Review by Megan Sinclair
“He’s not a criminal. This isn’t crime. This is evil.“
Batman Lovers and Madmen offers a modern and fresh take on the popular origin stories of the Joker and Batman. As the title suggests, the two characters are sustained by their relationship with one another, in a sense playing out a twisted love affair through their obsession with each other. Unlike Batman however, the Joker is truly awakened when he steps out of his unfulfilled reality and sees the insanity behind a sane man fighting crime dressed as a bat, as Green seems to suggest both the Joker and Batman are insane, they are the “madmen”.
The graphic novel is told in a circular narrative, beginning and ending with Batman infamously looming in the shadows observing Gotham. In the beginning, he weighs up the differences between silence and quiet, arguing that silence is far more sinister and fearsome than the quiet, which in contrast represents peace and a sense of ease. In the opening, Gotham is quiet, as Batman having almost reached the end of his first year as a vigilante has restored order to the decaying city. However, in the wake of the Joker the once hopeful city collapses into chaos and Batman questions his ability to stop something he does not even believe in. As he comments to Alfred, “I thought I would battle men who were monstrous. I never imagined I’d be fighting actual monsters.” By the conclusion, there is a new kind of criminal and a new kind of Batman, fuelled by a new purpose. He looks over the city with bated breath listening to the silence, awaiting more madmen to rise from the ashes that the Joker has scattered.
The layout often feels constrained. Panels layer over one another with lots squeezed onto one page, as if Denys Cowan is trying to visually represent the impossible task of confining the Joker and Batman into one story. Similarly, Green intertwines various classic texts into the narrative from Poe to Conan-Doyle, further suggesting that the influences behind arguably the greatest enemies in modern culture run far deeper than this story alone.
Unlike most one-shot origin stories, Lovers and Madmen originated within a series and as such the narrative cleverly sets up various future characters and plots, from the cutesy blonde psychology student that pushes Jack (Mr J) to pursue his talents to Batman’s visit to see Dr Crane whose interests lie in examining the criminally insane and militating for a reopening of Arkham. These little touches add a unique and enjoyable layer for those who have read other Joker origin stories, whilst being subtle enough for first time readers to understand without the references.
Green and Cowan offer a chilling and exciting insight into the relationship of Batman and the Joker, that both pays homage to various other origin stories, but is also a unique and standalone piece. The story offers a dark look into a soul-searching Batman as he contemplates whether everyone is worth saving and shows the twisted and manic mind of the Joker in all his glory, with more than a few haunting scenes worthy of adding to the long list of the Clown Prince of Crime’s sickest moments. Though arguably the superhero/villain origin stories are overdone, the relationship between these two characters remains as interesting and exciting as ever, their bond is an endless cycle and as the Joker concludes to Batman, “you will always have me to dance with.”