Joker - Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo 

DC Comics

Those who found Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in "The Dark Knight" as unsettling and scary should pick up Brian Azzarello's "Joker" graphic novel. It also casts Gotham City's greatest villain in a grim light, making the clown prince of crime no laughing matter.

Narrated by a two-bit thug named Jonny Frost, the original story finds Joker being released from the notorious Arkham Asylum for unexplained reasons. But Joker takes his freedom for granted, reverting immediately to reclaiming the town through nefarious deeds and exploits. That kind of thing is putty in the hands of Azzarello, who treads similarly violent territory in the unflinching "100 Bullets" series, and his work here is much in line with that "? no laughs, no mercy.

Lee Bermejo's art serves the story well, being appropriately grubby looking and downbeat, drawing the detritus of society "? strippers, criminals and assorted lowlifes "? as miserable as their actions suggest they are.

It'd be easy to overpraise this book; it's not in any danger of breaking ground or reinventing the "Batman" mythos

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