There is a sense of the mythical about this story. Rereading it after many years, I found the story very simple and direct, without the many-tentacled subplots that plague many other graphic novels that tries a little too hard. It conveniently starts with Batman, arriving in Arkham Asylum, intending to have a heart-to-heart with the Joker in order to reach some form of a closure in their very tenuous relationship. There wasn’t a sense as to why Batman wanted to do this out of the blue, it seems to me. Anyway, instead of the Joker, Batman finds that a decoy has been put in his Arkham cell. Joy.
The Joker wants to corrupt Commissioner Gordon and drive him insane to ‘prove a point’. The point here apparently being that a perfectly good person can on a turn of a hat turn into a bad one by virtue of being prodded in the wrong way ‘on a bad day’. I find this conceit problematic, but then Joker is supposed to be insane, so maybe that’s the point. The problem isn’t just there. In the subsequent pages immediately after it was discovered that the Joker has escaped Akham, it was established that the Joker has escaped from Arkham before. You’d think they’d do a little more to prevent this from happening more than once, but no. They couldn’t prevent a person who can’t wash off the white off his skin, unlike the decoy, from escaping a prison designed to hold super-criminals.
By far the resonating, rippling effect of this piece of work is not the story itself, but what happens to a pretty major character. [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – DON’T PROCEED IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF READING THIS]. It seems to me what happened to Barbara Gordon is the main reason why this story is so infamous, and not anything at all with either Joker’s origin story or his tendency to turn crime-fighting heroes insane. The book was originally published in 1988, and I think more than anything the act of violence against Barbara was really unlike anything that was seen in those days, and certainly not to a major character – an irreversible injury to a mainstream superhero. Moore already did his genre-busting turn on The Watchmen two years prior to this, but this one perhaps had some mileage because of Barbara’s goodness, and in a major comics universe to boot.
If you take out the implications of the Barbara scene, the story’s totally average. The chutzpah of the events leading up to the final showdown, however, elevate it just a little more about the average. Certainly the climate of the superheroes comicdom nowadays is so saturated with violence that something like this, a story touted as a major superhero tour-de-force or some blockbuster equivalent, such an event is not only common but expected. How very cynical the audience nowadays have become.
Art is excellent. Very 90s comics-art, but very well done.