The Mad Hatter isn't in the A-list of Batman villains. A John Tenniel illustration come to life, he's never caught the general imagination in the same way as the Joker, Penguin and Catwoman. He gets a shot at the big time here as the Clown Prince of Crime tells a tale of Jervis Tetch.
The Mad Hatter is trying to live a quiet life in Gotham. He's fighting his demons, the lure of the hats which let him control the minds of others - a torment embodied by harmless-seeming cups of tea. Meanwhile, he's pining for a waitress he dreams will be his Alice, writing a book about the two of them and yearning for a happy ending.
The narration places us firmly in the Hatter's head, and I was surprised at how quickly I felt empathy for the sad little teaholic. This is just a misunderstood man with a hopeless crush.
Yeah, right. Author Landry Walker takes us in one direction but, step by step, swerves into less comfortable territory entirely. We're finally assured that while Tetch is a man who wears many hats, only one truly fits ...
Walker, known for such whimsical delights as Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, shows that he can play in the darker side of the DC Universe too. He gives us a Mad Hatter who is more interesting, more truly compelling than any I can remember. And the Joker's Asylum framework means the reader can decide whether or not 'Tea Time' is canon.
Not that it matters. The point is that this comic is good. Very good. And the artwork plays a big part in the issue's success as we see the Hatter, and we see how the Hatter sees us. Keith Giffen lays down fractured pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz unnerves some more with his finishes (click to enlarge). Factor in the intelligent, attractive colourwork of David Baron, and skewed lettering of Pat Brosseau and we have a memorable piece of illustration. There's one page, in particular - a splash - that manages to be horribly depressing while looking terribly uplifting.
The issue is topped off with a wonderfully imaginative cover design that's pure Sienkiewicz, pure nightmare.
I'm not following the Joker's Asylum sequence, as most of the characters involved are overly familiar to me from (cough) years of comics reading. But what brought me to this strange brew was the mystery of the Mad Hatter and a genuinely surprising creative team. I doff my hat to them.