REVIEW: ‘Joker: Killer Smile,’ Book #1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Joker: Killer Smile #1 is published by DC Comics under their DC Black Label, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Andrea Sorrentino, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Steve Wands. The psychological horror series follows Dr. Ben Arnell as he works on rehabilitating the Joker who is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. Ben is hopeful he will be able to get through to the infamous criminal but he underestimates just how easily the Joker can get into his head and potentially his home.

After leaving his sessions with the Joker, Ben starts to notice strange things around him that correlate to the unnerving topics the Joker seems obsessed with. Ben’s child has a disturbing and incredibly violent book, “Mr. Smiles and The Happy Village,” though it does initially appear innocuous, that he’s never seen before. And when Ben begins seeing hallucinations around the deranged character Mr. Smiles, a clear creation of the Joker, Ben worries he is losing his mind to the clown prince of crime and instead of curing him is instead himself going insane.

Much like Lemire’s other work, Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a master-class in horror. It is disturbing, unsettling and forces you to question what is and is not real on the panels. Ben reassures his wife that Arkham is safe and the new security measures will hold even the most dangerous of criminals, including the Joker. Yet not even a page later, Ben is wondering out from the safety of his bed to investigate strange sounds in the night.

The Joker shines as a character when he is a supporting antagonistic character. What sets Joker: Killer Smile #1 apart is that the focus is primarily on Ben, a completely new character. Seeing the deranged clown through this innocent and hopeful doctor’s eyes doesn’t offer a fresh look at the character but it does give insight into just how dangerous Joker is and how quickly he is able to warp his Victim’s mind through gaslighting and emotional manipulation.

Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a gritty book with a narrative to match so it is only fitting that Sorrentino’s art fits that theme well. The realistic style works. Sorrentino’s close-ups of the Joker are some of the best parts of the book. He looks ragged, worn down, and his eyes are bloodshot. The attention to detail in the art is coupled by Bellaire’s excellent colors. Joker’s pale skin blends in with the bare, white walls of Arkham Asylum.

The whiteness and emptiness created in other books would be a mark against it but here it adds to the uncomfortable setting. According to color psychology, the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior, white can represent new beginnings and an open mind. However, too much of it can be seen as cold or sterile. Ben’s open mind clearly has been corrupted by the Joker and the prevalence of white throughout the comic is not only a bold choice but a brilliant one in regards to the playing into the narrative.

Overall, Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a haunting and disturbing look into the ways the Joker can corrupt a single mind. The issue is a solid start to the ongoing series and I look forward to the remainder of this psychological and disturbing thriller.

Joker: Killer Smile #1 is available now at comic book stores and online.

Joker: Killer Smile #1
5

TL;DR

Overall, Joker: Killer Smile #1 is a haunting and disturbing look into the ways the Joker can corrupt a single mind. The issue is a solid start to the ongoing series and I look forward to the remainder of this psychological and disturbing thriller.