DC Comics has released The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular, celebrating nearly a century of Joker stories and lore in the Batman Universe. One of those stories is "The War Within" by Peter J. Tomasi and Simone Bianchi, and it is one of the more surreal Joker stories in the book, with a pretty unsettling final piece of imagery. Basically, DC lets Joker take a walk in Batman's shoes - quite literally. After a vicious battle between Batman and The Joker's forces, The Dark Knight is murdered in battle, leaving only The Joker to take up the mantle of The Batman!
To be fair, there's much about "The War Within" that seems to clearly indicate that what we're actually seeing is Joker going through the paces of staging a Batman vs. Joker battle, with the Clown Prince of Crime taking on the role of Batman. The last line of the story may in fact reveal the purpose of such an insane exercise, as Joker's monologue states "Here's to crime, because the more I walk in your skin, the more I learn how to beat you. Which makes me want to smile even more, Batman."
The final panel shows Joker in full Batman costume, standing in what looks like the wreckage of some kind of demented training room, which is filled with Joker memorabilia, like those creepy child dolls from The Dark Knight Returns, and his old Red Hood outfit. What we don't see is the corpse of Batman, who Joker seemingly shot down, pretty much confirming that the sequence of the story is Joker's twisted fantasy of how to kill Batman, by going through the process of fighting like Batman.
The final image above is as surreal and powerful as the rest of Tomasi's story. Joker holding a blade in a bloodied, tattered, Batman costume is striking, but Joker's hair being a Medusa-style nest of serpents suggests that reality still isn't quite in solid focus, even as this story ends. If it wasn't disturbing enough, a small final panel sees Joker carving an even wider smile into his face with his curved blade, in sweet (erotic?) anticipation of his next battle with his rival.
Modern Joker stories have been careening more toward this kind of surrealist rendering, as Joker has aged into a sort of post-modern phase of his own existence. That ball got rolling back in the '80s with creators like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, but has thankfully continued on the comic page, TV screen, and even the big screen. Here's to a century of Joker.
The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular is now on sale.