By: Marguerite Bennett (writer), Meghan Hetrick (artist), Michelle Madsen (colorist)

The Story: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.

The Review: Despite DC’s insistence that she’s a ‘fan-favorite’ character and soaring speculation on ebay, Ann Nocenti’s Joker’s Daughter issues have not fared well in the court of public opinion. The character was near universally panned, with claims of uninspired writing and needless vulgarity.

It’s all the sadder for the weird, wild ride JD has taken; winding her way through countless villains in an attempt to find relevance and depth equal to the power of her moniker, finally finding a solid but unfulfilled concept as some sort of strange priestess of the Joker’s unique religion of madness. In spite of this long and troubled road, Marguerite Bennett strips this loathsome character down to the purest brilliance of her concept, scraping off the scabs and filth with which she’s adorned herself.

As she has done in all her previous work, Bennett immerses herself and her readers in the dark corners of the villainous psyche. The Joker’s Daughter is, from start to finish, the main attraction, and Marguerite takes great pleasure in indulging the girl’s twisted ramblings.

There’s something archetypal and frighteningly logical about the Joker’s Daughter. If you listen long enough you may find yourself following her down the rabbit hole; recognizing that that action won’t be enough, knowing that what she does next won’t truly make her one with the Joker. She lays out her plans just so, talking as much to the readers that she doesn’t know exist as to herself. We see the gaping flaws in her plans, just as we’re impressed that this arrogant pup grasps some small details of the grand play we enjoy each month. And, before long, she’s learning and the dialogue she’s having with you is operating on rules that don’t exist and really, really shouldn’t.

Some lines obviously fall flat, but the strength of this character is really quite remarkable. It also doesn’t hurt that Bennett just had a book on the stands last week, a tale of a similarly damaged worshipper. The two books have a lot in common but Bennett’s voice couldn’t be more different and the contrast illuminates the range that she can imbue her villainous ramblings with.

In fact, if there’s a serious problem with JD’s characterization it’s probably that I don’t believe that the character is as smart as Bennett is. At times the slew of clever references and fluctuating self-analysis, that make the book such an engaging read seem above the character making them.

Bennett could, and kind of has, made a name for herself purely on the strength of her character work, but the nearly double-sized format of this one-shot allows her ample space for plot progression without sacrificing the glimpses into JD’s mind. In fact, lacking an ongoing title, this is, by far, the most honest look at Bennett as a creator that we’ve gotten.

JD’s obsession with her ‘father’ takes her all around Gotham, allowing Bennett to utilize a myriad of settings and characters to chart her little monster’s growth and descent. Her use of Batman is solid, reminding us how effective the caped crusader can be, even when he’s not up against a super villain.  Still, the best section of the book is Bennett’s return to Arkham Asylum. Calling back the excellent characters that she created for Batman Annual #2, Bennett deepens a sense of reality in Gotham and provides something to fear for when Joker’s Daughter is around.

The book has a marvelous grasp on its pacing, pages flying by when the stakes get high or slowing to a sadistic crawl as we trek through the warzone that is our protagonist’s psyche. Part of that is Bennett’s methodical writing, but Meghan Hetrick seems to take great pleasure in creating empathic compositions, in tune with our protagonist’s fragile mentality.

Indeed, while many of the visual concepts are likely Bennett’s, Hetrick seems to come alive when she finds her own chances to get under the festering skin of her subject. Much of Hetrick’s best work is found at the seat of Golgotham, or in the blood JD spills in her sick god’s name, or even in the mismatched memories of her past.

At its most generic, Hetrick’s work is a bit too slick. Her Batman, for instance, feels too clean and simple to be real, while the Arkham staff occasionally slips into something of a web comic look. It’s certainly not a look that lends itself naturally to superhero fare and it can feel less than professional.

On the other hand, as soon as blood is spilled or JD indulges her love affair with the vile, things snap into, or perhaps out of, focus. Panels featuring the Daughter’s teeth or the raw meat of her face behind the mask gain an instant power. I’m not sure that it’s intentional, but it’s certainly appropriate to find yourself wishing for some ragged edge or gruesome image.

While I wish that the whole book could possess that quality, I will say that it’s a fine demonstration of Hetrick’s range as an artist and, rather beautifully, integrates Hetrick’s influences. The opening page draws undeniable similarity between JD and her ‘crown’ and Gollum’s precious, while the best of Greg Capullo and JOCK’s work on “Death of the Family” inhabits each closeup of JD’s eyes, her heterochromia eerily matching the fading color of the Joker’s own pupil.

And it’s not just her style that’s varied, but the format. There’s probably not a single page in this book that’s not cleverly arranged, but the degree to which empty space, off kilter panels, integrated gutter designs, and abstract imagery are utilized is particularly impressive.

The Conclusion: In one issue, a symbol of New 52 excess has become a real, haggardly breathing monstrosity. The one-shot format is used to full effect and the entire creative team does a fantastic job.

I seriously wrestled with not buying this issue. The Joker’s Daughter held no interest for me and even Ms. Bennett’s proven track record with villains didn’t seem enough. Nonetheless, I did and I’m so happy for it. Despite my misgivings, this is probably Bennett’s best work so far and an excellent way to be introduced to Hetrick’s work.

Marguerite Bennett is still often mentioned in the same breath as her professor and mentor, Scott Snyder, but at this rate that could easily change. Though it lacks the innovative spark of Death of the Family, perhaps betraying the one-shot’s commissioned status, that’s the only thing holding Joker’s Daughter back from matching Snyder’s work on Batman.

If you can stomach a stark, unflinching look into some of the worst humanity has to offer, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

Grade: A-

Some Thoughts:

  • In some ways it almost seems as though a number of other stories were written with this one in mind. Obviously the previous appearances of the Joker’s Daughter set the stage for this one-shot, but concepts from Detective Comics #1 like the Dollmaker or Joker culture, which felt off at the time, make perfect sense in the context of JD. Even “Death of the Family,” for all its eloquent writing and horrific moments never fully justified the Joker’s new look, but this was a worthwhile addition to the Joker’s legacy.
  • I’ve really enjoyed Mahreen ever since I met her in Batman Annual #2 six months ago, yet somehow I only realized that she wasn’t white on a third read of this issue. What is it with badass Desis in my comics this week?
  • Here’s a question: On the first page, JD is seen eating part of the Joker’s face but she has a complete mask throughout the issue. Later she clearly hallucinates when brought into a site with significance to the Joker. Particularly given the way the book ends, how much can we trust the perceptions we’re offered in this issue?
  • If you enjoyed this issue or are intrigued by the sound of it, I’d recommend checking out our interview with Marguerite Bennett. She gives one especially fascinating answer about her views of the Joker that played a big part in convincing me to pick up the book.

– Noah Sharma