father-figure. Which is really at odds with how we have seen the Batman Family expand over the last few decades to be more than Dick Grayson’s Robin and Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl.

All of this just puts a spotlight on how Bruce needs to do better as a person or else he is going to set himself and, by extension, his growing family up for failure. As a Batman fan that is honestly an angle that I would love to see explore. It would at the very least be refreshing take on the character that has a lot of untapped potential in diving deeper into the Batman legacy.

BRUCE WAYNE FINDS SOME PEACE THANKS TO THE JOKER

While there is that major negative trait that came into the spotlight there was at least one good moment for Bruce Wayne in Batman: Three Jokers. That positive note came from the fact that Johns finally gave Bruce closure with Joe Chill. This all came down to Bruce’s choice as Batman to save Joe Chill from becoming Joker. Through that we see that Joe Chill knows that Bruce is Batman, which is something that other writers have brought up as being the case, and how it drew Chill to ask for forgiveness.

This is all honestly the biggest takeaway from Batman: Three Jokers. Because we know that the driving force behind being Batman is what happened to Bruce’s parents in Crime Alley. Now that we do see that Batman has some closure on this part of his life there is the question if what’s drove him for so long can change. Johns doesn’t really touch on that since Batman: Three Jokers came to an end soon after. But at the very least this is something that could be a plot point that can be explored in the future if other writers ever address the events of this series.

IT’S TIME FOR JASON TODD TO MOVE FORWARD

Outside of Batman and Joker, the biggest star of Batman: Three Jokers was Jason Todd. Jason was as much a driving force for how Batman: Three Jokers developed through his actions at various points in the story. From killing the Clown version of Joker to another set of torture he went through at the hands of the Criminal and Comedian versions of Joker, this was also Jason’s story.

Unfortunately rather than exploring the greater meaning behind all the actions he took throughout this story Johns decide to go a romantic route with Jason’s story. That romance came in the form of Jason and Barbara kissing in heat of the moment after discussing their own history with Joker. From that point forward Johns kept trying to push the narrative of Jason trying to turn that kiss into a relationship with Barbara.

What made this angle particularly bad from Jason’s part is that Johns failed to actually explore the whole meaning of what the character needed. What was briefly touched on was Jason desire to have a family that cares for him. That is something Johns brought up several times whenever Jason shared screen time with Batman and Batgirl. But Johns quickly abandoned that angle just to have some romance angle to this story.

That made the letter that Jason wrote to Barbara come across as even worse. Because in that letter we see Jason turn an emotionally charged moment with Barbara as the only way he can turn his life around. Which puts the responsibility of Jason ever having true character change on Barbara’s shoulders. That is no way to plant seeds that will grow for a successful relationship. All Johns did was enforce how Jason continues to set himself up for greater heartbreak just so Batman: Three Jokers could have a romance sub-plot.

What would’ve been a better angle for Jason’s story to take is to go with the family angle more that Johns teased. Simple things like showing Jason grabbing a beer with Dick Grayson and opening up to his big brother or hanging with Tim Drake at a diner would have done more for Jason’s arc as a person. It would have also worked into other Batman Family members into the story without having them forced into the main story. If any writer learns anything about Jason Todd through Batman: Three Jokers it is hopefully that the character needs to have his brother/sister bond with the rest of the Batman Family.

BARBARA GORDON IS MORE THAN A PLOT DEVICE

Batman: Three Jokers #2

Batgirl calls Batman out for how he did not help Jason Todd in Batman: Three Jokers #2. Click for full page view.

Which brings us to Barbara Gordon’s role in Batman: Three Jokers. When all was said and done Barbara as a person and Batgirl was treated as nothing more than a plot device throughout Batman: Three Jokers. Because rather than using her expertise as a detective and tech expert all Barbara was simply tagging along as Batgirl for Batman’s investigation. Whether it was creating the romantic angle with Jason Todd or how Killing Joke was referenced, Barbara was just a prop.

The one moment when there is an actual meaningful development for Barbara is the final moment she has as Batgirl when talking to her dad, Commissioner Jim Gordon. After everything that happened in Batman: Three Jokers, Barbara revealing that she is Batgirl to Jim by calling him “Dad” before driving off alone. While that was a big character moment it felt unearned because Johns never actually developed Barbara and Jim’s father-daughter dynamic. Johns just simply relies on the fact that they are father-daughter to make this hold weight. Which is just an excuse for not having actual scenes between Barbara and Jim to set-up how big of a deal the Batgirl secret was since Barbara took on the cape and cowl.

Further adding to how Barbara was used as a plot device was the previously mentioned relationship angle between her and Jason. There is clear obsession with pairing Barbara up with one of the male members of the Batman Family. We see that with how she’s dated Dick Grayson and Luke Fox in the main DCU continuity, getting married to Tim Drake at the end of Arkham Knight game, and a relationship with Bruce in the DCAU continuity and Killing Joke animated movie. Now Johns has added to that by having Jason place everything about possibly changing on a relationship with Barbara. At this point the only character she hasn’t been paired up with is Damian Wayne.

All of this is to say, that writers really need stop trying to make Barbara a love interest in the Batman Family mythology. She is so much more than that, as writers of her solo and Birds of Prey series have proven time after time as Batgirl and Oracle. Johns should have recognizing that Barbara had a lot to add to this story as a character, both in and out of her Batgirl disguise.

JASON FABOK ARTWORK STEALS THE SHOW

For as much as a mixed bag or went wrong with Batman: Three Jokers the one thing that was a major positive for the series was Jason Fabok’s spectacular artwork. Fabok artwork really stole the show throughout the three issues of Batman: Three Jokers. His designs for Batman, Batgirl, Red Hood, and all the Jokers came across as the iconic versions of the characters. This is how each of them should always look like in their appearances.

Fabok also did a lot of phenomenal work in creating a timeline that felt seamless. There was a consistent look to whenever we saw the Golden Age, Silver Age, and modern era being brought together that all felt like they belonged in the same world. That is all thanks to how Fabok drew these characters and their history so that you never felt taken out of the story. You were always engaged from an artwork standpoint.

That all helped the actual world of Gotham City that Fabok drew have a life of its own. Fabok’s version of Gotham City had a good mix of different versions we have seen across various mediums. It felt modern while having a vibe of the Gotham City from the ’89 Batman movie and Batman: The Animate Series.

WHAT DOES THREE JOKERS MEAN FOR THE DC UNIVERSE’S FUTURE

When all was said and done Batman: Three Jokers is a forgettable story that added nothing to the mythology. Whether it was his intention or not Geoff Johns crafted a story that does not move the needle. Where we begin and end is the same spot with the war between Batman and Joker going on as normal, at least to them.

And that is really the biggest shame of this whole Batman: Three Jokers story. There is a feeling that it is for the best that this stays as a standalone story. There is no need to follow up on anything. It is something that was hyped up and promoted but now that its over we don’t have to think about it again. At the least we got a lot of great artwork from Jason Fabok, who once again showed that he is one of the best artists working in the industry right now.


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