Sometimes books get a bad wrap. Joker’s Last Laugh is definitely one of those. Frankly, the mandatory tie-ins did become way to0 much, but I just finished reading the main mini-series for the first time and actually liked it. So here goes the review of
Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh (2001)
Written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty
Drawn by Pete Woods, Marcos Martin, Walter McDaniel, Andy Kuhn, Ron Randall & Rick Burchett
Starring The Joker, Nightwing, Batman, Oracle, Black Canary, a legion of Joker-ized super-villains and Shilo Norman, the dude who used to be and now is Mr. Miracle (kinda/maybe)
So, here’s the basic plot of the story: Joker finds out he’s dying, so he sets this elaborate plan in motion to poison a huge number of villains in the DCU with a gas that makes them go crazy Joker-style. There’s a lot of twists and turns along the way, including (SPOILER) the fact that the Joker’s not really dying (it was a prank pulled on him by a doctor in the Slab) and that Nightwing beats the Joker to death. Yup, it’s true. But someone else (Batman, Spoiler, Robin, Nightwing or Huntress, we’re not sure) actually brings him back. Crazy right?
What really interests me about this story is that it doesn’t really feel like a big crossover. It doesn’t star a big character, except for Joker himself I guess (Batman’s hardly in it). Nightwing, Oracle and Shilo Norman, who was in charge of security for The Slab at the time, and, obviously Joker, all take center stage at times. But Joker gets the most face time, making him the real star. And a villain as the star of a big crossover like this is really interesting.
As the star, Joker shines. Dixon and Beatty give him a great, crazy, ingenious voice and we really get to see how smart of a villain he is. Not only did he figure out the chemistry involved in turning the Slab’s nerve gas into Joker gas, but he continues to use the supervillains and their powers as tools to continue his assault on humanity. He even continually kills Multi-Man (who gets a new superpower every time he dies and comes back to life) until he gets the right power to bust them out of prison.
I’m also a fan of the art. Pete Woods and Marcos Martin especially bring their style to the wacky world of the Joker and it really fits well. Even though a different artist handles each issue and they each have fairly unique styles and inkers, the book still retains a fun, fluid continuity from issue to issue.
And really, I think that’s why I liked Joker’s Last Laugh, it’s fun. Which is weird to say about a story staring a lunatic facilitating untold murders (and even lighting enough fires on the earth that the JLA could see a sneering smiley face from the Watchtower). In the end, the DCU is pretty much the same as it was before the story started, but Nightwing and Oracle have definitely been changed and God only knows what’s going on in the Joker’s mind. Oh, the Slab also ended up in the South Pole due to some weird teleportation thanks to Black Mass. I do kind of hope that DC puts out a companion book, though, because it seems like there’s some fairly important plot points that took place in other issues (like Robin going up against Killer Croc which results in Nightwing thinking he’s dead), but for the most part, LL is a complete story that kept me entertained and reminded me about how different comics were even 7 years ago. Can you imagine this creative team doing a line-wide crossover now?