Overview

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Review

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Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Credits

  • Words: Ed Brubaker
  • Art: Doug Mahnke
  • Inks: N/A
  • Colors: David Baron
  • Story Title: The Man Who Laughs
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $6.95
  • Release Date: Feb 9, 2005

It’s a story so old we almost take it for granted. Between movie retellings, sixties TV shenanigans, and cartoon re-workings, the origin of the Batman’s arch-nemesis seems like a story we’ve heard many times before. And yet so great is our fascination with the Joker that it seems to demand a telling one more time.

Comics have come a long way since the Red Hood first plunged into that chemical bath all those years ago. Batman’s been through plenty of changes himself since I was a kid, let alone since he was first introduced. One of the welcome shifts in the Bat universe is a renewed focus on the gritty detective side of the Bat’s persona, and for that reason, a gritty detective take on the classic story is probably a welcome one.

And who better than Ed Brubaker to be trusted with the reins on such a project? A veteran writer in the Batman universe, Brubaker always excels when it comes to Batman stories that feature big action but are also heavy on the police work and the Batman’s powers of detection. Gordon gets a big role in this story, and his interaction with Batman is great stuff.

The artwork in this special is of a very high caliber. The Joker’s victims have never looked more gruesome, and the rain-soaked crime-ridden streets of Gotham are shown in such marvelous detail that it’s easy to understand why Gordon wears that weary expression so often.

One of the high points in reading The Man Who Laughs is getting our first look at the Joker himself. Doug Mahnke has done a masterful job of rendering the Clown Prince of Crime, turning in a thinner, younger Joker than we’ve grown accustomed to in current continuity. The mischievous sparkle in his eye is ever present, something that shows Mahnke keenly understands his subject. After all, it’s easy to write the Joker off as just another loony with wide crazy eyes and insane plans, but the real scare about the Joker has always been that he’s smart.

This brings us to a note about the plot. Brubaker does a good job of writing a Batman that has never encountered a real supervillain before, to say nothing of a real criminal madman. The mystery is well laid-out, too, keeping the reader as baffled as Batman is with the introduction of each clue and bizarre happening. The resolution of that mystery, however, feels just a little flat. Granted, the Joker’s ultimate motive is part of an important lesson Batman has to learn about the new kinds of villains he has in part birthed, but all the clues and the mystery lead the reader to assume that there is an even greater method to the madness than what is revealed. Given the restrictions of a story that has already been told, this is forgivable. But it points to something the folks at DC should pay attention to.

The Man Who Laughs is a really solid Batman story. It’s well-written and the art suits it nicely. I have a few minor complaints with how some details are handled in this remake, but it was by and large one of the better stand-alone Batman stories I’ve read in a long while. Now, what the world really needs is a new Batman story told in this same format with this same solid talent put to that use. Give us a new mystery paying that same attention to the detail and the methods of madmen and detectives alike, and then we’ll really have something.

Obviously, re-telling a classic Batman origin story is part of an attempt to get the public excited for a movie this summer that is also going to deal with the Dark Knight’s early days. And yes, I’m excited. But unless someone starts contributing something fresh to Batman’s legacy, even the movies are going to run out of good stories worth re-telling.

- Jesse Vigil

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