BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #23.4: THE JOKER’S DAUGHTER
Written by Ann Nocenti
Art by Georges Jeanty
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: September 25, 2013
So, I have to say upfront that I had very low expectations for this title going in. I am a huge fan of the classic Duela Dent Joker’s Daughter character. I have all of her appearances, however few and far between they were, and avidly followed her antics in and out of the DC Universe over the last thirty-some years. But I haven’t been a fan of the current Catwoman series, so much so that my heart plummeted when I heard that’s where Duela’s New 52 reintroduction would be occurring. Therefore, it was a genuine surprise for me to open this issue and read what I consider a really interesting and well-constructed introduction for the character.
That is not to say I think the story works well as a whole in Dark Knight #23.4. Ann Nocenti absolutely nails the chaotic, maddened personality of the Joker’s spiritual (and facial) progeny. Here we have yet another force of nature to some extent, smart but not ruled by intellect, open to sick whimsy and where the currents will take her. Her back story tells of a child who just isn’t “right” by comparison to social standards, but unlike other stories of the sort — The Omen, for instance — there’s no simple explanation for why. And that’s even scarier to me. Call it sociopathy, an emotional vacuum, or just plain evil, but the idea that a child could be BORN like the Joker frightens the pants off me. Any further explanation only serves to dull that concept down, much like attempts to explain the Clown Prince’s own origin. Duela is like The Bad Seed (to resuscitate one of my other favorite films) for an even more maniacal 21st century, and her energy is something that I think could terrorize a goodly portion of the DC Universe if allowed.
Where Nocenti falls short, unfortunately, is everywhere else in the narrative. The inhabitants of the Underground seem simple in the head by comparison to the admittedly chaotic Duela, with even their leader coming off as a bit hazy. They are implied to be former residents of Arkham Asylum, so perhaps they were of the heavily medicated type, but one would think Lithium has a half life. While I should never underestimate the ability of society to regress under extreme circumstances, the extreme patriarchy of the Underground group seems shallow, as is its immediate reversal to a matriarchy, when no explanation for the mini-culture’s roots are proffered. Is this like a bunker style Jim Jones situation? Or some sort of Biblical extremist cult? We’re never really told. And it leaves the plot feeling underwritten.
The art by Georges Jenty, while stylized, is a perfect fit for the lead character, and covers the gamut of her Underground adventure all the way back to images of Duela’s childhood. Close-ups on Duela’s (the Joker’s?) face are insanely creepy and well-done — with mask and perhaps even more so without. The brand she institutes across the faces of her victims is well-rendered, a new twist on how to perfect that Joker smile without actually forcing a grin, and overall, Jeanty delivers a tale that gave me the shivers more than once from a cut or a scar across the page.
Far from a perfect package, Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: The Joker’s Daughter may not be an excellent example of a short story, but as a character study it succeeds in introducing to us a new type of evil. Reflecting a whole lot of the anger and oppression that young women still feel to this day — abstracting it to a degree that eliminates any smell of an after-school special — the Joker’s Daughter is definitely of a different flavor than the Joker himself, but manages to capture that real sense of chaos. Whether I will continue on with Catwoman is a question to ponder for the following month, but for now, I am well pleased with the introduction this character got for the DCU. It seems like the potential to generate real fear and confusion is living up to her name.
The Verdict: 7.5/10