The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 Review: A Complicated Bag of Tricks

In April of 1940, The Joker made his first appearance in Batman #1, forever changing the topography of comic book villains. Over the next eighty years, the Clown Prince of Crime has reflected the horrors and evils of our ever-changing society in ways that have ranged from extravagant to macabre. Unsurprisingly, DC's modern-day tribute to The Joker's storied history, this week's The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1, is comfortable existing in both of those extremes. The collection of short stories, brought to life by a slew of wildly-different writers and artists, falls into some of the trappings that plague any sort of anniversary special, but still provides a largely-entertaining reading experience.

While each of the ten stories is wildly different in quality and execution, they do share some common ground. One of the strongest throughlines in the special, toyed with to varying degrees, is The Joker's obsession with Batman. While the two characters have done this song-and-dance for eighty years, more recent interpretations—including The LEGO Batman Movie and the Harley Quinn animated series—have really leaned into the infatuation the pair shares. Batman's appearance in a majority of the stories here, allows that fresh characterization to emerge with some entertaining results. On the flip side, a surprising strength of the issue is that only one story and one pin-up illustration feature Harley Quinn, a character who some general audiences still reduce to simply being "The Joker's girlfriend." The one story she's featured in is Paul Dini (who co-created Harley) and Riley Rossmo's "The Last Smile," a tale that effectively shows how much Harley has grown to become her own character.

Of course, that brings us to one of the biggest draws of the issue—the origin of Punchline, a mysterious femme fatale teased as The Joker's new love interest for months. Without getting too deep into spoilers (although they've already been online for more than a day), Punchline's initial relationship to The Joker won't be what fans are expecting. James Tynion IV and Mike Janin's introduction of Punchline in "What Comes After a Joke?" gives her agency and uniqueness, while also saying a lot about the complicated way The Joker has become a symbol for disenfranchisement, alienation, and anarchy.

That decades-long mutation of The Joker—from a giddy prankster to a symbol of those seeking revenge on a society that wronged them—has obviously had some tragic repercussions in the real world. That dichotomy is reflected through a lot of the stories in this anniversary special, without ever drastically dragging the plot down or openly admitting how problematic The Joker often is. There are some stories that lean more heavily into his depravity—Scott Snyder and Jock's "Scars" and Tom Taylor and Eduardo Risso's "Birthday Bugs", especially—in a way that could make younger readers squeamish. Yet other stories lean more into the fact that, in a majority of his iterations, Joker is primarily an agent of chaos. Gary Whitta, Greg Miller, and Dan Mora's "Kill the Batman" does so in a clever fashion, while Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's "Two Fell Into the Hornet's Nest" comes across like a twisted and charming take on Golden Age tropes.

As with nearly every anniversary collection, the aesthetics and attention to visuals are a bit scattershot. While fans will certainly pick and choose their favorites based on personal preference, Rossmo and Bermejo's art stand out for their creative styles. It's also worth highlighting Simone Bianchi's art on "The War Within," which transforms Peter J. Tomasi's script into a surreal and trippy journey.

Anniversary issues are typically a mixed bag, which is part of what makes them such an intriguing purchase for readers. The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular is certainly no exception, providing ten stories about the different sides of the Clown Prince of Crime's legacy without completely romanticizing him. Without getting into the weeds about each individual story, a majority are either well-written or visually compelling—and sometimes a mixture of both. While this isn't necessarily the most comforting read at the moment, it's still an entertaining one, and will surely have something to offer for a wide array of DC Comics fans.

Published by DC Comics

On June 9, 2020

Written by Various

Art by Various

Colors by Various

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Lettering by Various

Cover by Greg Capulllo and Fco Plascencia

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.