Sunday, February 13, 2005

Batman: The Man Who Laughs - A Review

Written by: Ed Brubaker
Penciled by: Doug Mahnke
Inked by: Doug Manke
Colored by: David Baron
Lettered by: Rob Leigh
Editor: ?
Publisher: DC Comics

The Man Who Laughs was a 1928 film based on a story by Victor Hugo. In it, the Lord Clancharlie’s son Gwynplaine has his face cut into a hideous permanent grin as punishment for his father’s plotting against the King.

This has precious little to do with Batman, except for one thing. The hideous look of Gwynplaine in the movie was one of Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson's inspirations in designing the original look of The Joker.

The Man Who Laughs is also the title of a new book released this week. It retells the now classic story of how a two-bit, masked criminal called The Red Hood would take a fall into a chemical vat and then grow to become Batman’s greatest enemy.

It’s fair to say that if you’re fan of Batman or The Joker, then you’ve probably already seen this story in some form or another. It is all the more impressive, then, that in telling a familiar story writer Ed Brubaker has managed to create something new and enjoyable. The tone of the book is film noir, with a heavy focus upon detective work and the lone figure in the night; elements usually associated with Batman, but not so much lately in his monthly titles. The feel is similar to Batman: Year One in that we get to see Batman off-balance and still finding his feet; a welcome change from the nigh-unstoppable maniac written by practically every other writer at DC Comics. We also get to see Jim Gordon, Captain instead of Commissioner, still fighting against the corruption above and below him as opposed to the prematurely grey elder-statesman of the Gotham City Police Department.

The art by Doug Mahnke is perfect. Everything is shadowy and inky except for The Joker himself, who almost appears to be in his own personal, permanent spotlight. One particularly effective scene occurs right at the beginning, as we enter a crime scene where The Joker apparently experimented on several unwitting subjects while perfecting his Joker Toxin. The only complaint about the artwork, and this is a personal thing, is that Joker’s hair is colored as bright nearly neon green. I always thought of it as being a darker shade, but that’s just me.

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