By John Funderburg
SYNOPSIS: Everything Dr. Ben Arnell knew is wrong. Who can he turn to? The Joker waits with open arms…and all he needs from Ben is open cell doors! The unbelievable psychological thriller from the creators of Gideon Falls hits a fever pitch and crashes to its decisive finale…or does it?
Poor Mr. Smiles is trapped inside the Magic Castle! Is anyone going to let the poor guy out?
At the end of Killer Smile: Book Two, we realize that Dr. Ben has slipped into madness at some point in the past and the interactions he’s been having with his wife and son are all a lie – fabrications of an unwell mind. The final page of Book Two shows Ben embracing his madness and donning clown makeup. To do exactly what, you might ask?
Enter Book Three.
(Warning: SPOILERS Below.)
The Joker’s been using Ben as a pawn in a long-term game with dire stakes. First, he wants Ben to spring him from the hospital, and two, he wants to destroy Ben’s soul and drag him further into madness by having him murder his estranged family.
This evil plot culminates in the emotional center of the story, which I think I understand. With help and prodding from the Joker, Ben tracks down his family and is preparing to shoot his wife when his son emerges from the bedroom, his face painted like a clown, and he says, “Daddy… take me with you.” Now, upon first reading, I thought his son’s appearance and dialogue was all in Ben’s head. After all, he’s been seeing disturbing images of his family throughout the first two books. But on my second reading, I think the paint and the words are legitimate, and that’s what scares Ben into halting his actions.
His behavior, his madness, has begun to spread to his child, and that scares the life out of him. So instead of following the Joker further down the black hole of insanity, Ben is essentially “scared straight” and seeks help in the same institution in which he used to be a doctor.
This sudden break is represented by a slash of color and images. Red and green. Stop and go. Red is the real, sane world and the sickly chartreuse color is the world of madness. Seeing his son in the makeup pulls Ben down into a sea of red: a clear visual cue that he is slipping back into reality and will fight the tide of madness.
Hey, what a perfect segue to talk about the artwork for Book Three! It is (again) outstanding. The un-heightened, grounded visuals that Andrea Sorrentino brings does wonders for this bleak (and bleak-looking) story. I had such glee in seeing the Joker finally don his long purple coat after Lemire kept him in his orange jumpsuit for the first two books. This is a superb-looking book (and fans of Batman ’89, be on the lookout for some familiar-looking balloons in the Joker’s stash)!
So how is the book overall? Well, after the mystery and intrigue of Books One and Two, Book Three felt like a tiny bit of a letdown. Don’t take that the wrong way, though. This by no means is this a bad book – it’s quite good, in fact – but I didn’t get the payoff I was expecting. After Ben puts on the makeup at the end of Book Two, I was expecting a deep-dive into crazy town, but hey, don’t let my expectations alter yours.
After all, this isn’t the end! Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are doing a one-shot called Batman: The Smile Killer, which will feature the return of the Clown Prince of Crime (and maybe the return of Mr. Smiles)?
Batman: The Smile Killer will be out in May of this year. Be on the lookout for the review here at BOF! – John Funderburg