Captain Jim Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department enters a murder scene unlike anything he has ever encountered. Likewise, for some of his veteran officers as well as a paramedic who begins to vomit, while carrying out one of the dead bodies. The victims appeared to have gone under some type of experiment, which has left them all dead with very large smiles on their faces. Batman joins Gordon, and both of them are unaware of what to make of this. Later, a psychotic clown ambushes a TV news crew to deliver threats to his next victims. Batman rushes to the scene in hopes of capturing this unknown murderer. -summary
Written by Ed Brubaker, Batman: The Man Who Laughs tells the story of Batman's first encounter with the psychotic Joker. It's definitely worth mentioning that the story follows Post Crisis continuity, and was also meant to be a sequel to Batman: Year One. Therefore, this story is more like a redux than anything else. In any case, I think this story ranks pretty high in the Joker mythos, and I consider it to be one of my favorite Batman stories. However, as good as the story may be to me, I still find the Killing Joke to be a bit better.
Ed Brubaker's take on the Joker was very interesting and entertaining to me. I felt he accurately captured what the character is all about. I found the characterization to be excellent all around, and none of the major characters came off as mere window dressing. In the case of The Joker, he is what he's always been, an unpredictable psychopath with no regards towards human life. The opening pages begins with a chilling narration delivered by Jim Gordon, as he takes a walk through the aftermath of Joker's handiwork, which left behind a horde of terribly murdered victims. Even as a fan of the character, I'm always amazed by the Joker's brutal antics. Therefore, I can imagine the look on the face of a new reader, who is not completely familiar with the character or Batman's world.
Batman and Jim Gordon are also well used, with the former maintaining his usual intensity, by putting to work his detective skills, with intentions on keeping up with the wily Joker; who happens to stay one step ahead of him, and accomplishes his goals by taking out each of his victims. Even though he gives them a heads up, by literally broadcasting on live TV who he's going after next.
At its core, the story is your basic good vs. evil, but Brubaker manages to make it into so much more. Despite the minor pacing issues, the narrative flows very well delivering an ample amount of suspense, mystery, and action. The story is very dark indeed, and one of the best features is that it maintains this tone throughout. There's absolutely nothing presented to lighten up the mood, such as misplaced comedy or a romance angle.
Doug Mahnke is the man behind the artwork, with David Baron sticking to the colors. The artwork is definitely fitting for the dark story being presented. Nothing is on a kid friendly level here, as the bodies which are presented in the opening pages are an eye opener, that sets the tone of the story. Although action truly isn't the selling point here, it does deliver with several gun battles, and hand to hand that could have been a little better. Still, I was satisfied with them for the most part.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a very solid graphic novel, but it does have one flaw that seemed to bother some fans. However, it didn't really bother me though. The graphic novel gives off a feel like it should be packed with only Joker stories. This really isn't the case here, and it feels more like a Brubaker book. There's a second story presented called Made of Wood written by him. This story has absolutely nothing to do with the Joker. Instead, it guest stars Alan Scott, the golden age Green Lantern, in a murder mystery along with Batman. The addition of this story doesn't bother me too much because it's a good story.
Made of Wood focuses on a murder case that took place in the 40's. Bodies were turning up with the words, "Made of Wood" carved into the victims flesh. The case was never solved, due to the murderer just stopping and disappearing. 55 years later, the killings begin again and Batman is wondering could this be a copy cat, or maybe the killer decided to come out of retirement.
The story is paced rather well; full of suspense, nice plot, and a good ending. Jim Gordon is retired, and his character is once again well used here, by exploiting the age old saying, "once a cop, always a cop" rather effectively. There's a good amount of action and GL gets a chance to show off a few moves. I always enjoy Batman's detective skills when he utilizes his guesswork, and this story is no different since it delivers in that area as well. The artwork is also good once again, with Patrick Zircher behind the pencils, inks by Aaron Sowd, and color by Jason Wright.
Now although I enjoyed the story, I also would've preferred another Joker story, but I guess we can't always have it our way. In any case, The Man Who Laughs should be picked up by both serious and casual fans. The book is pretty short with only 141 pages.
-Dark and gritty, charismatic villain as always
-Minor pacing issues
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A mysterious homicidal maniac is murdering prominent citizens of Gotham City, each time leaving a ghastly grin on the victims' lifeless faces. Batman soon tracks down the killer: The Joker!
This volume gives readers new insight into the early encounters between Batman and The Joker that led the Clown Prince of Crime down the path to insanity. Guest-starring original Green Lantern Alan Scott.