Page 45 Review by Stephen
Crikey! This originally appeared as a hardcover in 2008. There's never been a softcover until now. With a few additional, very necessary updates, this was written back then....
"When I was a kid, my scumbag stepfather once -- only once -- took us camping. I'd never been out in the woods before, and I haven't been there since, really. But the time with my stepfather I caught a toad, and I took him home in a box. I fed him bugs that I'd catch... roaches mostly, since that's what we had, mostly.
"After it rained, I'd take him up on the roof of our building too. Seein' it was outside, I figured he'd like to hop around up there, and I think he really did. I like to think that. But this one time... there were older kids up there, and they saw what I had... And they said they were going to throw my toad off the roof. And I knew they were, I knew it. And also knew I could let them do that. To me.
"So I did it myself."
And that's not even The Joker. That's Johnny Frost, the Joker's chauffeur and right-hand man. Nice chap, Johnny. Bit of a clot for taking the job, mind: never trust a psychopath.
We have a new top tier Bat-book, ladies and gentlemen, something approaching KILLING JOKE, GOTHAM CENTRAL, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, Except you'll only see half a dozen pages with Batman in them. This is squarely and fairly about Johnny and the Joker. They've dropped the cartoon features in favour of mouth-slit-with-razor-blade, entirely appropriate for this take on The Joker who doesn't even attempt to pun his way into your black, black hearts (only ever successfully achieved by Moore in KILLING JOKE and Tom King's Rebirth run on BATMAN) but keeps everyone perpetually off balance and thoroughly unnerved with his verbal u-turns, intense, unpredictable mood swings and complete disregard for the sanctity of anything including himself.
Under a veneer of charm, he is menace personified, your very worst nightmare and he's just discharged himself from Arkham Asylum: that's bad news for you if you carved up his territory and took it for your own in his absence.
It's like no other take so far, though I imagine its imitators are waiting in the wings, and the same goes for Killer Croc, Harley Quinn (wisely and thankfully silent entirely throughout), The Riddler and up to a certain extent The Penguin and Two-Face.
Bermejo has excelled himself, as has Mick Gray on inks. They take Joker's jagged mouth and extend it to everyone else on the page, their features half-shadowed and crinkle-cut like THE INHUMANS and FANTASTIC FOUR 1234's Jae Lee on a pneumatic drill. What is slightly odd is that Bermejo's elected to ink himself on his favourite pages, although you may not notice it until the final scene on the bridge where the far softer treatment on alternate pages doesn't exactly jar but seems unnecessary. His Joker is alternately wild and hooded-eyed, chipped toothed and a mess of scar tissue.
So are some of his victims once he's finished with them.
Evidently he feels the Injury To Eye Motif is just too limiting... and the Joker's never been good at self-restraint.