Joker’s Ultimate Plan
As issue #3 opens, only two of the original three Jokers are left standing, after Jason Todd executed “The Clown,” the Joker who left him for dead back in 1988’s Batman: A Death in the Family. The remaining two Jokers, The Golden Age-inspired “The Criminal” and “The Comedian” of Batman: The Killing Joke fame, are ready to carry out their final plan. They’ve kidnapped Joe Chill and brought him to the abandoned movie theater where the Waynes were killed, all with the intent of submerging him in toxic chemicals and creating the ultimate Joker.
As The Criminal explains, he wants Joker to mean something more to Batman. Rather than be an agent of chaos with no defined past or motivations, The Criminal wants to create a Joker who’s fundamentally linked to Batman. The ultimate Joker is the Joker who took Bruce Wayne’s family away and started him on the path to being Batman.
That’s the plan, anyway. Batman is able to rescue Chill from falling into the chemicals and apprehend The Criminal. But just as it seems the three Jokers’ plan has been foiled, The Criminal is betrayed by his own partner-in-crime. The Comedian shoots him through the head, leaving only one Joker left standing.
Joker vs. Joker
Even though The Criminal seemed to be the ringleader of the three Jokers, it turns out The Comedian has been manipulating his “brothers” all along. He doesn’t want Joker to be someone whom Batman knows and despises on a personal level. However, he does want Joker to matter more to Batman than anyone else.
The Comedian’s true goal in all of this was to arrange a reconciliation between Batman and Joe Chill. During his investigation, Batman discovers a series of unfinished letters Chill attempted to write to Bruce Wayne, apologizing for his crimes and admitting he only killed the Waynes because he was jealous of their wealth and privilege. Only later did Chill come to realize how much Thomas and Martha had done to help Gotham’s downtrodden citizens. Batman also saves Chill’s life more than once during the course of issue #3, even accepting Chill’s gratitude and finally putting aside years of hatred and trauma. With no childhood villain left to demonize, Batman can now focus all of his attention on his real enemy – The Joker.
For now, The Comedian is content to return to Arkham Asylum and plot his next escape. Bruce later pays a visit to a terminally ill Chill, accepting his apology and allowing Chill to die in peace.
This is a stark change from how Chill’s story arc is usually depicted in the various Batman comics. Traditionally, his story ends when a young Batman confronts Chill and reveals his identity. A distraught Chill flees, raving to his compatriots that he was the one who created Batman. In response, they murder Chill as punishment for creating this new scourge of the underworld. In one version, Batman himself stalks Chill until the psychologically battered criminal finally takes his own life. Three Jokers seeks to give Joe Chill a much happier ending, one in keeping with the series’ larger theme of overcoming trauma.
Batman’s Greatest Secret
By the end, it seems the usual Batman/Joker status quo is restored. There’s only one Joker again, and the Bat-family is seemingly no closer to uncovering his true identity. But that’s not actually true. In a heartfelt conversation with Alfred, Batman reveals his deepest and most carefully guarded secret – he knows The Comedian’s identity. In fact, it only took him one week to solve that seemingly impossible riddle.
Here the series references the flashback storyline from Batman: The Killing Joke, which suggested Joker was originally a chemist and failed comedian who turned to crime after his pregnant wife was killed in a freak accident. While The Killing Joke is intentionally ambiguous about whether that backstory is real or just a figment of Joker’s deranged imagination, Three Jokers suggests it did actually happen.
But as it turns out, Joker’s wife never died in that accident. Fearful of raising a child in an abusive home, she turned to her friends in the GCPD for help. They helped her flee Gotham and fed her husband a fake story about a baby bottle warmer accident to mask her trail. Joker’s wife and son have been living in Alaska all this time, happy and free from his long shadow.
Unfortunately, we never actually learn Joker’s real name (though the initials “JW” can be seen monogrammed on his wife’s suitcase). As Batman reminds Alfred, Joker’s identity was never important. Sharing his name or the existence of his family only puts an innocent mother and son in danger, which is why Batman has never told even his closest allies.
It’s important to remember that while Three Jokers seemingly cements the possible origin story introduced in The Killing Joke, the origins of the other two Jokers remain shrouded in mystery. Nor is it clear which of these three villains was the original Joker. In many ways, Joker remains as mysterious as ever despite having a more tangible origin.
In another secret identity-related surprise, we also learn Commissioner Gordon knows his daughter is Batgirl. This is another plot point that’s always been fairly vague in past stories, but Batgirl specifically refers to Gordon as “Dad” when driving away and shrugging off his pleas to stay away from Red Hood.
Is Three Jokers Part of DC Canon?
At this point you may be wondering how Three Jokers will impact the larger Batman franchise. Will the reveal that Batman knows the Joker’s true identity play into their next confrontation, one that’s already being teased in the aftermath of Joker War? Is Three Jokers even taking place in the traditional DC Universe?
There’s no denying the series has a fairly nebulous place in DC continuity. Even writer Geoff Johns and DC’s editorial staff have downplayed the book’s connection to the larger Batman line. Though the original Three Jokers reveal happened in 2016’s Justice League #50 and DC Universe Rebirth #1, the twist hasn’t really been referenced anywhere else since, even as Batman and Joker have had several major battles in stories like Dark Nights: Metal and Joker War. Three Jokers doesn’t necessarily align with current Batman continuity, either in terms of the costumes being worn or the fact that Alfred is still alive. It’s also published under the DC Black Label imprint, which tends to focus on standalone, continuity-free stories.
That all being said, the ending to Three Jokers is very true to the Joker himself. It’s malleable and ambiguous enough that the series could either be part of official Batman lore or simply a standalone, alternate universe tale. It’s really up to future creators to decide if they want to reference the events of Three Jokers, like Red Hood’s act of murder and the fact that Batman knows his worst enemy’s true name. The fact that he’s been hiding that secret all along is a joke greater than anything the Joker himself could ever manage.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.