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DC's Year of the Villain: Joker #1 Provides a Lurid, Uneven Tale

Of all the iconic, colorful antagonists in DC Comics' extensive rogues gallery, this has been a particularly big banner year for the Joker. With a new, buzzed-about film focused on the Clown Prince of Crime currently setting box office records in theaters worldwide and the character playing a memorable role in the final season of Gotham at the beginning of the year, the Joker has never been ubiquitous in mainstream pop culture than this moment in time.

The latest Year of the Villain special spotlights the longtime Batman foe, with groundbreaking filmmaker John Carpenter joining as a co-writer. Unfortunately, the resulting one-shot is a little less than the sum of its impressive parts.

A departure from the usual Year of the Villain format due to Joker's violent falling out with Lex Luthor, the special does not have the criminal receive a deadly upgrade from Apex Lex but, rather, shows a typical night on the town for the serial killing crime boss as he returns to Gotham after time incarcerated. Told through the perspective of one of his henchmen, the freewheeling pair descend into a dark odyssey around the city, leaving a trail of bodies and untold amounts of property damage in their wake as Joker's lackey just tries to survive the night with his murderously unhinged boss.

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With Carpenter being one of the most recognizable names in American horror cinema, the one-shot certainly veers into more terrifying content than most mainstream superhero fare. The prolific filmmaker is joined by co-writer Anthony Burch, with the resulting story depicting the Joker committing some of the most heinous, twisted acts in recent memory. The only thing consistent about his portrayal here is his manic brand of malevolence permeating across every page as he launches his latest, lurid rampage through the streets of Gotham -- rich with nods to other classic moments in the villain's history.

While the script works effectively in spurts, the pacing is all over the place, unfortunately, partially due to the Joker's inherent chaotic nature and his henchman as a purposefully unreliable narrator across the entire issue. There are developments introduced in the story that could potentially lead to interesting detours and avenues for the creative team to explore further but, just as quickly, are often abruptly closed so the issue can march onward to a rather muted, rushed conclusion.

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This uneven sense in the script also extends to the artwork, with penciler Philip Tan joined by no less than four credited inkers, alongside his own inks. Together with colorist Jay David Ramos, the visuals are dark and gloomy. The decision to frame some of the smaller panels in the Joker's signature, maniacal cackle in a garish onomatopoeia isn't a particularly effective one. Like the script, when the art lands, it does so with nightmarish aplomb but, sadly, this happens all too inconsistently.

The creative team is not afraid to pull their punches, both narratively and visually but -- just as the Joker revels in chaos -- the overall final product is too uneven and inconsistent a read for its own good. Nightmarish and terrifying but also muddled and murky, DC's Year of the Villain: Joker #1 is an amusing love letter to the Clown Prince of Crime but leaves fans of the character and co-writer John Carpenter's work hungry for something just a little more effective.

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