The new Joker’s Daughter got a spotlight back in September as part of DC’s Villains Month, and the end result was so cringe-inducing that it was hard to imagine anyone wanting to see the character again. Enter Marguerite Bennett and Meghan Hetrick, who are given the heavy lifting task of trying to fix the character. And by the end of the issue, I feel like they’re on the right track.
First off, the art in “Batman: Joker’s Daughter” is striking. Hetrick’s art reminds me of creators like Adam Pollina, with a slightly stretchy, elongated look to her creations. The splash across pages 2-3 of “Batman: Joker’s Daughter” is an attention-grabber right from the start, with the twisted school bus burning taking center stage. She’s taken a lot of care to make it look impressive; the crushed front of the vehicle, the twisted and shattered emergency exit, the pile of metal under the back of the bus. The billowing smoke is in many ways what sells it, though; Hetrick’s clouds draw the reader’s eye up into the sky with them, with Michelle Madsen providing just the right colors as it shifts from yellow to red to gray and black. The backgrounds here are just as impressive; I love how the buildings arc up and cradle the scene, as if through a fish-eye lens. It makes the scene feel enclosed despite being outside, and pulls everything into the center. It’s a great way to control the reader’s eye, keep them looking at the central action. At the same time, if you do follow the smoke up into the sky, it’s there where you’ll see the shadow of Batman swinging in. It’s a little detail that you might otherwise miss, but I appreciate that he’s almost a little bonus if you catch him before he smashes into the foreground on the next page.
The new Joker’s Daughter also benefits a great deal from Hetrick’s touch. Her look of the Joker’s discarded face pulled across hers looked raggedy and a little unrecognizable before (it felt more like a piece of cloth than an actual hunk of flesh), but Hetrick steps that up a notch. She’s much more Joker-esque under Hetrick’s care, with that big grin now feeling like a mixture of madness and glee. Before, the Joker’s Daughter looked laughable, now she’s the one whose laughs are dangerous. Hetrick also makes Arkham Asylum feel positively spooky, as the Joker’s Daughter walks through its depths. Like a mixture between a funhouse and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” it’s surreal and creepy with its checkerboard floors, vaulting hallways, and glowing cells. There’s a lot of mood and presence to “Batman: Joker’s Daughter,” and that’s exactly what is needed to help fix this character.
Bennett’s script also does its best to make the Joker’s Daughter a little more palatable. I feel like she’s the one performing the most damage control, as the previous origin of the character is thrown into much more doubt than it had been. There had been hints of an unreliable narrator in “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.4 (although that could have also just been problems with the script and its meshing with the art), but Bennett makes that explicit here. Instead of feeling like a retcon, though, Bennett’s take is much more along the lines of a character trait. It works, too; it makes the Joker’s Daughter come across as erratic and dangerous, someone whose view of the world is so untrustworthy that it makes her a menace to all those around her. By the time the issue closes, Bennett has given Hetrick a script that alters the visuals in a way that makes her less ridiculous looking and more interesting. Bennett’s decision is a good one, and it fits into the continued rehabilitation of the character into one that you can take somewhat seriously.
I also like that Bennett takes a little bit of time with some of the background characters. It’s not much, but it turns them from blank faces to be threatened into someone that you may actually care about a little bit. I would have liked to get even some more time with them to help turn them into fully three-dimensional characters, but at the same time I do understand that this comic is “Batman: Joker’s Daughter” and not “Batman: The Employees of Arkham Asylum.” And to be fair, with its expanded page count, “Batman: Joker’s Daughter” at times does feel a little dragging in places; I think that may have to do more with the amount of work that needed to be performed on Joker’s Daughter to get her into a state where she’s usable. Future stories starring the character won’t need to perform all the heavy lifting that’s tackled here.
Ultimately I need to hand it to Bennett and Hetrick. They’ve turned an awful character into one poised to be much better in the future. With such a long one-shot, I would have loved to see all of this happen in just the first half and get some of the revised Joker’s Daughter in the second half, but ultimately they’ve done such a thankless job that I can’t complain too much. The next time that the Joker’s Daughter makes an appearance, I’d like to see Bennett and Hetrick helm the comic again. I feel like they’ve done all of the hard work; let them reap some of the rewards, too.