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Batman: Man Who Laughs

Batman: Man Who Laughs back

Ed Brubaker & Doug Mahnke


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Two intelligently written stories here: the first a reprint of the eponymous one-shot, the second, two years earlier, from DETECTIVE COMICS #784-786. Both delve back into the past in one way or another, and both prominently feature Captain/Commissioner/ex-Commissioner Gordon.

It's the younger Captain who's on hand in the first as Gotham City is terrorised by a new maniacal threat whom the media dubs The Joker. Hijacking the airwaves, he threatens an unscrupulous but highly successful businessman with death at midnight, and against all odds and in spite of the full protection of Gotham's finest, succeeds in triggering in him a ghastly transformation, rendering him a "Jokerised" corpse. As The Joker continues to succeed in his succession of strikes against seemingly unconnected individuals, Gordon and Batman, as yet but newly acquainted with each other, begin to wonder if The Joker's sole motive is chaos and destruction, or whether there is more to his madness than meets the eye, until Bruce Wayne himself becomes the target, rendering the protection of Batman impossible.

The second follows Batman and Green Lantern Alan Scott as they try to work out why a spree of unsolved murders dating back to the 1940s, which suddenly ceased for no discernible reason, has begun again with exactly the same pattern: the victims are left dead at the foot of a statue dedicated to The Green Lantern back in the 1940s, with the words "Made Of Wood" carved into their chests - wood being the weakness of Alan Scott's powers. Unfortunately for ex-Commissioner Gordon, he's one step ahead of his costumed cohorts, and solves the puzzle way too early for his own welfare...

So what did I like about each of these? The art's perfectly fine but nothing spectacular in the second, although the first does manage a period atmosphere with all the best traits of Howard Chaykin. No, it's the plots, the inner voices and complete absence of clanging exposition. For example, the reason why ex-Commissioner Gordon resists self-pity when needing a walking stick is merely alluded to in a background family photograph that needs no additional spelling out. How rarely is that recognised? Also resisted, the urge to set up unnecessary conflict between Batman and the Lantern on their different methods of operation - indeed there are moments of imaginative cooperation in which they manage to surprise each other. It's not the best that Brubaker can do (see CRIMINAL, SLEEPER, SCENE OF THE CRIME etc.), nor does it rank up there with KILLING JOKE, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, JOKER or YEAR ONE HUNDRED for Bat books, but it's a great deal better than most other writers manage on such material, and it was early days for Ed.

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