It’s Christmas time once again and DC would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge the arrival of the holiday season in any of their titles. Having realized this, this month’s issue of Detective Comics is set during the Christmas period. With his run nearly approaching six months, Paul Dini has been finding success in his one-shot format that focuses more on Batman as a detective. This month represents a slight departure from this theme, as Dini places the spotlight on two other main characters in Gotham City: Robin and the Joker.
A night out fighting crime turns ugly for Batman’s young sidekick, as he answers someone calling him from a nearby car. It turns out to be the Joker, who gasses Robin and leads him on a wilder ride than any that Mr. Toad can provide. The issue is filled with random acts of madness that have made Joker such an interesting case study throughout the years. Is he a cold, calculating mastermind who has devised a plan to undo Robin psychologically? Or is he simply an insane lunatic who gets his kicks through random homicides? Fans have wondered for years what makes Joker tick. This issue doesn’t provide any answers to those questions, but it provides yet another example of the brand of wanton madness that leads to those questions in the first place.
Dini, whose credits include the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, successfully veers down a path that many writers wouldn’t consider taking. He manages to write an interesting story with minimal use of Batman, the main character. Batman only appears at the end of the issue, but the issue is still a solid read. Not enough focus is given to other characters in the Batman mythos and while Robin does have his own solo title, this issue provides an insight into Robin’s mind in the context of his role within the Bat-family. Could he survive without Batman? Does he have what it takes to subdue Batman’s greatest foe by himself? Can he even figure out what Joker’s intentions are? These are the questions that the reader thinks about as this harrowing tale progresses.
Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher tag team on the issue’s artwork, which comes across like a classic episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Gotham City, even in the middle of the holidays, is expressed as a city mired in darkness. The noir atmosphere is clearly shown. And their depiction of the Joker is brilliant, as he is drawn like any average Joe with an ounce of holiday cheer. On the surface, Joker appears jolly and whimsical, which gives his subsequent homicidal actions that much more impact. In previous interviews, Dini has stated that the comic book medium allows him to explore darker routes than the ones he would normally use on an animated show. Expect death and insanity as the order of the day in this issue and Kramer and Faucher to illustrate it well.
Make no mistake about it. This is a dark tale. There are scattered moments of humor, mostly from Joker, but it’s all added to the unnerving context of the situation. It’s funny to see Joker’s one-liners about the Marx Brothers and his interaction with the drive-thru window, but at the same time the reader feels guilty about laughing when he pulls out a gun or runs over hapless civillians. Such is the beauty of Joker’s character. Even the ending feels bittersweet, as the day is saved, but not without cost.
In the grand scheme of things, this will go down as a forgettable tale. Such is the nature of one-shots in a grand series like Detective Comics. Nothing short of the ultimate blow-away series will be ingrained in the archives of comic book history. But it’s good enough to merit a purchase and keep in your library. And it’s the best issue of Paul Dini’s run to date, so readers should head out and pick this one up. Of course, those who absolute must have their comics with a healthy dose of Batman are advised to take a pass.