Joker: Killer Smile invites readers to take an all-new and truly terrifying look at Batman’s archenemy as he methodically unravels confident, well-meaning Arkham Asylum psychotherapist Dr. Ben Arnell.
Arnell is convinced he can diagnose the Joker—so who’s really the crazy one? Let’s just say he’ll truly be taking his work home with him.
Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino talk to DC Nation about their take on the Joker, and the descent into madness awaiting Dr. Arnell.
What aspects of the Joker did you want to explore? What shaped your take on him?
Jeff Lemire: I’ve written a lot on the DC Universe in the past, but I have never really had a chance to write any of the Batman-related characters, so this opportunity was very exciting for me. Aside from Batman himself, of course, Joker is probably the most iconic character in that corner of DC. But I didn’t really feel intimidated by it, really just excited to try and do something new and fresh and put our own spin on the character, while still celebrating all the great Joker stories that have come before.
In terms of what Joker stories I looked to for inspiration, it really came down to three specific books. Of course, Killing Joke is the greatest and most iconic Joker story, and its influence cannot be ignored. But I also re-read Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Joker and the Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ Batman run.
Andrea Sorrentino: We wanted to take a break from the more “fleshy” side of him and show a man that can crawl under your skin and walk into your mind just by using his words. Like that kind of psychopath that can freak you out even while he’s handcuffed to a chair from behind glass.
He’s mostly serious, especially in the beginning. I made a lot of studies for his expressions and his body language trying to give readers something that would make him a more subtle and real character.
How do you describe the visual tone of the series? What type of mood are you looking to establish?
Sorrentino: We’re aiming for a real take on the character. Even the Gotham or the Arkham Asylum we see in the book are stripped of their usual gothic aesthetic to show them as real places. I think and hope it may be something new.
And the story is really a crescendo. Things start quite smooth, and then we see madness growing and growing through the issues. The art approach, in terms of storytelling and page design, reflect this as well.
We’re also giving the story two other narratives. One is seen through the eye of the Joker—the tales of his craziest achievements as he tells them to Dr. Arnell. The other one has a more metaphorical meaning and will introduce the mysterious “Mr. Smiles” to DC readers. Each narrative will feature a different art style—one of them is a compete novelty, even for me.
Jeff, what made Andrea the right collaborator for Killer Smile?
Lemire: Andrea and I have developed a really great chemistry since our first project together, which was our run on Green Arrow for DC. Since then we’ve continued to grow and experiment as a creative team, both at Marvel and currently with our creator-owned series, Gideon Falls.
The aspect of Joker that interested me the most was his influence on other people; how his madness can spread and infect and reshape the world around him. Andrea is the perfect artist to take that concept and bend the visual reality of the book to express it in new and exciting ways.
Do other familiar characters beyond the Joker play a part in Killer Smile?
Lemire: They sure do. You can’t have Joker without his favorite dancing partner, can you? But Joker is the focus of this book. Any other DC characters are there in support of telling a really great Joker story.
Let’s talk about Dr. Ben Arnell—how is he so (clearly misguidedly) confident he can diagnose the Joker?
Lemire: Ben is a great guy. Nothing wrong with good ol’ Ben Arnell. He’ll be totally fine, I promise. Chances are good Ben will succeed in treating Joker’s madness, and the story will have a very happy ending for all. Really.
Or…Dr. Ben Arnell could be the reader’s gateway into terror and insanity, and a whole world of mayhem like nothing Gotham has ever seen.