REVIEW: ‘Batman: The Smile Killer,’ Issue #1

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Batman: The Smile Killer #1

Batman: The Smile Killer #1 is the followup to the horror mini-series Joker: Killer Smile. The DC Black Label series is written by Jeff Lemire, with art from Andrea Sorrentino, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Steve Wands. Previously,  the series followed Dr. Ben Arnell, a doctor working at Arkham. But when the Joker gets into his head, it quickly becomes apparently not everything about Arnell is as it seems. Instead of focusing on Arnell again, this one-shot explores the dark history of the Joker’s Mr. Smiles through the eyes of a young Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne grew up watching Mr. Smiles Playhouse. However, the lively children’s cartoon however has a dark and ominous secret. Now as Batman explores a series of murders he realizes the Mr. Smiles he watched on television as a child was also watching him.

Batman: The Smile Killer #1 plays with the idea of Bruce Wayne’s sanity and asking whether his own memories about his time as Batman are even real. The original series beautifully captured the mental crisis Arnell experienced as the Joker flooded his brain with lies and deception until finally revealing the dark, disturbing truth. However, that was built up over multiple issues and here it feels rushed.

Batman’s descent into madness and the supposed twist is jarring because the pacing is so off. The concept of Batman not really being Batman is not new. Most recently we saw it in Batman: The Last Knight on Earth and previous to that in a Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight story. And while I am not against re-exploring the concept, it is just not done well here. The issue does not have enough time to dive into Bruce’s brain the way the original series did. There are little to no clues that help the reader discern what is and is not real. Half the fun of any Batman book is figuring out the case with the Dark Knight.


Batman: The Smile Killer #1

That being said, Sorrentino’s art and Bellaire’s coloring continue to be a standout, as they were in the original series. Bellaire creates a haunting color palette that beautifully captures the gore on the page. The choice to color so much in red makes everything feel like it is dripping in blood. Sorrentino’s art is exenterated by the brilliant panel design.

However, as wonderful as the art and coloring is, the book still falls flat. The conclusion is lackluster and there is no rhyme or reason as to why the story twists and turns the way it does. It feels like a shock for the sake of shock but a half-assed attempt at that considering this concept has been explored better in previously Batman stories. Overall, Batman: The Smile Killer #1 is a disappointing follow-up to what was a fantastic horror series.

Batman: The Smile Killer #1 is available now in comic stores and through digital retailers.


Batman: The Smile Killer #1
2.5

TL;DR

However, as wonderful as the art and coloring is, the book still falls flat. The conclusion is lackluster and there is no rhyme or reason as to why the story twists and turns the way it does. It feels like a shock for the sake of shock but a half-assed attempt at that considering this concept has been explored better in previously Batman stories. Overall, Batman: The Smile Killer #1 is a disappointing follow-up to what was a fantastic horror series.