While I think the last two years or so of Batman comics have been pretty intense, my main complaint is that the old-school novelty villains aren’t used enough. Instead, it’s usually some psychopath with a mask but no particular schtick ruining Bruce Wayne’s life, like Hush or Black Mask or The Hand or whatever these guys are calling themselves. To quote the Joker, “Why so serious?” For instance, is every writer too embarassed to include Mr. Freeze in a story? The graphic novel Batman: Joker’s Asylum released back in 2008 (which I just today got around to reading) relieves some of my angst.
Batman: Joker’s Asylum involves five old school villains that anyone who grew up watching cartoons will recognize. Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy. Granted, Joker and Two-Face show up a lot, and for a while Poison Ivy starred in Gotham City Sirens, a comic series that’s now a victim of the DC relaunch. The Penguin barely shows up at all anymore, or if he does, he’s just a guy Batman interrogates while on his way to catch other crooks. Each of these characters is given a one-shot, self-contained story with the Joker providing narration, sort of like he’s the MC like Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock.
What’s nice is that each story is illustrated by a different set of artists. Guillem March illustrates the Poison Ivy tale and Andy Clarke does a Two-Face one-shot. The Scarecrow story features art by Juan Doe, who has a pretty fresh take (by the way, is the artist’s name real or is it a pun on John Doe?), involving cartoonish and simplified characters, like Darwyn Cooke uses, but also highly enhanced computer colors. The artist who steals the show is Jason Pearson, a penciller I hadn’t heard of before. His approach is a mix of cartoonish caricatures and nightmarish imagery.
Many of the stories seem to utilize the old Will Eisner The Spirit formula, where the hero is relegated to the periphery, while the villains hatch a plot that usually comes to an ironic or twist ending. Batman: Joker’s Asylum is pretty dark, as usually Batman fouls up in some way (many of the stories have a dark humor to them), and so it’s maybe not fit for tweens (for info on how to help your young kids buy comics, check out my guide) but adult’s with a cynical side are likely to enjoy it.
I’m not sure if I’d recommend buying it. I read the entire thing in about an hour. If you do have a lot of disposable income, I’d recommend Batman: Joker’s Asylum (it’s one of the more affordable graphic novels, set at $14.99), and if not, check if your library carries it.