Disclaimer: The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 deals with themes of mental illness
The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 is published by DC Comics, written by John Carpenter and Anthony Burch, with pencils by Philip Tan, inks by Marc Deering, Danny Miki, Johnathan Glapion, and Philip Tan, colors by John David Ramos, and letters by Gabriela Downie. With Gotham undergoing a time of unrivaled lawlessness under Bane’s control, The Joker finds himself free to do as he pleases. While the Clown Prince of Crime cooks up his next crime spree he brings a companion with him. This companion thinks The Joker might just be the person he needs in his life. But what he discovers about the Joker will change him forever.
The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 tells its story through the eyes of a man named Jeremy. He is a member of Joker’s gang. He is also mentally disabled. Due to the events in his life, and the way others have treated him, he has come to see the Joker as someone kindred to him. He believes since everyone is always calling the Joker crazy, that he will understand him, even protect him. The Joker feeds into this belief throughout the comic by identifying “threats” to Jeremy and then defeating them. Though the only danger Jeremy is ever in results from the Joker’s own actions. However, eventually, Jeremy comes to understand the Joker in a way truly his own. He sees through what the Joker projects to the world. Separating himself, and all those who suffer from mental illness, from a grouping that includes the Joker.
Burch, in an interview with SyFy Wire, spoke about his reasons for taking the comic in this direction. He said, “But to me the take of him I like is from Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum in that he’s not insane, he’s actually hyper-sane and knows exactly what he’s doing and likes hurting people because he’s a really bad person. It can be easy to inflate mental illness with being a violent person but that’s not the case for anybody who knows someone who suffers from it. So I wanted to examine the dynamic between a henchman who might be susceptible to the kind of charisma the Joker represents.”
This contrast of someone truly suffering from mental illness and someone who projects what people often view as mentally ill is a powerful statement. Through Jeremy, we are able to appreciate the differences in a way often glossed over by people who like to label the Joker as simply “crazy.” The Joker is something else entirely. He is evil and violent but not mentally ill. And the way he manipulates and preys on those that are truly ill makes this one of the hardest comics for me to read. Happily, this difficulty, like all powerful art, comes with a message. A statement about where violence comes from, and how those suffering from illness can be misused, mislabeled, and mistreated.
The Joker: Year of the Villain #1’s art strives to match this uncomfortable content and it succeeds. Many panels are enclosed with the iconic Joker laugh. The formatting of the pages themselves also manages to project a feeling of unease. With panels often layered on top of each other. The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 almost feels as if it is striving to consume itself.
Tan’s pencils show how the Joker seeps into and twists Jeremy’s mind. The Joker’s manipulations and violence are on full graphic display here. Sometimes coming off more as a feral beast than a man. Tan’s ability to capture the Joker’s savagery is matched only by his handling of Jeremy. From confused and scared, to finally enraged when he realizes what the Joker truly is, Tan shows an amazing ability to allow a character to transform before the reader’s eyes.
While The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 is a brutal and violent tale of crime and manipulation, it has a poignant statement that goes with it. It takes a look at how people who suffer from mental illness can be manipulated and abused. It is uncomfortable in its brazen showing of abuse and violence. But, within that discomfort, I feel it is a real message that is worth remembering.
The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 is available now.
The Joker: Year of the Villain #1
While The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 is a brutal and violent tale of crime and manipulation, it has a poignant statement that goes with it.