Writer – Jeff Lemire,
Artist – Andrea Sorrentino, Jordie Bellaire
DC Black Label
I may be a little late to the party with a book that was first published in October 2019, but hey, we’re in lockdown, so I’m catching up on some reading, and buying too many back issues on eBay.
This is the most recent complete run I’ve picked, and with it being only 3 issues it seemed like it would be a reasonably quick read.
First off, let’s just address that this is not your average Joker story with him being hunted by Batman with Harley to tow. This is very much presented a psychological horror / thriller in a similar vein to The Silence of the Lambs.
The series follows Dr Ben Arnell, who believes he can be successful in curing Joker, all the while severely underestimating how easily the Joker can get into his head and under his skin.
After interviewing Joker, Ben starts to notice bizarre things that he feels can link to Joker, including a children’s book interlude about Mr Smiles and the Happy Village, which is a bedtime story he reads to his son, until it turns bloody and violent. Ben relates this directly to Joker and begins to question his own mind, while assuring his wife all is well, while at the same time becoming jumpy and having to investigate sounds he hears at night.
In issue 2, Ben’s descent into his own madness continues as he visits a dream world that inhabited by special people, people who are insane. The dream takes him to a diner named Arkham’s where Two-Face is the manager and Harley is the waitress, and all the other Batman rogues a dotted around the place. Once Ben awakes, he is not sure if his reality of waking up in bed with his wife is real or not.
He continues his interview sessions with Joker, despite the feeling he is losing his grip on reality, when Joker throws another curveball by suggesting he knows all about Ben’s family.
It’s difficult not give too many spoilers, especially from this point onwards, so I’m going to try and wrap this up with an overall summary, although I’ve barely touched issues 2 and 3.
As I stated above, this is very much a psychological thriller, and it wasn’t what I expected going into it. While the concept of the Joker corrupting his doctors is not a new one, because the book focuses on Dr Ben Arnell, the Joker almost becomes a secondary character which makes the story feel fresh, even though a lot of the book is simply set as a doctor interviewing a patient.
The artwork is very different from what you might normally expect from a “Batman Universe” book, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure it was for me when I first started to read, but actually as the story moves on, with it’s twists and turns, the artwork fits really well. I’m still not sure on children’s story book interludes, but they are something different and do fit with the story well.
Killer Smile is a gritty and disturbing look into how the Joker can manipulate people and, although this is a comic book, there are definitely elements that you can believe would happen in some families in the real world, which makes then impact even harder.