When it was revealed in 2016’s Darkseid War that there wasn’t just one Joker running around in the DC Universe but three, like many others I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. My knee-jerk response was that it was another cheap concept designed to sell more comic books. I was also pretty quick to assume that the big twist will probably be explained away with clones or evil triplets like something right out of a soap opera. Additionally, the very concept itself makes the mistake of taking away from the mystique of the Joker, a character where less explanation has always been more.
Naturally, with that in mind, I approached Batman: The Three Jokers, the monthly comic series by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok which delves into the subject, with significant apprehension. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that its first issue was less about the gimmickry of triplets and clones but more of a thoughtful exploration of trauma through the lens of the Batfamily and with Joker as the mirror.
In the comic, the three Jokers reveal themselves by committing three simultaneous murders in different parts of Gotham. All the while leaving hints and indicators that they are each the real Joker. The three also do have their own identities, The Criminal, The Clown, and the Comedian with each being responsible for different traumatic events in the Bat family’s lives. Specifically, they hint that The Comedian was responsible for Batgirl’s torture and paralysis in the events of The Killing Joke; The Clown was tortured and killed the Red Hood in the events of Death In the Family, and The Criminal having ties to the vicious gang war that led Batman’s parents being murdered. The pages of this first issue explore and revisit these traumatic touchstones in each of these three characters’ lives, how they cope with the pain, and how it has ultimately changed them.
Batman’s vignette in the opening scene sets the tone for the whole issue. He is badly injured hobbling home from another night of crime-fighting. We see his body, as it’s being mended by Alfred, with an immeasurable number of scars. We then see them juxtaposed to flashback panels of how he got them. Bane, Scarecrow, Catwoman all have contributed to the cacophony but not as much as one, singular person has— The Joker. They show how much he’s put the caped crusader through in all the years of their eternal struggle— yet Batman keeps doing what he’s doing.
Batman has gotten to the point where his trauma steels his resolve. Without a doubt, it weighs heavy on him still but he has learned to control it. He has learned to channel his pain to continue his mission. More than any member of his family, Batman has endured through so much anguish and grief that he has learned to redirect and use it for good.
We then see Batgirl on the treadmill working out in the gym. When she hears a news report about the Joker murders, it infuriates her. She runs faster on the treadmill until she causes it to break as onlookers watch her walk away in amazement. In the showers, she remembers the pain and horror that the Joker put her through and it still haunts her to this day.
Batgirl does her best to keep her pain in check but sometimes, like in this scene, she can’t stop them from bubbling to the surface. The scene shows that Babs hasn’t fully come to terms with her trauma just yet and parts of it manifest in unexpected ways. Unlike Bruce, there’s more of a struggle here to control it.
This scene also touches on her putting up a strong appearance to hide the damage underneath. She pushes her legs, the very thing Joker took away from her, to the brink on the treadmill almost as an act of defiance, astounding everyone in the gym around her. However in her unguarded moments in the isolation of the shower, her pain is undeniable.
Our final stop on the pain train is Jason Todd aka The Red Hood. Where there was a semblance of control in both Bruce and Barbara, in Jason there is only anger. Jason’s trauma has brought him down the darkest path among the three. He rages at his enemies brutalizing them and even almost relishing in their pain. Later on in the issue, he shakes down one of the survivors of the Joker attacks even as the latter is being rushed to receive medical care. There is no control here, only blind rage fueled by hate and pain. This fury also leads him to crossing a line in the climax of the issue, which I will not spoil here.
In many ways, I think it’s really cool that instead of the titular three Jokers, the focus of this first issue is the trio of Bat-family members that the Joker/Jokers have hurt the most. In many ways, they represent 3 distinct points in the spectrum of dealing with trauma. Batman is the most positive, all things considered, with his trauma pushing him forward to continue on his mission, despite the physical and mental toll. Jason is on the opposite end. He might fight on the side of good but he sees his enemies as a justification to let loose his rage born from his trauma regardless of consequences. Barbara is somewhere in the middle of the two. She wants to refocus her pain and use it for good, but she’s just not there yet.
I think it’s safe to say that this thoughtful and evocative analysis into grief and trauma was not what I expected with Three Jokers. It’s a very pleasant surprise that led me to actually enjoy the first issue. There’s a very human quality underlying this story of superheroes and supervillains which gives it a lot of potential to tell a unique and insightful tale. Hopefully, if Three Jokers continues with this introspective journey with our heroes and delves deep into some long-standing canon, we’ll have a story worth telling, regardless of how many clones or evil twins there might eventually end up being.
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