By: Paul Cornell (writer), Pete Woods (artist), Brad Anderson (colorist)

The Story: It’s the World’s Un-Finest!  Can the world’s greatest mind keep up with the world’s sickest wit?  Yes and no, honestly.

The Review: In the DCU, there can be no two personalities more complex and inscrutable than Lex Luthor and the Joker.  Either one of these on their own can be a nightmare to write; they’re just not motivated by the usual things in life.  You can boil them down to their essences—Luthor, power-hungry, Joker, psychotic—but that’d be missing the incredible richness of their characters.  To serve them best, a writer has to respect their legacies as much as those of their heroic counterparts.

Paul Cornell has certainly proven to be a terrific Luthor-writer, and in this issue he shows his chops in writing a wildly complicated, hideously compelling Joker.  Joker tends to be characterized as more clever than brilliant, but as all the double-talk in his dialogue indicates, there’s definitely a genius lurking behind the veneer of madness.  Cornell does a terrific job letting the killer comic veer randomly between tomfoolery and lucidity, and either way, the Joker sounds pitch-perfect.

The caliber of gags most writers give Joker tend to be groaners of the Wah-wah-wah variety, but his humor in this issue is solidly based on satire.  My favorite bit has to his response to Luthor having the cameras disabled: “And please, those cameras are differently abled.”  This is one of the rare occasions Joker has some genuinely funniness, rather than just black comedy.  And when he sobers up, there’s almost a frightening sense of logic to his twisted views of the world.  You begin to see how he uses his humor to provide a backbone of order to a universe he deems completely nonsensical.  You almost feel something like sympathy toward him, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Like Luthor’s encounter with Death, this issue features little action, but intense, thought-provoking dialogue.  What’s brilliant about the repartee between Luthor and Joker is how much information gets exchanged beyond what is explicitly said.  Even though it may seem nothing has happened other than Luthor retrieving yet another black sphere, there are a lot of clues laced throughout Joker’s ramblings about the ultimate mission/challenge/destination Luthor’s headed towards.  Also worthy of note is Robot-Lois’ increasingly inexplicable behavior.  She’s become a kind of Trojan horse for this storyline, and it’s thrilling to speculate what final role she’ll play in Luthor’s grand adventure.

None of this issue would be as gripping as it is without the dramatic intensity of Pete Woods’ art.  The eyes are the most difficult, but vital tools in an actor’s arsenal.  The great actor can use them to broadcast not only the feelings of his words, but those lurking in his heart and mind.  Woods’ attention to these nuances elevates the characters into actors—good ones, at that.  Even when nothing is being said, you get a powerful impression of what the characters are thinking, and most of that is due to Woods’ subtle details in the eyes.  But then, what isn’t Woods good at drawing, honestly?  I mean, just look at that final splash page of Larfleeze’s collection!

Conclusion: Despite the lack of anything remotely resembling explosions, the drama in this issue is just as intriguing to read.  And with Larfleeze as the nest issue’s guest star, an explosion is only a matter of time.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen