It's another typical day in Gotham City. Superman, the world's
most dangerous criminal, has broken out of Arkham Asylum.
The only person who can track him down is the world's greatest
hero, Bizarro. Their epic battle destroys property owned by
the bald but brilliant billionaire Lois Lane...
If Superman isn't crazy, that means the whole world has gone
insane, and only one man can be responsible. Somehow Batman's
greatest nemesis, the Joker, has gained the power to reshape
reality according to his own mad whims. Armed with nothing
more than his will, the Man of Steel must put an end to the
reign of Emperor Joker - or die trying...
you might expect from the synopsis, this graphic novel is
weird! Bizarro is back, resembling his pre-Crisis self
more than ever before, Superman is locked away in Arkham Asylum,
Supergirl is in a convent, Superboy is working in a burger
joint, and Lois Lane has taken the place of Lex Luthor. The
writers clearly have fun spoofing not only DC Comics mythology,
but also Marvel Comics (Jimmy Olsen is bitten by a mutant
turtle and becomes Turtle Boy) as well as television and movie
classics such as The Exorcist and Warner Brothers cartoons.
The artists similarly relish the opportunity to depict this
peculiar world, rising to the occasion with suitably twisted
renderings of the larger-than-life heroes and villains.
What makes for even stranger reading is the era from which
this story has been reproduced. The nine chapters that comprise
this hefty tome were originally presented in 2000, in Superman
#160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman:
Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and
the one-shot special Emperor Joker. Readers of DC's
current Superman output (barring obvious retrospectives
such as The Superman Chronicles, The Greatest Stories
Ever Told and The Man of Steel series) are used
to Superboy being dead and Supergirl being a Kryptonian for
the first time since the mid-1980s. However, here Superboy
is alive and well, while Supergirl is in her Matrix incarnation.
In fact, several elements from the epic rebirth saga Reign
of the Supermen are revisited here. In addition to Superboy
and Supergirl, Steel puts in an appearance, while Superman
himself starts out wearing his black outfit.
Though enjoyable, this volume does have several shortcomings...
First of all is its sheer strangeness, which can be hard to
digest unless you spread it out over several sittings. This
weirdness also gets in the way of plot development. With characters
constantly getting killed, resurrected, transformed and restored,
very little happens to actually move the story forward until
the final chapter. In other words, the weird sh*t in the middle
mostly treads water in terms of storytelling.
Secondly, the book's title gives away one of the major plot
revelations. The first four chapters of this tale are entitled
Superman: Arkham in order to keep the villain's identity
a secret. The presence of the Joker is revealed only at the
end of Part Four, after which the tale is entitled The
Reign of Emperor Joker.
the artists' rich and detailed work tends to use up every
spare millimetre of the page. This is fine in a regular comic
book, but bound up in a thick paperback such as this, some
of those details get lost in the gutter.
Fourthly and finally, some of the story seems to be missing
between Parts Eight and Nine, possibly an issue of JLA
or Wonder Woman, in which the Justice League take on
Despite its flaws, with more than 240 pages of comic-strip
action and oddity, this graphic novel is well worth the asking
price. You don't have to be mad to enjoy Emperor Joker...
but it helps.