by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Last time Tom King and Mikel Janin put out a Joker story — in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” — the Clown Prince of Crime wasn’t exactly himself. Batman 48, then, gives King and Janin a chance to show their take on a more platonic form of the Joker. He’s probably more manic and scrambled than usual, but just as devious, cunning, and ruthless as ever. Most importantly, though, this Joker is wickedly funny. Batman 48 is jam-packed with black humor and perfectly constructed (albeit remarkably morbid) jokes. In fact, the entire issue can be viewed as one long set-up to a perfect punchline.
Now when I say morbid, I mean morbid — the issue opens on a man in a church, praying and begging to God for his life only to be shot in the head by the Joker. It’s sad, it’s tragic, but it’s also a bit of a joke its own right, albeit one where the “punchline” is the fact that, in Gotham, God has no power over evil. As if to reemphasize this, on the next page Janin and King cut to a stained-glass portrait of Jesus before cutting to another stained-glass window, this time draped in the shadowy silhouette of Batman mere moments before he bursts through the window. It’s a loaded metaphor, to say the least.
The jokes become more traditional from here on out, but no less morbid. The next page finds the Joker taking a bride hostage, “accidentally” shooting her in the head before he can even finish warning Batman to back off. I’ll admit that I had to choke back laughter here — especially because Joker himself looks so surprised by how things played out! — but then I also felt really bad about laughing. These kind of jokes continue throughout the issue, culminating in one that’s just about perfect.
The only way this could be funnier was if there was a page-turn between the first and second panel. The subversion between what the audience expects the Joker will say and what he ends up saying is a brilliant bit of set-up and punchline. It’s also a smaller version of the joke this entire issue turns out to be playing.
It’s a joke whose set-up actually began all the way back in DC Nation 0, where Joker learned of Batman’s upcoming nuptials and tortured and killed a man while waiting for his invitation. Joker’s showing the same kind of madness when he attacks this church just to attract Batman’s attention; Joker’s so unhinged, and such an agent of chaos on even his best day, that the audience likely isn’t questioning his motives. He’s the Joker — he’s obligated to crash Batman’s wedding. Then the issue hits us with this:
Joker’s motive hits out of the blue, yet is absolutely, 100% in character, and perfectly set-up by the rest of this story. The explosion (Joker put a bomb in the cross) might as well represent the punchline itself, or readers’ reactions to it. Joker quite literally drops a bomb, and proceeds to slowly change from there; he continues his monologue about his mother, seemingly just as unhinged as before, but this time with a point. Life is either love or chaos, and if he can’t be the best man for his twisted love, then he’ll be chaos incarnate. It’s logical and deranged in equal measure — it’s, in short, the Joker. The end of Batman 48 is both a fantastic reveal and a perfect punchline to everything that came before.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?