WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Joker: Year of the Villain #1, by John Carpenter, Anthony Burch and Philip Tan, on sale now.
It’s virtually impossible to count the number of Batman stories, both in comics and animation, that begin with his archenemy escaping Arkham Asylum to unleash mayhem on a (somehow) unsuspecting Gotham City. Nevertheless, DC’s The Joker: Year of the Villain #1 travels familiar ground while disturbing new soil by pushing the often-observed romantic element of the relationship between the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime into darkly sexual territory.
Written by John Carpenter and Anthony Burch, and penciled by Philip Tan, the one-shot is told from the perspective of Six of Hearts, a henchman who breaks out with The Joker and innumerable other inmate, only to catch his boss’ attention. When the villain destroys his hideout, and the 51 other henchmen with it, Six of Hearts — “I’ll call you ‘Of’ for short” — is left as his sole sidekick, which swiftly takes on new meaning as a bored Joker seeks to be entertained.
A muttered desire for something weirder and kinkier during a stop at a gas station might have been the first clue this would be no “ordinary” Joker tale, if there is such a thing. His wish is quickly granted by the intervention of oddball Batman foe Condiment King, who intends to rob the cashier and Joker’s henchman. By “preying upon the innocent,” he provides The Joker with the distraction he seeks: twisted Dark Knight role play.
Purchasing Batman and Robin Halloween costumes, The Joker and Six hit the rooftops as Gotham’s new Dynamic Duo. It does go about as well as one might expect, with this mentally unstable Boy Wonder, subjected to years of physical and psychological abuse by his father, basks in the attention The Joker gives him, and in turn seeks to gain his approval. Their crusade becomes increasingly violent and unhinged, made absurdly incongruous by the nods to the 1960s Batman television series. Although The Joker is oddly protective of his “Robin,” even as he slaughters other, anonymous henchmen, Six begins to realize the similarities between the behavior of his new mentor and that of his cruel father.
Looking for a safe place to think, he returns home after five years to his mother, who had shown him love, all while excusing his father’s behavior. He finds her, but as the captive of The Joker, still wearing his Batman costume. However, it’s then that Six realizes The Joker isn’t the madman he had admired for so long; he’s sane, and had drawn out bits of information about his upbringing so they could arrive at this moment. Six begins to strangle a smiling Joker, who doesn’t really struggle. Instead, he removes his cowl and places it on his henchman, whom he now envisions as the Dark Knight. “Harder,” gasps the Clown Prince of Crime, his eyes rolling back in ecstasy.
This night on the town was about more than mayhem, or even costumed role play. It was sexual; weirder and kinkier. We can presume The Joker pushed Six to this point so he could live out a sexual fantasy … of being strangled by his archenemy, of ultimately being murdered by Batman. When Six realizes what’s going on, and falters, a disappointed Joker lashes out with — what else? — a crowbar. “Our fling was fun, my faithful friend,” The Joker says, underscoring the sexual dynamic to this duo, and no doubt opening another can of worms regarding the Batman/Robin relationship.
However, this scenario isn’t about only The Joker’s fantasy. Crowbar in hand, he offers Six the opportunity to “fulfill the ultimate sidekick fantasy,” before reenacting his brutal beating of the young Jason Todd in the 1988 storyline “A Death in the Family.” But here it’s more than some twisted fantasy; it’s an origin story. The Joker leaves Six alive, telling him, “By the way — if you could swear eternal vengeance, I’d appreciate it. It’ll be much more fun to murder you once you’ve spent a couple decades training yourself.”
In the end, Six — make that Jeremy — is alive, and at least somewhat heroic, and The Joker got to play out at least part of his fantasy. And all it took were the deaths of about 60 people, and a potentially armed dog. All in all, a pretty quiet night in Gotham.