By: Ann Nocenti (story), Rafa Sandoval (art), Jordi Tarragona (inks), Sonia Oback (colors)

The Story: As you’d expect, Joker doesn’t take competition for his soulmate’s affections well.

The Review: The one thing I dread about this Death of the Family crossover, more than anything else, is seeing the myriad portrayals of the Joker.  Now, you can have all kinds of Jokers—that’s just how multidimensional he is—but after years of writers squeezing every bit of personality out of him, you really only have a few sides to him that haven’t been completely wrung dry by now.

Unfortunately, Noncenti goes for not only an old style of Joker, but one of the less appealing ones as well, the one I like to call Motormouth Joker.  This version of the criminal clown spends about thrice the amount of time rambling nonsensically as he does actually doing something, and the vast bulk of what he has to say just floods over you:

“Have you noticed, Cat-thing, how black tends to triumph?  Is it a commitment thing?  White…well, white doesn’t like to get dirty.  It tends to resign.  You were quite the killer in the endgame, Cat-face.  Well-played…  Long ago, chess pawns were so disposable, they were shaped like trash-cans.  Don’t you enjoy the rough poetry of that: trash cans, pawns, orphans…oh, never mind.  Just don’t be a pawn, Cat-girl.”

I don’t even know why Joker bothers with elaborate death-traps and grisly murders when after one of these monologues the listener will be begging for death.  I should mention this speech is all contained within the first page.  The whole issue goes on like this.  Even when he’s putting Catwoman through one random torment after another, you can’t really escape his virulent dialogue.  It’s like when your mother goes on a nagging streak and follows you all about the house telling you to get your goddam hair (which is only slightly getting into your eyes) cut.

Much as I respect the ambiguous sexual tension between Batman and Joker that Scott Snyder’s promoting in Batman, it’s easy for a less subtle writer to play a little fast and loose with that thing—as here. David Pepose of Newsarama describes the—God forgive me—cattiness between Selina and the Joker as akin to watching “The Boy Is Mine,” and that’s not far off from the mark.  But I see the relationship as on less equal footing than that.  If this was a teen movie, Catwoman would be the girl pretending she doesn’t like the most popular guy at school, and Joker would be the girl, pissed that said guy overlooks her for her rival, berating her rival for not loving him enough.  Joker even engages in some girlfriend advice:

“Stop loving the Bat.  Yoru love makes him weak.  Be his greatest adversary and he’ll be stronger.”

I might have spoken too soon last month when I expressed gratitude that Sandoval seemed to be going for the classier route in drawing the cat thief.  While he hasn’t resorted to any rooftop straddling—yet—the panel where Catwoman appears in her underthings, facing front, bent over, and cradling her boobs definitely calls some doubt into Sandoval’s artistic choices.  Aside from these moments of impropriety, Sandoval delivers slick-looking figures that look even glossier under Oback’s rich, polished colors.

Conclusion: Takes the intriguing elements of Scott Snyder’s Joker story and dumbs them down for a significantly pervier, weirder, more annoying Joker.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Blergh.  A mouth-smooch from Joker.  I expect Catwoman will have to get skin grafts on her lips now.  And knowing him, he probably used tongue, in which case she’ll probably have to replace her face just to move on.