We got our first glimpse of Joker’s Daughter in the pages of Catwoman, but she didn’t really come into her own until an issue in Villain’s Month and it was...not well-received, to say the least. I won’t go over the whys and wherefores of it, there’s plenty to be found in that regard, but it was with no small trepidation that I approached this one-shot. I hadn’t read much by Marguerite Bennett, except for the most recent issue of Talon and that had been...fascinating, at the very least. Having now read it, I can safely say that we are seeing a writer with an incredible command over her characters. This is NOT the Joker’s Daughter from previous issues, this is a young woman in the grips of some of the most convincingly unpredictable, diabolical pop culture madness I’ve ever read in mainstream superheroing. This is a book that is dark and distubring, but not for simple shock value. In just one slightly oversized one-shot, we’re introduced to a truly bizarre, twisted villain and while she is, of course, derivative of the Joker, she manages to carve out (pun fully intended) her own path by not wanting to simply be a “female Joker,” but to kneel before the altar of the Joker and be his prophet. And, as one Arkham orderly comments on, perhaps something more, even, than that. We get glimpses and fragments of her backstory, but like the creature she idolizes, it’s hard to make out which, if any, are true and we finally get a look at her face pre-mask (or is it?) and it becomes extremely clear that her perceptions are, indeed, clouded by a fractured mind. Despite insistence that she’s only playing at madness, she seems to have mastered it by issue’s end.
The visuals from Meghan Hetrick, another creator I wasn’t familiar with, are an absolutely perfect companion to the writing. They were muddy, they were disgusting (don’t start reading this book over a meal, you will quickly lose any and all interest in it), they’re dark and indistinct when doing so enhances the horror of what’s going on, and, perhaps most importantly: they are consistent and filled the brim with stunning, stark, horrific imagery (the scene of Batman luring Joker’s Daughter to the site of her namesake’s grisly disappearance has an amazing visual motif as does the scene of her lamenting on a bridge. There are so many panels that have so much going on with them, and the close-ups on her are as expressive as they are gruesome. The colors, courtesy of Michelle Madsen, create an oppressive atmosphere that feels choking and claustrophobic, even in wide open settings. It feels like the entire thing takes place in the sewer she crawled out of, even when it’s not.
The characters look stiff and overly-posed in several of the panels and the action tends to be on the stiff side. Batman, as little as he’s in the issue, in particular looks more like he’s mugging for an unseen camera than caught in a moment in time from panel-to-panel. There’s a scene involving the Dollmaker in which Duela mentions screaming, beating and carving her way to him and this, even for a Batman comic, seems like something of a stretch. That an insane teenager, even one with an impressive sickle-scepter, could intimidate her way to a supervillain who doesn’t want to be found stretches believability (and yes, I’m aware of the irony in the sentence I just wrote). A better way from her to him would have been he finding her, having heard about her night of murderous mayhem.
If this is the direction Joker’s Daughter is going to go, I say bring it on. It’s early in the year, but this is a candidate for Most Improved Character already and it’s going to have to be one HELLUVA turnaround for someone else if they’re going to overtake her. Ordinarily with characters like this, we get to HEAR about how dark and twisted they are, but they are rarely made so unglamorous as what we see here and, again, very little if any of it is done purely to shock. It is most definitely shocking, but it serves the narrative and, more importantly, it serves the character. In my introduction, I mentioned that this book seems defined by its protagonist’s own metaphor, and I mean it. This is a character seeking dark rebirth and not only achieving it within the narrative, but in the very IDEA of the character.