I’m very unimaginitive when it comes to gift-giving. I have enough trouble buying things for myself, let alone other people. As a result, I tend to go for books, CDs and DVDs quite often, and that means I’ve given a lot of comics and graphic novels over the years.
The good thing about giving comics as gifts is that they’re the one area where I feel sufficiently knowledgeable that I can accurately judge people’s tastes. I’ve given out copies of Demo, Kill Your Boyfriend, Sandman, Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and all the other “gateway” comics you might expect. But there’s little I can say about those that hasn’t already been said. So, here’s one I think can be given as a gift with a similar amount of confidence: Brian Azzarello’s “Joker”.
Told entirely from the perspective of the small-time thug, Jonny Frost, who finds himself working as the driver and right-hand thug of the Joker following the latter’s release from Arkham. Jonny, and the readers, follow the Joker as he wreaks his way through the underworld, re-establishing himself on the scene. It’s a simple device, casting the reader in Jonny’s role as part-hostage, part-willing accomplice, but it works brilliantly as a way to introduce the Gotham underworld to new readers, or offer a fresh perspective for existing ones.
Although Batman doesn’t turn up until the very end, the book features appearances from almost every major bat-villain, and that too makes it familiar enough to give to anyone with even a passing interest in Batman. It helps that Azzarello and Bermejo’s version of the Joker shares much with the incarnation from The Dark Knight – the chelsea smile, the panda eyes, the will to dispense violence swiftly, and at random. As in the film, the Joker’s actions are as morbidly compelling as they are despicable, and when he’s not inflicting pain on someone or something, there’s a palpable tension – he’s a bomb waiting for an excuse to explode. Through Jonny’s eyes, we witness first hand the Joker’s charisma and the seductive charm of his particular brand of chaos.
Oh, and best of all, you can get it as a fairly impressive-looking hardcover for just over £9 on Amazon. That’s the other important quality of a good gift: it looks more expensive than it is.