With the first issue of Batman: Three Jokers, writer Geoff Johns and artist Jason Fabok begin a tale first teased at the start of DC Rebirth over four years ago. This Black Label mini-series will purportedly dig into the mystery surrounding a trio of Jokers while also examining the larger place of the villain in the lives of Batman and other members of the Bat-family. The first issue sets the stage for this dissection and is delivered with reverence, if not a little too much re-treading of familiar territory. The troubles with the inaugural issue are giving readers too little of its story, not even elaborating on the inherit mystery anymore than DC Rebirth #1 did years ago, but stellar art and surprising narrative turns still demand plenty of attention.
It's clear from the beginning of this story that Three Jokers isn't just about how and why these three versions of the same villain exist, but the damage all three of them have done in the DC Universe. The first quarter of the issue is dedicated exclusively to Batman and the extent his body has been broken over the years. Page after page by Fabok showcases scars across his body and how he received each, with most originating from his many past encounters with The Joker. This is a story about scars—how they are formed and sometimes create new ones. The start of this comic is one of the better Batman tales in recent memory.
This is also where some of the comic's ethos becomes transparent as Fabok and Johns are playing the hits in setting up their story. Bane breaking Batman's back gets a nod, Scarecrow blasting Batman with fear toxin, and other villain vignettes are seen throughout. These moments are all things you already know and like as all of Bruce's reflections on pain are pulled directly from DC lore. Additionally, the introductions of Batgirl and Red Hood also focus on scars The Joker caused them, and they echo like encores of 80s arena rock anthems. Fans of Joker will find plenty to like here as no stone from his history is left unturned, but for this to be a full third of the entire narrative feels far too referential.
When thinking about this in terms of the broader narrative it can feel tiresome, but Fabok makes it work by bringing his own style and flair to these critical moments. He also uses a 9 panel grid to its fullest effect, intersecting present day drama with reflections in flashback and digging into the minutiae of the story itself. Colorist Brad Anderson deserves special shout out for elevating these moments even further. There are times where it can feel like too much though, leaving too much of the in-between panel movement in the art to be answered by even more panels.
Naturally, the detective angle of the story works as the three members of the Bat-family put their heads together and follow the trail of these three Jokers, and these moments work well. When the actual Jokers appear, not just memories about them, new energy arrives in these pages. It's clear that these villains are the thing Fabok and Johns love seeing in comics because they feel simultaneously fresh and classic. Batman versus The Joker is a staple for a reason, and these creators make you remember why right here.
Even though only some headway is actually made in terms of plot in Batman: Three Jokers #1—learning little readers didn't already know—there are still surprises to be found. Two moments in particular give the first issue more punch than it would possess otherwise and allow for a strong lead into the next chapter of this saga, for better or for worse. Jason Fabok does the heavy lifting throughout, particularly in granular details of the Batcave, crime scenes, and the three Jokers themselves, but there's little momentum in these pages to carry interest and attention into issue #2. On page 1 readers already knew "There are three Jokers, now what?" and the first 45 pages of this 48 page issue don't offer much more. One thing is for sure though, those final three will be talked about for a long time to come.
Published by DC Comics
On August 25, 2020
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok
Colors by Brad Anderson3comments
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson