The ability to turn something so common and cliche into something fresh is a skill every cultural medium needs. When the commodity you are dealing with is known for different takes and has the ability to constantly change and so is addressed in a multitude of ways, it becomes difficult to write a new chapter without hitting the cliche that is the ethereal nature of the beast. Of course, I’m talking about the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime who has been written in a myriad of ways and so to take a new direction with this guy is the cliche nowadays.
What skill, then, that Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla manage to weave an introductory arc here for Batman’s oldest and greatest foe that sets him up within the parameters of this story perfectly, and then chills you to the bone. Francavilla draws the Joker without his smile, and we see his brand of madness through his eyes. It’s a simple concept that feels like everyone must have thought of it before, right? It relies on the execution and Francavilla nails it completely. His coloring on the Joker’s scenes is the best work he has ever done. The scene is so serious it’s gone to Argento Lighting and the effect is ultimate creepiness.
Snyder’s script then brings this weirdly Lewis Carroll playfulness to the dialogue and ends on a smart note that shows Snyder knows how to research, how to weave layers, and how to bring you exactly what you want in a new and exciting manner. This doesn’t even begin to touch the B-track of this issue which is building upon the reveal of James Gordon Jr. from the last issue. Somehow, Snyder has turned “Detective Comics” into one of the best psychological horror comics on the stands without us truly realizing it.
You can be forgiven for feeling like the Gordon plot doesn’t crest anywhere near as high as the Joker pages, because they don’t. They’re a slow burn. But if you slow it down and remember that these players are all family, fathers and siblings, then you feel the passion and pain they are going through. Seeing your son/brother once more and not trusting him is a terrible thing to feel. This isn’t an easy process for Jim or Barbara and the drama is there, it’s just not as flashy as watching the Joker do his thing. Remember, that doesn’t mean they still aren’t exceptional pages. Great horror is invested in personal stories and human emotion.
The ultimate synchronicity comes from the fact the Gordons have dealt with the Joker far too often, and far too personally. The Joker is the greatest villain to the Gordon legacy and yet now that behavior is suddenly even more close to home. A call back to a great old Joker set up brings resonance to James Jr.’s actions, and the drama is all so personal. The horror echoes through the years and resonates into the heart of every Gordon family member.
“Detective Comics” isn’t just a slasher case. It’s smart horror. This is the sort of case file you could spend thousands of words annotating to see the blood spatter-like links between everything. There’s a master plan of fate at play here and Snyder holds all the prompts. This is a comic that makes you think and then scares you because of what it makes you think. It’s an intellectual devastation of the landscape of one family in Gotham, not to be missed.