When I was introduced to comics (which was not so long ago), I was given one piece of crucial advice: The author and the artist are much more important than the subject or protagonist. And yet, sometimes, you can have the best of both worlds.
Horror has been making its presence known in the comic industry as of late. Jeff Lemire brought us Animal Man, a horror story disguised as a superhero comic. Geoff Johns has brought us a new, self-aware Aquaman battling some of the most ferocious monsters to ever come from the bottom of the ocean. And now, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo will be adding to the bloodbath.
Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Swamp Thing, Severed) has had one hell of a run with Batman, and has recently wrapped up his story arc of the Court of Owls. If you have not been reading his works, you may change your mind soon. Snyder recently announced that for his next arc with Batman, he will be bringing back the Clown Prince of Crime.
That’s right, after more than a year of absence, Batman will once again take on his arch nemesis, the Joker.
But wait a minute, you say. This is a horror website. What does this have to do with horror? Check out this teaser image, and see if you still want to ask that question.
That’s what I thought.
Snyder had this to say on the subject while talking to Comic Book Resources. “Joker is my favorite villain of all time. Not just in comics. In everything–film, books, TV. He’s the greatest, hands down.”
There seems to be a lot of controversy, at least among fans, over the graphic direction comics have gone. Some have said that comics have gone too dark, and that it’s still alright to have fun, bright characters. I will agree with this to an extent. Let me provide you with an example. The Avengers was a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t even venture to claim that it was dark or gritty. Simply put, I loved The Avengers.
But the Avengers are not Batman. Batman has always had the best, most psychologically violent and disturbed villains. And there is the obvious question of his own sanity. How different is Batman from those he fights? He is a man marked by tragedy, taking his vengeance against the world in a brutal fashion all while wearing a suit designed to induce absolute terror. You say there are no horror elements in Batman? How about a scientist who created a gas that makes you experience your greatest fear? Or a schizophrenic killer horribly scarred over half of his face? And let’s not forget a certain murderous sociopath with a permanent clown face?
I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series, and I still regard it as one of the best Batman interpretations ever. I remember Mark Hamill’s Joker. I remember, despite the restrictions placed on the writers and producers (it was, technically, a kid’s show after all), a Joker who was evil incarnate. He was a madman who delighted in the suffering of others. He didn’t just want to take over Gotham or kill the Caped Crusader. He wanted to inflict pain. He wanted to watch us bleed. Here was a man whose death would make the world a better place, and Batman knew it. This was the Joker from my childhood. To me, he was more terrifying than Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees put together. At least with them, my death would come in a few seconds. The Joker would make it last for hours, if not days.
Snyder continues, “Basically, this is my big exploration of the Joker, my Arkham Asylum or The Killing Joke, only bigger in scope. Bottom line: it’s the biggest, baddest, most shocking Joker story I could tell. This is Joker completely unleashed.”
Bold words indeed. But this is from the same pen that brought us Severed, an independent miniseries about the journey of a young boy, and a murderous cannibal. This is also the man who proved that blood-suckers are not as dead as certain book and film series would make us believe with American Vampire.
So what does this image tell us? Horror iconography, when incorporated correctly, does much more than shock or disturb. It tells us a story. It tells us about the characters. This is the reason why comics still play a large part in our culture. Books can describe with amazing, complex detail. Movies can show us images that even the best words could never illustrate. Comics manage to do both at the same time. A slow, tense buildup of a narrative or dialogue can build a detailed suspense, before you turn the page and the whole picture comes into view, assaulting our brain in a savage and destructive onslaught. The image you just turned to does not go away in a split second like it does in a movie, nor does it leave anything to your feeble imagination as a book does. It is there, in full view, penetrating your ocular nerve like an icepick. You are forced to examine it; take it all in and study it. What are you witnessing? A horrifying moment in time, this is something that in the real world would be missed, because real life happens much too quick. For this, we must be grateful. We are spared most horrors in such ways. Comic imagery, and particularly horror comic imagery, forces you to watch. You cannot look away. The artist will not let you look away. What you have seen can never be unseen. It will haunt your dreams. It will dwell in the back corners of your mind, jumping out when you least expect it to give you that quick spine shutter, and that nauseating pain in your gut. The mark of a great artist will be branded into your cerebral cortex until the day you are nothing more than worm food in a wooden box. And you will thank the Ancient Ones that you no longer have to bear witness to what you have seen.
Will the Joker literally cut off his own face? I wouldn’t put it past him. But beyond that, I believe that Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are trying to tell us so much more. The Joker has been gone for so long. What has been happening all this time? What malicious scheme could he have planned for the City of Gotham and for the Dark Knight? How has he reinvented himself? By figuratively, and perhaps literally, tearing the flesh from his bones, the Joker has been reborn. He has been christened in an unholy baptism of his own blood. His is the face of fear. Will Gotham fall before it?
If you don’t think that a mass murdering clown is relative to horror, then let’s see what happens when we lock you in a room with the Joker.