A few eBay sellers have the balls to be asking for upwards of $130 (shipping included) for the 3D variant cover of Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4, a.k.a. Joker’s Daughter #1. I guess it’s rare. And it should be – it is seriously one of the most abominably terrible books ever written.
I’m not overly familiar with Ann Nocenti’s work, but judging by this issue, I’m not sure comic book writing is really the career for her. It’s baffling how someone at the top of their game (writing for DC or Marvel) can put out something this abysmal. If you ascend to the ranks of scripting for a Big Two book, you should be at a Gail Simone level of skill, not Felicia Henderson. And if a company is going to ask people to fork over $3 or $4 for one of their products, those products should, decidedly, not be complete flaming piles of shit.
Simply put: there is no excuse for this. DC, there are a whopping TWO big-time comics companies in the world and you’re one of them. Stop peddling garbage. Hook Jeff Lemire up to a machine, feed him intravenously, keep him awake using artificial light and have him write 24 hours a day if necessary (though I partially suspect this might already be happening). I get that taste is subjective, but Joker’s Daughter #1 is objectively awful in every way.
Before I get into Nocenti’s script, let me discuss what I’d like to call The New 52 Approach to Characters, which involves inventing a completely new superhero or villain and slapping a familiar name on them: skinny, sexy Amanda Waller, non-Hank Henshaw Cyborg Superman, and whatever the hell anyone who’s ever appeared in Teen Titans is supposed to be post-Flashpoint.
Joker’s Daughter, a.k.a. Harlequin, a.k.a. Duela Dent was never a beloved character, as far as I can tell, but she was an enduring one. Appearing, in the past decade, as a member of Deathstroke’s Titans East, and as the corpse whose pointless death kickstarted the equally-pointless Countdown to Final Crisis. When she started she was a teenage girl version of the Joker with a single personality trait: she claimed everyone from Joker to Two-Face to Wildebeest was her father (despite her name, the Harvey-Dent-as-father thing never quite stuck).
Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Joker’s Daughter occupied that same bizarre space Bette Kane/Flamebird occupied: a remnant of a bygone era in comics history that inexplicably continued to exist in the present. Editorial intervention prevented her from making Team Titans an interesting read in the early ’90s, around the same time Harley Quinn crossed over from cartoons into mainstream comics continuity, rendering Joker’s Daughter redundant in addition to irrelevant.
And while this Joker’s Daughter appears to be named Duela, she bears little resemblence to her predecessors.
Joker’s Daughter #1 concerns a world beneath Gotham City called The Nethers, the remains of a town flooded to create the Gotham Reservoir. The idea of The Nethers existing beneath Gotham is an intriguing idea Nocenti completely wastes by making it a society filled with rat-eating alpha males and their abused wives.
Here are the many ways in which the story doesn’t work:
1. Revenge plots only work when someone’s actually getting revenge – Joker’s Daughter arrived literally seconds before seeking vengeance on a bunch of complete strangers.
2. How long does a severed face last, exactly? How long could it survive in water without marine life or the environment tearing it to shreds? I skipped much of Death of the Family, but was there an explanation provided that the Joker’s face was injected/covered in some sort of sealant? Is it mostly plastic now?
3. And if one of the character’s most important traits is that we never see the face behind the mask, why does literally every flashback show the face behind the mask? What’s the point of keeping it hidden in the present?
4. Sure, Joker ran things in Arkham, but certainly when someone shoves a searing hot iron scythe in your face for the purpose of mutilating you, a basic human aversion to pain would make you slightly more resistant than this:
5. And does every evil male in The Nethers happen to just be standing next to a collection of hot coals, or is Joker’s Daughter’s makeshift cow brand just really really good at retaining heat?
6. A society of men built on dominance over women instantly, without a second thought, throws their hands up and lets a woman take over? It’s just that easy?
7. Flashbacks showing that crazy people are crazy is repetitive and unnecessary and comes off as the padding that it quite clearly was meant to be.
8. Who the hell are these people supposed to be? Even the art makes no sense.
9. The ugliness-versus-beauty schtick doesn’t really work since there is no genuine beauty in The Nethers (the cards being stacked so heavily against the men means even the tribe’s leader, despite his handsomeness, is already fundamentally “ugly.”)
10. If this was meant to be a spin on the oft-quoted Lysistrata – why, even after the men have submitted to Joker’s Daughter’s rule, are the women still portrayed as sad-eyed weaklings?
In summary: Joker’s Daughter #1 is the worst comic I have ever read. And I have read Rob Liefeld.