“Life is meant to be savoured.”
Joker: Killer Smile is a psychological horror, mystery graphic novel by the magnificent award-nominated duo, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Gideon Falls). It revolves around The Joker as yet another psychotherapist makes their attempt at diagnosing and eventually “curing” Gotham’s ultimate villain of his malevolent tendencies. Regardless of the failures of the past, Dr Ben Arnell is determined to be the one who unravels the madness of an utterly unknowable mind. And there’s no way that The Joker can break through Arnell’s carefully constructed psychological walls of protection, right? And even fewer chances of The Joker sneaking into the doc’s house at night, to slip a darkly enticing storybook into the little paws of his kid… right? Of course, there is no way at all.
My obsession and supreme adoration for DC’s one-of-a-kind villain of impeccable brilliance is no secret here on BiblioNyan. So, when I came across this graphic novel, my eyes widened with wicked fascination and I knew I had to read it as soon as humanly possible. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to fall into the euphoric mind-fuckery of such phenomenal storytelling. I haven’t read a comic this intellectually invigorating and psychologically ebullient since Grant Morrison’s and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
The story is told via the perspective of Dr Ben Arnell. We begin with him trying to get a feel for his patient and what he has to work with in order to achieve his career-changing goal of diagnosing and then curing the city’s biggest brutal trickster. When a narrative centres on one specific character in this manner, and when it’s executed exceptionally, it can make for some of the best damned storytelling dynamics. The (de)evolution of our beloved doctor’s psychosis is marvellously insidious and spine-tinglingly atmospheric. It helps craft a near-perfect unreliable protagonist that is as darkly disconcerting as it is outstandingly engrossing.
One of the biggest aspects that makes this graphic novel so powerfully riveting is the intimate look into the potentiality of The Joker’s sanity. Through the lens of Dr Arnell’s spiralling experiences, the audience gets a deliciously disparaging taste of The Joker’s actions, his level of calm-headed and meticulous yet versatile rendering of a perfect scheme. You can’t help but wonder if it’s truly madness that makes him so damn capable of what he does, or the inherent lack thereof, which is precisely why he’s one of my favourite characters in existence across all media.
Nevertheless, without the exquisite artistry of Andrea Sorrentino, this story’s brilliancy would be virtually non-existent. Their incredibly imaginative experimental illustrations are breath-takingly cinematic. The gorgeous uses of muted colour palettes in conjunction with the unexpected vibrancies of bright shades of yellows, reds, purples, and greens create a visual cacophony of sanity versus insanity, wonderfully complementing the good doctor’s plight. Some of my favourite minute elements were the innovative implementation of the effects text. It helps those scenes to pop off the pages and come alive, inviting more enthusiastic eagerness to keep on reading.
All in all, Joker: Killer Smile is a must-read graphic novel for any and all who are fans of the Batman comics, especially if you’re in emotional cahoots with The Joker, as I am. This is a feast of intellectual stimulation on a scale that is gloriously genius and a fantastic representation of why I love the comic medium so damn much. No surprise here, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you check this beauty out.
Publication Date: September 2020
Publisher: DC Black Label (978-1779502698)
Genre: Comics, Psychological Horror, Mystery
Page Count: 144
Content Warnings: Heavy use of disturbing psychological imagery. Representation of mental health institutionalisation. Graphic violence. Graphic blood. Death. Brief scene of body mutilation. Brief scene involving drowning. Brief scene with animal death.
GoodReads: Joker: Killer Smile by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino