Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
So far the majority of DC’s Black Label books have been Batman or Harley/Joker focused, and Joker: Killer Smile is no different. I admit, if the creative team wasn’t Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (with colours by Jordie Bellaire, no less), I probably wouldn’t have been keen to pick it up. I couldn’t pass up on one of the best creative teams in comics. After reading #1, I’ll tell you that this book is worth the $5.99 price point. Killer Smile focuses on the Joker, but rather than delving into his point-of-view, it puts him in a Silence of the Lambs-esque situation by viewing him through psychoanalyst Dr. Ben Arnell. It depicts a good man being drawn ever further into the creeping horror of the Joker’s world. This is to the book’s strength and helps distinguish it from other Joker stories.
In my humble opinion, Jeff Lemire is one of, if not the best writers working in comics today. He’s certainly the hardest working. And Sorrentino isn’t far behind as an artist, somehow juggling this with Gideon Falls despite the density of his style. There are some creative teams that just work with beautiful synchronicity, and Lemire and Sorrentino are absolutely one of them. Their work on this story combines writing and art in the symbiotic way that the very best comics do.
Lemire’s sense of psychological horror is pitch-perfect. I won’t spoil the story too much, but essentially he brings us into the story near the end of Arnell’s sessions with the Joker. This choice pays off as we see how Arnell’s desperation to cure the “Clown Prince of Crime” is leaking madness into every facet of his psyche. Rorschach’s sessions with Dr. Malcolm Long in Watchmen clearly inspired the doctor-patient relationship here. Taking this conceit and applying it to one of DC’s most iconic villains is an inspired stroke on Lemire’s part. He even subtly acknowledges it, with the famous butterfly Rorschach pattern popping up a couple of times throughout this issue.
Sorrentino is at his best, with his art both grounded and hyperreal. His penchant for clever layouts is on full display on the fourth-last page (I say this so you can see it for yourself without me spoiling it). The pencils are strong and emotive, with close-ups displaying the turmoil of the characters, particularly highlighting the Joker’s menacing eyes and teeth. The inks are moody, with shadows cast over most of the panels, but without being overdone. Jordie Bellaire’s colours perfectly compliment Sorrentino’s work. They are evocative and striking, with a subtle variety of palette that walks the line between gritty and surreal.
I could go on for much longer, but I’ll wrap it up here and let you read it for yourself. Joker: Killer Smile #1 uses the mature rating of Black Label to its disturbing advantage. On top of that, it proves that the right creative team can still have a fresh take on this character. Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino promise to delve us further into the waters of the Joker’s madness as this story unfolds, and I can’t wait to take the plunge.
Joker: Killer Smile #1
DC's latest Black Label book earns its mature rating with a disturbing and engrossing first issue. Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a fresh take on an iconic character. Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are at the top of their game, with a brilliantly horrifying tale and beautiful art.