Joker: Last Laugh #1 (2001)
Joker: Last Laugh #1 (December, 2001)
Writers – Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty
Penciller – Pete Woods
Inker – Andrew Pepoy
Letterer – Willie Schubert
Colorist – Tom McCraw
Separations – Digital Chameleon
Assistant Editor – Nachie Castro
Editor – Matt Idelson
Cover Price: $2.95
Today we’re going to discuss the opening chapter in the first line-wide DC Comics crossover that I went “all in” on. I’d been “in the thick of it” for awhile at this point, but there were still a handful of books I never would have grabbed if not for the Joker’s Last Laugh branding. There’s no way I would have grabbed titles like Azrael: Agent of the Bat, Harley Quinn, or Orion otherwise… so, this story was a pretty big deal for me. It’s a time in my collecting-career I remember fondly… things felt new, exciting, and fresh… and, ahem, I found a way to put my “disposable income” to use.
We open up at a crab shack in Maryland where Barbara Gordon has begrudgingly joined Dick Grayson for a day out of town. There’s no beef between the two, it’s just that she doesn’t feel right being away from her Oracle duties… after all, she is the point of contact for just about every hero in the universe. Dick’s all “you need this” and asks how useful she’d be if she went and got herself burnt out. It’s hard to argue, but at the same time it reeks of justification. I tell myself from time to time that “I’m working too hard” to justify treating myself… but that’s neither here nor there.
We shift over to Slabside Penitentiary where the Joker has just been informed that he has a terminal brain tumor, and isn’t long for this world. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest idea to tell someone like the Joker that he’s got absolutely nothing to lose, but whattayagonnado?
Well, the Joker’s going to die… he knows he’s going to die… so, what now? If you guessed “Prison Riot”, you win the kewpie! A prison riot that Dick and Babs would have known about if not for the crab shack changing the channel on their television.
Back in Gotham at the Clock Tower, Black Canary arrives to check in with and share a Thai meal with Barbara… but, as we know, she’s not home. Dinah heads into the communication room and sees the news of the riot… and sees that the Joker is behind the whole thing!
All of the Slabside inmates are wearing restraining collars, and through them, the guards can induce a measure of bodily effects… including extreme nausea. The guards are advised to, gulp, “prime the regurgitants” which just sounds foul. While many of the inmates rush to the nearest vomit-depository, the Joker stumbles across the one fella he’s been looking for… Multi-Man!
We rejoin Dinah and learn she has enlisted the aid of Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, who at this point was a semi-retired on-again/off-again associate of the Birds of Prey. He was usually depicted as having a little bit of a paunch belly during this era, however, he looks lean and mean here… that ab-rocker must really work! They are on board the Bug and fast approaching the Slab. Canary says she’ll hit the ground first to perform some recon.
Inside the Slab, Shiloh Norman flanked by a crew of elite guards are on the crawl. They learn that Warden Zimmer is currently trying to facilitate a surrender from the rioting inmates… which is probably not the best idea. It’s here that we learn that the guards weren’t aware that the Joker was behind the whole thing, as the shapeshifting Chiller had been lounging in his cell during the proceedings. Norman produces a Mother Box as a backdoor should things go “ca-ca”. Oh yeah, he’s the third Mister Miracle, by the way.
Back with Babs and Dick… they just can’t seem to stop talking about “work”. Barbara makes some salient points about the hypocrisy of the Bat-Family of crimefighters and the nature of good versus bad. She contends that if the bad guys are willing to kill… the good guys should at least consider it, if in the long run it will save more innocent lives. Dick’s all “we don’t do revenge”, neglecting that what they do every night is pretty much just that. She contends that she was the only person to join “the party” without an axe to grind, and wound up being the worst for wear. What it comes down to is… she wants the Joker dead. Understandable… I’m guessing if I lived on DC Earth, I’d probably feel a lot safer if the Joker was six-feet under as well.
Back in the Slab, Joker’s got Multi-Man pinned down. Now, ya see… back in the day, Multi-Man drank something called Liquid Light. This granted him the “power” to be reborn with a new set of superpowers every time he dies. Well, the Joker needs a very specific power, so it looks like poor Duncan’s in for a lonnnnnng night. The Joker kills him over and over again… once (somehow) with an electric mixer… which is pretty gross.
After almost a hundred deaths, Multi-Man finally makes himself useful. The Joker approaches the rest of the rioters, and has his new toy burn a hole in the ground to drop them to the floor below. Then, for good measure, he kills Multi-Man again.
The baddies are now in the “K” block, where they keep the “baddest of the bad”… I guess this was an off year for the Joker if they weren’t keeping him there as well! Norman is tracking their movement, and posits that they are looking to spring Dr. Polaris!
Black Canary is working her way through the ventilation system recording everything for Oracle’s review. Warden Whatshisface attempts to continue his search for prison diplomacy, but runs into a brick wall… in the form of the immovable Black Mass. The Warden informs his guards to prepare the metagene inhibitor gas for the baddies in cell block K.
Speaking of whom, we shift to Doctor Polaris’s wooden (nice touch) cell. The Hellgrammite nibbles his way through the ceiling so Joker and Company may enter. Joker produces Multi-Man… again, now in a minuscule form. MM hops into Polaris’s collar and pops that sucker open. He then uses his own electromagnetic powers to pop the collars on his new running buddies.
Moments later, the K-Ward is flushed with the inhibitor gas… which Joker was counting on. Ya see, he knew they would first try the, bleargh “puke gas”… and knew that Regurgitant + Metagene Inhibitor = Well, a lotta laughing bad guys. Seems poor planning for a prison to have a pair of chemicals the mix in such a way, but whattayagonnado? This also tells us that this has gotta be the first time this place had a riot, right?
We pop back over to Dinah as she springs herself from the vents… where she is met by… well, you know.
Back in Gotham City, Babs and Dick return to the Clock Tower, where the latter is still going on about how much the former needed a day away from the grind. Welp, looks like you picked the wrong day, pal… because while you were stuffin’ your faces with crab, some bad stuff was going down.
We close out with Norman weighing their options… knowing that they will need to contain these jokerized baddies. We end with the sight of Batman surveying the house o’ ha-ha’s.
Kind of a mixed bag here.
Let’s see… we can start with the Joker, I suppose. We learn that he’s terminally ill, which is an interesting wrinkle to be sure… but, what can you expect to happen when you tell someone who already acts with abandon that he’s got nothing to lose? If in the same position, I’m not sure I’d have told him. That’s kinda like asking for a riot… right? The Joker’s a pretty dramatic dude… why wouldn’t he want to go out “in a blaze of glory”, so to speak?
I do appreciate the Joker being depicted as a cartoonier baddie here. It seems these days we can’t escape super-serious Joker stories… it’s pretty nice to just have him acting silly. If this were written today, we’d get brutal scenes of each guard’s families being slaughtered and posed on the couch for discovery or something.
That’s not to say the Joker’s not deadly here… I mean, hell… he kills Multi-Man like a hundred times! Speaking of which, that was a really neat bit. Stands to reason if you’re reborn with new superpowers, you might find yourself a useful tool for a psychopath with designs on chaos. The scene of endless deaths, was gruesome in a cartoony way that didn’t really distract from the tone of the story.
The mixing of chemicals that “Jokerized” the inmates… that was kinda weird, right? I mean, it looks like the Warden was just following their normal riot-containing protocol. Ya start with the regurgitants… and work up to metagene inhibition. If the Jokerization is the result of those two chemicals missing, it would stand to reason that every meta-riot would result in a whole lotta pale faces and laughter, right? I suppose this might be the first to get to this level. So weird.
It was neat seeing Shiloh Norman here. I can guarantee the first time I read this, I hadn’t the foggiest idea who he was. Reading it back now, I just love how intermingled the various aspects of the DC Universe is/was.
Onto Babs and Dick. I dunno, they both felt a bit “off” here. I never think of Barbara (of this era) as a particularly bitter character… though, if she were, it would be justifiable. She always struck me as (perhaps too) optimistic… and fulfilled in her work. Hearing her thoughts on wanting the Joker dead, while… again, justifiable, don’t ring true.
I can see Dick wanting to give Barbara a “day off”, but I really don’t see a fella as “prepared” as he is, going completely dark. I mean, you’d figure that they might have a mobile device of some sort that informs them when a huge alarm begins sounding at the Clock Tower, right? Just seems out of character/irresponsible for both of them to go completely “off the grid”… at least without a contingency plan. I mean, Dinah didn’t know Babs was taking the day off, and they were partners! From what little I remember from the way this event ends, the out-of-character moments are just beginning.
The art was pretty good. This isn’t the Pete Woods of today, and definitely feels like it’s taking a bit from the animated series style. The villains all look great (and we do get a bunch of neat villain cameos!), as do Blue Beetle and Black Canary. Dick and Babs look like they were storing some of the crabs they dined on in their cheeks though. Just another example of their being “off”… at least to me.
Overall, this is an okay issue/story/event. Not one I’d say you need to rush out to track down or anything, but a serviceable Batman/Bat-Family romp. It is available digitally and has been collected in trade paperback.
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