It’s a question that occurs to anybody who reads Batman comics at some point. In a world where death is just a revolving door and even the gravest injuries can be miraculously healed if editorial likes you enough, the Joker can’t stay crazy forever.
So what happens if, one day, the most brutal, vicious, and terrifying killer ever known finds his marbles?
DC has tackled this idea once or twice, once in John Ostrander’s run of The Spectre and once in Legends Of The Dark Knight, in an arc by J. M. DeMatteis called Going Sane that’s actually a surprisingly effective look at the Clown Prince of Crime.
Bedlam takes a slightly different tack: What if the Joker’s sanity was forced on him in about the most involuntary way possible?
That’s the root of Bedlam, from Thief of Thieves writer Nick Spencer and artist Riley Rossmo. Fillmore Press was once Madder Red, who’s pretty much the Joker except more pretentious. Now, he’s just a guy: Broke, kind of a mess… but still incredibly intelligent, and more to the point, crazy. Fillmore may not be homicidal anymore, but he’s definitely nuts.
Spencer does a lot with the concept, although he also can get a little dialogue-heavy at times. But that’s largely a function of the fact that he’s got a lot to set up: Madder Red’s insanity, Fillmore’s slightly less dangerous insanity, the city of Bedlam, the cast of characters, and so on. He crams a lot into the first issue.
Rossmo, meanwhile, establishes that he’s an artist to watch. He’s already done great work elsewhere, notably Debris and Rebel Blood, but his work here is notably distinct from his other books while still being recognizably his. Of particular note is his juggling of the flashbacks throughout the book and his work with the colorist, Jean-Paul Csuka:
Bedlam isn’t a perfect book right off the bat. But it’s a compelling one, and one I’ll be curious to see where it goes.