Page 5: Joker Released from Arkham Asylum

©2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo
Issue #1, Page 5: Joker Released from Arkham Asylum
Graphite and ink on board
11" x 17"

Heath Ledger's gritty, Oscar winning performance as The Joker was greatly influenced by a Lee Bermejo sketch of the villain with a Glasgow Grin –his face sliced beyond the lips into a grim, involuntary smile...

Brian Azzarello won an Eisner Award for his work with Edouardo Risso on the Vertigo crime series 100 Bullets in 2001. He first teamed with artist Lee Bermejo on the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel miniseries, which granted an uncharacteristic view behind the motivations of Superman's greatest villain. Out of discussions from that project were born the seeds of Joker: Dark Knight. The result is a seedy, real-world treatment of not just the Joker, but many of Batman's rogues gallery: The Riddler, Killer Croc, Two Face, Penguin, and Joker henchwoman Harley Quinn. It is often brutal, sometimes hilarious, and undoubtedly the greatest Joker story since Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's classic Killing Joke. Since both the graphic novel and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight film were in production at the same time, Bermejo voluntarily posted his character design to a webpage set up for the film. As such, it appears to have influenced one of the most successful films in history, placing the impact of this single comic up there with Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27 and Amazing Fantasy #15. Publisher DC chose to shorten the title from Joker: Dark Night to Joker, and waited to release it after the Dark Knight film, feeling (perhaps correctly) that the graphic novel would greatly benefit from sales generated by a successful film. That film is currently the third highest grossing film of all time –and the benchmark by which all other superhero films must compare.

The page above is quite frankly phenomenal. Most comic book art pages are rendered first in pencil and then inked on top of the pencils. Cognizant that the detail of his extraordinary graphite work would be lost under ink, Bermejo's pencils are left completely untouched in the top panel. The second and fourth panel views of Arkham Asylum's famous gargoyles (in between lightning strikes) establish not only the setting but the tone. Panel three offers a glimpse of the tale's narrator, Jonny Frost, in frame with the titular villain. And the bottom panel of the Joker in vicious profile, extending his middle finger in a vulgar gesture, let's readers know that this isn't their daddy's Joker. This malevolent creature is something new, frightening and apocryphal.

IGN stated "Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Joker is a deeply disturbing and completely unnerving work, a literary achievement that takes its place right alongside Alan Moore's The Killing Joke as one of the few successful attempts to scratch beneath the surface of the Joker's impenetrable psyche," and awarded it as Best Graphic Novel. AICN noted that "The story is compelling, especially the gut-wrenching showdown at the end of the book, and the art is mouth-wateringly good."


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