Review by Ian Keogh
Dark Joker the Wild is one strangely titled graphic novel, and while it sums up the content, it’s not really the best evocation. This is an Elseworlds presentation, one that deposits Batman and his basic concepts into an alternate world, in this case, the Wild, a place of odd fairy tale simplicity. Fearful villagers are terrorised in a world of magic, but with the Joker replacing a wicked witch, and the Batman a mythical beast whose transformation at birth is depicted over the first few pages. He’s a creature of instinct and destiny, and must undertake another transformation before he can fulfil that destiny.
A charitable view of Doug Moench’s plot is that he’s dealing in deliberately referenced fairy tale archetypes of good and evil, and in mythology contrivance has a part to play. A less considerate view is that his plot is riddled with coincidence to the point of shredding any credibility. We see the Joker at the start acquiring a mystical box. Twenty years later he’s in the middle of the forest deciding to have another try at opening it and finally succeeds. A women being burned as a witch is freed by a random mystical occurrence, then just happens to stumble across the Batman for whom she’s been searching for twenty years. Random mystical events are a recurring danger of this environment and this plot.
However, it’s easy to overlook the generic plot because the art of Kelley Jones is spectacular, if at times inordinately gruesome, indicating why DC chose to launch this graphic novel as a premium priced hardcover. Jones creates a land that can switch from pristine beauty to visceral horror, with bits that dangle, squelch and eviscerate contrasted with the idyllic serenity of the grove in which Batman is transformed into a more effective instrument of retribution. Although his art is cartoon exaggeration, Jones’ people have appropriate personalities, and are far removed from the usual glamour of superhero comics.
It’s a struggle to find anything commendable amid the overwrought writing. It is interesting to see Batman far from equal to the Joker, as the unknown quantity instead of the collected voice of reason, but without Jones’ art there’d be little difference between Dark Joker the Wild and a hokey old Hammer horror film. The best advice is to locate Jones’ art serving better projects (see recommended links) and immerse yourself in those instead. Alternatively, this is now incorporated with far better alternative universe stories in Elseworlds Batman Volume 1.