Eric: Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke and released as a one shot graphic novel in 2005. It’s reads as a direct sequel to Year One, dealing with Batman’s first encounter with the Joker.
I’m trying to remember what I thought when I first read this book way back when. In all honesty, I don’t think it left too much of an impact, it was just another book I grabbed at the Comic Book Palace (Haverhill, Ma). Sure, it was a little longer, being a graphic novel, but it read like any other one shot. At the time, I might have been interested in the Joker’s origin, but time has tempered that desire.
Kendra: I really liked this one. However, I wasn’t prepared for how dark it was. I have been watching a lot of the Batman animated series with Eric and though the Joker is bad news, we know Batman’s got it under control. Here, however, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. In Gotham’s defense, they had never dealt with The Joker before so they truly had no idea what to expect.
Even though Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written 18 years after Year One, it is still written in the same style. We get to hear the entire story by going back and forth between Batman and Gordon’s points of view. Also, it seems to take place not long after Year One. Gordon is captain but still not commissioner, and he fills us in on what Batman has been up to since showing up on the scene. It was cool to read them back to back so it seems like a continuous story.
Eric: The problem with being a sequel to Year One is that the book just isn’t as good. I don’t mean it should or could be at Year One’s level, but it’s not as good as a story for what it’s doing. It gets from point A to point B, but without any real pathos or style. Considering this is the first battle between two legendary characters, you would expect to see something memorable.
Joker kills some people. Batman thinks maybe the Joker was the Red Hood. Joker is going to poison Gotham’s water supply. Batman stops him. The end.
It’s not very compelling. Jim Gordon is in it, narrating like he did Year One. The problem is that Gordon doesn’t do anything besides serving as exposition. Where his story was just as important as Batman’s in Miller’s tale, here Gordon is used because Year One used him. He explains what’s happening, gives us some plot and reaction to the Joker’s crimes, but he’s basically useless.
Kendra: Like I said before, this is really dark which is not usually my style but it worked. Some of the pictures were hard to look at. While reading this I realized that I was seeing a side of the Joker I had not seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Joker’s poisonous laughing gas seems to be an integral part of the character in the comics and animated series, but they left it completely out of the movie. I wish Nolan had used this in his film. I think maybe they didn’t use it because in Batman Begins, the Scarecrow tried to poison the water system. Still, Joker loses some of his personality when all he’s doing is planting bombs everywhere.
Eric: The parts that work for me in this book are small. Seeing the victims of Joker’s experiments as he tries to perfect his toxin is creepy, if not overly grotesque. Batman may feel responsible for the Joker and he’s willing to make some hard choices to stop the clown’s plans. If this is canon, I suppose it gives us the most solid look at the Joker’s origin, but we might have been better off not knowing.
Mahnke’s art is solid, but too sketchy for my taste. Realism is nice, but Year One had that and wasn’t ever ugly. His Bruce Wayne looks older than Gordon at times. The Joker gets the benefits here, as he does look like a scary clown, but it’s still done is a way that tries to remind us that this grounded. Depending on your taste for such things, your mileage might vary with Mahnke’s art style.
Kendra: The only other problem I had with it was there was no big fight at the end. Batman just blew up what Joker needed and that was it. He did it in the nick of time but it still seemed too easy. I liked seeing Batman’s struggle with whether or not to kill the Joker. I did like being reassured that Batman is truly out for justice and that he’s not a killer (How ‘bout that Man of Steel)! Overall I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. A must read for any true Batman fan. Just be prepared to see the Jokers most evil side.
Eric: Kendra’s review makes mine sound harsh. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is still a solid comic book, telling a story as well as it can. It was also a sequel written twenty years later from the first part. But it doesn’t do anything more, or say anything about the relationship between the Joker and Batman/Gordon/Gotham.
Next week is our first recap week. I’ll be flying solo as I look at other stories set between Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Batman: The Long Halloween. This won’t be a ‘reread’ because I’m just working off of memory, but some (all) of these tales are still worth checking out. If you want to check them out before then, here’s the list;
Batman: Year Two
Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Batman: Dead to Rights
I’ve been in a huge Batman mood lately. I’m rewatching Batman: The Animated Series (which hopefully will go all the way to Justice League Unlimited). I also started listening to Fatman on Batman with Kevin Smith and that’s been rekindling my whole love affair with the character. The thing about Batman, for me, is that my interest in him doesn’t stem from the comics. Where I feel in love with the X-Men and Daredevil through the old stories, Batman is a character who encompasses every form of media and I was introduced to through cartoons, movies and video games.
But when I did get into the comics, I got into them hard. I started with No Man’s Land, but then started into the classics, Year One, Dark Knight Returns and the Long Halloween. I haven’t stopped since either, and the amount of Batman comics I’ve read is second only to the X-Men.
But I want to read them again.
It’s been maybe a decade since I read my first Batman comics and I haven’t reread most of them since. Now it’s time to go back. So, I’m going to reread all the old classics, my favorites and the new stuff. Below, is my reading order from top to bottom.
The Man Who Laughs
Quick Looks Part One
The Long Halloween
The Killing Joke
Death in the Family
No Man’s Land
Under the Red Hood
Batman and Son
Heart of Hush
Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader?
The Court of Owls
Death of the Family
The Dark Knight Returns
I’m reading them in story-chronological, not publication order. This lets me end with the Dark Knight Returns, which seems to make sense for the whole plan. Also, there are some key stories that I don’t feel like rereading because I didn’t like them (Knightfall) or they don’t seem as important (The Cult), but I’m still going to comment on them when they would come up chronologically. This way, I don’t have to get through Grant Morrison’s crap again.
As a note, if you haven’t read them, don’t expect a full summary of the stories. One thing I can’t stand about most rereads/rewatches is that they spend 85% of the text explaining the episode, and then add a quip comment or two.
Also, my lovely wife will be (hopefully) reading them too and commenting. It’s going to be her first time through each of them, so we get another perspective on how the books have aged and other neat bits. So, most likely, this will be a regular (weekly) production on the blog. Feel free to read along and comment as I work through this list.