Batman: The Man Who Laughs (Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke) and Detective Comics #784–786 (Ed Brubaker and Patrick Zircher)
This is a very strange collection – The Man Who Laughs is a one-off special, and is interesting and well executed, with a good story about the early Joker getting revenge on the people he blames for how he became the Joker. I didn’t think I would enjoy yet another Joker story – the character is so overused in the Batman comic books, and it’s embarrassing seeing authors having to tie themselves in knots to stop somebody killing the Joker for being a mass-murdering psychopath – but this avoids that trap by making it about the Joker specifically, and Brubaker has a good angle on the story, which is supposed to be the in-continuity first meeting between Batman and the Joker. Brubaker’s noir narration is exactly right for this sort of story and Mahnke’s excellent art, all crunchy toughness and detailed line, is perfectly suited to hard-boiled Batman crime action and the darkness of Gotham City (as I said before in my thoughts on Batman: Under The Hood), because he can do mood and action but humour as well.
However, the very good story that is The Man Who Laughs is collected with a lesser tale, both in terms of quality and importance to the character of Batman. The other story is a three-issue arc of Detective Comics called ‘Made of Wood’ and it doesn’t have much going for it – it’s about a murder linked back to Gotham City of old and to Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, who used to work out of Gotham City. There is some nice detective stuff thrown into the story (Brubaker knows his way around detective fiction after all this time) but it’s not particularly engaging; the only bit that stuck in my head was having Jim Gordon doing taijiquan (aka t’ai chi ch’uan, if you prefer the Wades–Giles spelling to the pinyin) to help his recovery, even if Zircher doesn’t draw it very well. Zircher’s art, although it’s not terrible by any means, is rather ordinary compared with Mahnke’s, especially if you place it side by side. In addition to the seriously ugly Tim Sale covers to the three issues, you have a rather bizarre trade paperback: one good story, one uninteresting story.