Superman: Emperor Joker

Superman: Emperor Joker
Alternative editions:
Superman Emperor Joker review
Alternative editions:
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 978-1-4012-6213-6
  • Release date: 2007
  • UPC: 9781401262136
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Superhero

The terms of narrative in superhero stories are often determined more by the antagonists than the gaudily costumed champions doggedly duelling with them. That’s apparent in tales featuring the Joker, such as this outlandish yarn covering Superman’s activities in September and October 2000.

An opening four parter begins with ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World!’ by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. The night is broken with hideous screams. Every night. A black-clad maniac dubbed Superman smashes out of grim asylum Arkham, only to be subdued again and re-incarcerated by warped clone Bizarro before day breaks. Also every night a diminutive and greatly distracted pixie of a man dashes to an appointment only to be hit by a train, or a giant weight or something else gigantic, weighty and somehow non-fatal. In a sky that rains custard pies hangs a moon with the Joker‘s face. What is going on and when will it all end?

Although taken from a particularly grim and humourless period in Superman history, this thinly disguised tribute to the zany genius of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and those wacky Warner Brothers cartoons reads like a breath of fresh air when gathered together in one collection.

Writers J.M. De Matteis, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly collaborate with artists Kano, Doug Mahnke, Ed McGuinness (sample art) and Mike S. Miller over eight chapters of mayhem, punctuated by extra long outing ‘It’s a Joker World, Baby, We Just Live in it!’ By Kelly, Loeb, Duncan Rouleau, Todd Nauck, Carlo Barberi, and Scott McDaniel. It reveals how the beyond-deranged Harlequin of Hate appropriated the immeasurable power of Mxyzptlk, what he did with it and how his whimsical changes threaten all existence.

Among other delights are evil billionaire genius Lois Lane, a ghastly warped convocation of the Justice League and rebel teen Conner Kent forced to toil as ineffectual fast-food peon Super Burger Boy. As the crisis encompasses a host of transformed and tormented guest stars, the disparate remnants of the former Superman Family launch a desperate last-ditch scheme to save everything, leading to the closing story arc ‘The Reign of Emperor Joker’.

Although not a new plot, this works. It’s a tale of a time and place where compulsively interventionist god the Joker employs Fifth Dimensional magic to literally remake creation in his own image just so he can torture the heroes who have so often thwarted him. Maintaining breakneck pace and peppering the action with in-jokes and sly asides, the narrative of Superman under terminal pressure to save the universe is truly gripping and the eventual denouement actually succeeds in both contextual terms and delivery of a powerful payoff. This is a marvellous piece of comic eye-candy.

President Lex is next.