Art by Lee Bermejo
Creator of 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello brings his noir aesthetic to this 2008 vision of Gotham City and the Joker.
Protagonist Jonny is spellbound by the implied status that he gains from working under the Joker.
We see how the seduction of power that The Joker exudes pulls people into his orbit.
We see how a low-level crook that thinks of themselves as insignificant, can be drawn to charismatic figures which give them a sense of belonging.
Despite the obvious horror of the actions, Jonny sees the attraction of working with the Joker as a way of improving his social position amongst peers.
The social cost, to Jonny, is worth the gains he imagines will come to him personally.
The writing style of Azzarello brings a distinctive film noir feeling to Gotham. Each character is a flawed person navigating a dark world of crime and violence.
Although often compared to Tarantino, Azzarello describes noir fiction writer, David Goodis as the main influence on his writing style.
Azzarello says that he was mainly concerned with the story arc of Jonny Frost and “ How does Joker affect people around him? “
The story is set in a dark grim Gotham City where crime seems to be the only power.
“Gotham is all of our urban nightmares and fears made into reality.” Azzarello describes.
On the character of the Joker, Azzarello wanted a character who was not a supervillain but a criminal who was insane. The possibility of such a man makes the Joker more unnerving than previous incarnations.
“There is a vulnerability to him. He’s not a super-villain, he’s a criminal. He’s a gangster. And the worst kind of gangster, because he’s completely insane. “
When described as a bully, Azzarello replies: “I think that description works. He is a bully.”
The Joker is not the hysterical manic figure that is often portrayed. Instead, the Joker is holding back. He is reserved in his actions.
“I wanted to have him sort of keep it together, the implication being, if it’s possible, Joker can go even more insane.”
The character of the Joker can stand for any historical leader that used the threat of violence to get what they wanted. Jonny Frost is the obedient foot soldier that carries out the orders of an evil dictator.
“To ground a character, in reality, you have to use shades of grey. What can you say? You know, Stalin probably laughed at jokes. Stalin kissed his grandchildren too, you know. “
Throughout the graphic novel, we are made aware that the presence of Batman is hiding in the shadows. Joker makes reference to someone watching him from the rooftops.
“With Batman, there’s a certain paranoia about his presence, particularly in the criminal underworld. But it’s funny – the criminals in this book are scared of Batman, but they’re terrified of Joker. “
The Plot: Spoilers
We are thrown into a dark and grimy Gotham underground where news is spreading fast of something that nobody quite believed would happen.
Described by low ranking criminal, Jonny Frost, as a disease that infected the city, the release of Joker from Arkham Asylum had somehow been approved.
When strip club boss, Monty needed someone from was required to collect Joker from the asylum, it was Jonny who volunteered to do it.
We see the Joker emerge in a gait that transmits his hidden depths of terrors. Meeting this imposing figure for the first time Jonny felt “that instinctual clench… down there”
Introducing himself as Jonny, Jonny Frost, the Joker chooses to refer to him throughout the book as Jonny Jonny.
The tension on driving such a notorious psychopath is captured in the car rides through the stoic expression of the driver and inner grin of his passenger.
Joker asks his driver to make a stop on the way back to Monty. Jonny calls this “The Stopping Place”, by which he means “The End of The Road” for anyone who goes there.
Addressing Jonny, Joker says that he looks nervous. When Jonny says Sorry, Joker offers him a bit of advice; “Don’t ever apologise to no one for the way you look.”
Meeting Killer Croc
The Joker and Jonny enter a meat storage warehouse where the hard-skinned criminal Killer Croc sits with his gang playing cards.
When asked by Croc what brings him here, Joker says “ I always like to see you… You make me feel handsome.”
Joker convinces Croc and his men to join him.
Jonny Frost, always considered a Nobody, begins to feel an improvement in his status as he walks with Joker and his crew. Finally, he can feel himself becoming a Somebody.
Joker and his followers walk into the strip club owned by Monty. Monty declares that they celebrate Jokers release and offers him a drink.
The Joker gang enjoy themselves in the club and have “one hell of a party”.
Monty asks, “Why’d you bring those animals with ya?” referring to Croc and his gang, as an attractive woman gets on stage.
Joker wants to discuss with Monty what has been happening during his absence. While the conversation is happening, the girl on stage begins to dress in the costume of Harley Quinn.
Offstage, Joker and Harley Quinn talk with Monty.
Jonny drinks at the bar contemplating that he has become a “ Name you know now”. Then suddenly a figure appears on stage. At first appearing blurry, from his intoxication, we see that the person staggering across the stage is Monty having been stripped of his skin down to the muscle.
This is a powerful statement of the relentless steps Joker will take to make a point. When Joker asks who wants to help him take the city back, Jonny replies inwardly, “ I do, Jonny does.”
On Harley Quinn, Azzarello says he played her against type. By not saying anything, she brings a more sinister and dangerous presence. “Instead of comic relief, she’s muscle. The Joker keeps her close because she protects him.”
Elsewhere, crime boss, Harvey Dent hears news of what The Joker is up to and responds “ god no.”
Back as the driver, Jonny is taking Harley Quinn and Joker to a bank. Here we see the relationship between Jonny and Joker establish Joker as an unpredictable threat.
Joker grabs Jonny by the throat when he declines his offer for pills. Jonny learns that refusing the Jokers request is not an option.
The Joker walks into the bank as Jonny reflects on his past.
Jonny has recently been released from his fifth stay in prison. On release, he decided that this was his last time going inside.
His wife Shelly meets Jonny as he gets out of prison and asks him to sign the divorce papers. She accuses him of not being there for her or their kids.
Joker returns from the bank with a bag full of money following a robbery that he describes as “boring” since “the alarm wasn’t tripped and nobody died.”
When Penguin is brought to meet Joker, he is referred to as Abner. According to Azzarello, he uses this term as a ”form of disrespect.”
With the arm of Croc around Abner’s neck, Joker asks Penguin to invest his money for him. He expects a ten times yield from his investment.
Joker has every confidence that Penguin can deliver since :
“There’s not a nickel that changes hands in Gotham don’t have a greasy print from your fat sausages on it.”
Jonny Frost is impressed by the way Joker can make people do what he wants and considers “Now that – Abso-posi-lutely – was how I wanted to roll”.
Tommy Bang Bang
The Joker and Jonny drive to meet another criminal named Tommy Bang Bang in a restaurant.
It is during this journey that we feel the presence of Batman around the city.
Joker is aware of a presence “Right on the other side of this window..watching me.”
During the meeting in the restaurant, Joker makes a deal with Tommy Bang Bang who seised properties owned by Joker before he was locked away. He agrees to continue running the business on behalf of the Joker.
The Joker leaves the building with everyone believing that a deal had been struck. But the Joker has a sudden change of mind.
He returns to the restaurant and shoots dead Tommy Bang Bang.
As Jonny watches the Joker shoot, Tommy, then hold a gun to his own mouth, he contemplates “Joker wasn’t about thinking”.
Jonny Frost and Croc
The Joker and Jonny Frost begin a citywide slaughter of mid-level bosses in Gotham.
The power Jonny began to feel was overwhelming to him. He became aware that “for the first time in my life, Jonny Frost knew where all the bodies were buried.”
Feeling empowered by his association with Joker, Jonny goes to collect Croc for an appointment. When Crock makes him wait until he finishes his meal, Jonny insists.
When Croc hooks Jonny on a meat hook, Jonny states “Don’ you know who I work for” to which Croc replies “You got no idea, do ya? I’m workin’ you.”
When finally arriving at the meeting Jokes says “You’re late” to which Croc replies “That a problem?”.
Jonny sees that Joker stands down. He sees the Croc showing lack of respect to the Joker and getting away with it. He sees Croc as all muscle, and that the muscle was not permitted into the back room.
As Jonny joins The Joker in his meeting with the Penguin he reflects that he was one of those invited to the back room.
“That was for finesse players only”
This is where we see Jonny become deluded that he was becoming one of the bigger players.
Penguin warns Joker that Harvey Dent is very sore at him regarding his recent activity.
Joker mocks the dual personality of Harvey Dent. and says “Harvey’s mad? Which one?”.
At the Strip Club Bar
Joker is convinced that Harvey Dent will answer his call to discuss the situation. When Harvey refuses to pick up the phone, Joker begins to smash up the bar at the strip club with a baseball bat.
One of Crocs men decides to leave to avoid watching this “Episode”. But Joker stops him and offers a drink. Joker smashes a glass bottle on the man’s head and uses the broken remains to further mutilate him.
The strip club is then set on fire as they leave. When this happens Jonny further reflects that he understands Joker:
“Why he did then, what he did, made no sense to nobody there. Nobody but me.”
Jonny sees a vulnerable Joker in private crying as he hugs against Harley Quinn. When he sees this he recalls a time in his childhood where he sacrificed a frog to prevent a bully from hurting it.
In some ways, Jonny thinks he can understand the Joker and justify the actions of him.
As Azzarello says:
“I think you really need Johnny’s rationalising all these despicable acts to kind of give the reader a foothold.”
Jonny Meets Harvey Dent
Sometime before, Jonny finds an intruder in his flat and assumes it is a cop.
As he leaves Jonny’s flat the intruder advises ”Yer running with the wrong crowd, kid”
The cop meets Jonny again and asks him to join him for a meeting with Harvey Dent which he agrees to.
Harvey advises Jonny that “You are involved with a sick man who will see you die… I promise you he will laugh.. not because your life means nothing to him.. but because death for him, is the punch line.”
When Jonny returns to meet the Joker, Joker tells him “your late.”
Attempting to emulate Croc from earlier, Jonny replies “That a problem?”.
We see that Jonny has become fully deluded that he is now one of the powerful players in Jokers game. To which Joker kicks him hard in the groin and replies “I don’t have any problems”
The Joker meets with The Riddler to receive a suitcase. The contents of the suitcase “Was supposed to be impossible to steal.. so I stole it”
on the journey from the meeting with Riddler, Jonny realises the Jokers mood “ Was like the weather… It had that type of persuasive effect on everyone it touched. Sunny days turned out to be just the calm before the storm.”
It is then that the Jokes vehicle is shot at and the car crashes and is overturned.
As the Joker escapes the crash with his case, he meets Harvey’s cop in an alley. The cop holds a gun to Jokers head.
The Joker is then saved by Jonny Frost who shoots the cop dead.
As a result of the attack, Joker, Jonny and Croc began massacring all those working for Dens rackets throughout Gotham.
“We made Gotham a toilet and Joker sat in it”
As a result, Harvey called Joker and agreed to meet face to face.
The meeting between Joker and Harvey took place in Gotham Zoo before a gorilla cage.
Harvey agrees to make a deal with Joker and the Riddlers case is handed over.
Jonny’s wife is brought out as Harvey’s prisoner to be used as a bargaining chip.
As Harvey calls to find a buyer for the case, joker slashes his wrist with blades inserted in his fingers.
As Harvey’s men attempt to bring out their weapons, they are all gunned down.
We see that the gorilla overseeing the meeting was, in fact, Harley Quinn in disguise.
As Jonny’s wife is rescued Joker sys “ That makes us even, no?”
Harvey and Batman
As Joker and Jonny go on a sadistic rampage in the city, Jonny realises: “I was crazy to want to be like Joker”
They murder a store worker to gain access to alcohol and enter the house of an innocent couple who Joker murders in their bed.
Looking out of the window, in the sky, they see that the Bat-signal has been illuminated.
When we see Batman arrive by the signal it is Harvey Dent who has turned it on. He says to Batman “Please, you have to stop him… He is going to murder one of us.”
The Joker then begins to see that Batman is picking off his accomplices.
Harley Quinn is taken from her room and Croc is left strung up in the meat warehouse.
Jonny and Joke run across a bridge to escape the presence of Batman that seems to be around them.
As they run, it is Joker who is in tears and Jonny who is laughing.
In response to his laughter, Joker turns and knocks Jonny to the floor with a blow to the head.
Joker is holding a gun to Jonny when Batman arrives.
The gun is shot at Jonny’s head. As Batman and Joker do battle, Jonny dies on the bridge.
His last thoughts are “There will always be a Joker. because there is no cure for him. No cure at all.”
If love the Joker or collect Batman and DC statues, check out out our full guide to the Best Joker Statues and Busts.