Batman: Joker’s Lasts Laugh is a 6-issue miniseries that ran in 2001-2002, written by comic vets Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty and drawn by a host of artists. The premise: The Joker, while incarcerated is told he has an inopperable brain tumor and that his time is short. Driven mad by the thought of dying against his will (can he really be driven any more mad?) the Joker easily breaks out prison, bringing with him a cadre of other baddies – and just for kicks – “jokerizes” them all with his patented drug that puts a smile on everybody’s face. The series included cross-over issues in “the bat books”.
Giving a character like the Joker a brain tumor is a brilliant twist to drive the story. I loved the idea. Beatty and Dixon created a plot in the muddled continuity of the Batman that was both original and believable.
This was not your average Batman vs. Joker story. Babs Gordon, Dick Grayson and the other Bat-protege’s were the central characters while Batman took the back seat. This story was as much about Babs Gordon dealing with her hatred for the Joker as it was about the Joker reconciling his mortality.
Also, the Joker in this story was a return to the Joker of the 70’s – laughing, colorful, funny, and still homicidal on a whim. The perfect vilian. Too many of the newer Joker stories relish in the darkness of his sadism. It was good to read a story that remembers he’s still a guy with bright green hair and purple pinstripes. The Joker Beatty and Dixon wrote is closer to the original character than many who are on the shelves today.
Lastly, Brian Bolland’s cover art for issue 1 and 6. His pencils are always just detailed enough to be creepy.
A common weakness of cross-over story lines is sloppiness. Art and plot typically become inconsistent – i.e. in Book A the character breaks his arm. The next piece of the story is in Book B where the character’s arm is fine and he’s also wearing the wrong costume. I thought that because this was a stand alone miniseries these problems might not occur, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Every issue had a different team of artists and by issue 3 of 6 we were already seeing jarring differences from the beginning of the story. Pete Woods’ bold lines and whimsical facial expressions were replaced by Walter McDaniel’s cramped, dirty style, filled with women that looked more grotesque than beautiful.
Another major inconsistency was the outfit of Babs Gordon. Almost every issue featured a dramatically different pair of glasses, hairstyle, and wheelchair. This may sound picky, but the character only has three identifying traits: bright red hair, glasses, and a wheel chair. If you can’t get those things right about her, then what does the character have?
Batman: Joker’s Last Laugh is a unique story, weakened by poor quality art. The bat proteges and the Joker shine as characters, but the inconsistency in the visuals from issue to issue was too striking to be easily overlooked. Three out of five stars.