Long before it was published, “Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Joker’s Daughter” has held a lot of interest with fans. The old character of Duela Dent has always grabbed people’s attention in concept, even if she was rarely seen and in questionable executions. Now, a new Duela is around for the New 52, but Ann Nocenti and Georges Jeanty’s comic feels clumsy and at odds with itself.
Part of the problem is the basic plotting itself. It’s hard to buy Duela’s transformation from loner and outsider, to leader and psychopath. Aspects of her personality shift in order to fuel the plot, rather than the other way around. I don’t mind the idea that Duela went from a neglected child to someone that eventually rules the undercity of Gotham, but we need more than what Nocenti serves up here in order to make it believable.
For a story that feels like it’s missing a lot of crucial scenes that explain the various shifts and transformations, “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.4 also feels like sometimes there’s too much going on. There are dismissive (bordering on evil) parents, self-mutilation, anorexia and sadism all wrapped up into Duela’s childhood, and with each new piece it gets harder to swallow. If Nocenti had dialed things back a bit, the overall effect might have been a bit smoother and more enjoyable to read. There’s enough in this comic to fuel half a dozen issues in a more interesting manner.
Part of the problem is also that the art at times doesn’t seem to quite agree with the comic. When Duela is born, it’s never clear just what her perfection-obsessed father is recoiling from. The narration from Duela is supposed to be unreliable and false, so the comment, “I was flawless,” doesn’t sync up to where Jeanty has obligingly drawn a perfect baby. Likewise, the random barbed wire and the mobile of knives are insinuated in the text to be not true, but once again it’s in the art. I can’t tell what went wrong here, but Nocenti and Jeanty’s contributions don’t quite cooperate.
It probably doesn’t help matters that Jeanty (who drew most of the last two “seasons” of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comics) has drawn the unmasked Duela to look just like Buffy, or that the discarded Joker face that Duela uses doesn’t actually look like the Joker in the slightest. At the end of the comic, the perspective feels horribly off, unless part of the story that we didn’t see involved Charon being shrunken to the size of a baby doll. Even little details, like just how the metallic crescent moon is supposed to be attached to Duela’s wooden staff, end up not looking right or believable.
For all the kerfuffle over “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.4, this is a comic that you shouldn’t be rushing to the store in order to snag a copy. Let the speculators go wild and allow this one to pass you by. Within six months, I think most readers will be trying to forget all about the new Joker’s Daughter.