Seriously, the Joker makes Batman look like a rank amateur here. The hero gets ever more rattled throughout the issue, until he's screaming at an unmasked Harley Quinn - er, spoiler alert - for information. But why? I really don't get why the reappearance of the Joker is such a huge deal that Batgirl and various Robins are wetting themselves over the phone. Yes, he crippled Batgirl, murdered Jason Todd and, if previous continuity holds, killed Gordon's wife Sara. But he's just a man; he managed these very personal crimes because he caught the victims off-guard. A Batman Family watching out for the Joker should be able to outmanoeuvre him. He's a lunatic, but could he really be so unpredictable as to constantly surprise people who have, between them, foiled him dozens of times? Isn't the enemy to be feared one you've never met previously, rather than an old foe whose MO doesn't vary a great deal?
But to get the most out of this story, which is running through, at my count, nine titles, over the next five months, we have to accept that the Joker is a nigh-unstoppable, almost supernatural terror, his coming presaged by such portents of doom as the birth of two-headed zoo animals.
Which I don't. Unless he's taken off the board early, an in-character Damian Wayne would strafe the Clown Prince of Crime with a sub-machine gun.
Scott Snyder's script has lots of good touches, from Gordon's efforts to give up smoking, to Batman and the Commissioner having a chat in an elevator shaft. He conjures up a very creepy scene in the arrival of the Joker at GCPD (whose members seem even more shamefully inept than Batman), and the idea of the Joker hiding under Gordon's bed as he sleeps is genuinely unnerving. What's more, he writes a mean Damian - literally.
But the aftermath of the police station massacre is laughable (click on image to enlarge).
The art by penciller Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion hides some of the weaknesses of the script; everyone looks jolly panicked so perhaps the Joker is that scary. I like how they're simplifying Batman by the issue, making him more of a shadow than a man. Conversely, it's gladdening that once the mask is off, Bruce Wayne is recognisably human, and vulnerable. Aided by colourist FCO Plascencia, Capullo and Glapion produce a wonderfully moody opening vignette of Gordon and sidekick Harvey Bullock in the rain. And the fight with 'Red Hood' is masterfully presented.
If DC doesn't look at these pages and immediately commission a graphic novel with Jock artwork, then someone's asleep at the wheel - there's a classic out there, waiting to be willed into life.
The USP of this issue, if you ignore this week's Batgirl, is the die-cut Joker mask attached to the cover. Suggesting that if Damian doesn't kill the Joker, gingivitis will, it's an attention grabber, while being annoyingly flappy. A few more of these things and I'll be ripping them off the comic and attaching them to random cats.
The Joker would be proud.