Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Batman - The Man Who LaughsSummary: A mysterious maniac is murdering prominent citizens of Gotham City, each time leaving a ghastly grin on the victims’ faces. Batman soon tracks down the killer: the Joker!This volume gives readers new insight into the early encounters between Batman and The Joker that led the Clown Prince of Crime down the path to insanity. Guest-starring the original Green Lantern Alan Scott, this trade paperback volume featuring two tales written by Ed Brubaker (GOTHAM CENTRAL, Captain America), winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Writer.Witness Batman’s first encounter with the Joker in this volume collecting the graphic novel BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. This collection also includes DETECTIVE COMICS #784-786, a murder mystery guest-starring Green Lantern Alan Scott.

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Batman: The Man Who Laughs, by Ed Brubaker, Doug Mahnke, Patrick Zircher and Aaron Sowd 8.0

Given how pleased I was with Ed Brubaker’s work on ‘Scene of the Crime‘ and ‘Fatale‘, I went out on a quest for more of his work. I had read that he’d written Batman comics for a while and, given his success doing crime comics, figured that he would be in a terrific position to put together intelligent tales of the world’s greatest detective.

I was not disappointed. This tome, which includes two rather lengthy stories, ‘The Man Who Laughs’ and ‘Made of Wood’, delivered a couple of solid crime stories, with Batman as the key investigator – in tandem with Jim Gordon, of course. I loved Brubaker’s touch of sharing Batman and Gordon’s thoughts with us: highlighted as scrap notes, which made them look like journal entries, it shed light on their personalities.

‘The Man Who Laughs’, in particular, provided insight into the relationship between Batman and The Joker by showing us their first encounters, and how Batman got into The Joker’s mind. I don’t have any clue as to whether or not this is canonical, because I’m sure this first encounter has been rewritten tons of times, but I enjoyed Brubaker’s take on it, which sets up their relationship for years to come.

I also liked that he made of Batman a detective and a master of disguise. In this iteration of the character, he slips in and out of crime scenes, even of the police precinct, with the help of his prowling skills and his ability to emulate other people. Unlike the latest film version, which makes him an action hero, or the ‘Earth One‘ book, which made him into an angry frat boy, this felt appropriate.

Doug Mahnke’s pencils aren’t exactly stellar, but they are entirely suited to the piece; his work is imperfect in a way that actually adds grit to the story, something that an encounter between Batman and the Joker benefits tremendously from. So, while it’s technically not that great, I’d rate it highly just because it’s effective contextually – something not all books can boast.

‘Made of Wood’, meanwhile, has a more slick-looking style, courtesy of Patrick Zircher. It’s more conventional, looking more like a regular comic book, but it works and Zircher supports Brubaker adequately. Where the books stumble (it was a three-issue story arc from Detective Comics) is that it fails to explain how Alan Scott, the 1940s Green Lantern, is still youthful in the present. Personally, I’d have imagined him rather decrepit by now.

It also takes shortcuts in establishing the villain of the piece, with Commissioner Gordon (now retired, unlike Alan Scott!) stumbling upon the murderer with relative ease while Batman and Green Lantern befriend each other and work the case from a different angle. I suspect that this is not Brubaker’s fault, as DC’s editors likely only gave him three issues to develop and wrap up the story. Personally, I think that it would have required 2 or 3 extra issues to properly flesh it out.

But, all in all, this was an excellent read. ‘The Man Who Laughs’ is superior to ‘Made of Wood’, but they complement each other fairly well, with the first being grittier, more realistic, and the second bringing in a super-powered individual, making it more fantastical. If this is what Batman was like with Brubaker at the helm, then it must have been a phenomenal run. To me, this is what Batman should be all about.

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