You can call the Joker a lot of things—psychopathic, murderous, disturbed, obsessed, anarchic, maybe even genuinely funny. But one thing no one would call him, regardless of what side of the law you may fall on, is dependable. The Joker will double-cross his own partners on a whim, let alone anyone trying to stop him. He’s stabbed Harley Quinn in the back, played the Legion of Doom for fools and shown that he can’t even be trusted not to turn on himself (in last year’s Batman: Three Jokers). You can’t take the Joker at his word, not even when it comes to his own history. As he’s famously said, if he’s going to have a past, he prefers “it to be multiple choice.”
Yet, when it comes to solving one of the strangest, most perplexing mysteries to ever hit Gotham, the Joker’s word is about all that you have.
The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox is one of the more unique comic books to see print in years…if not ever. A mystery with the most unreliable narrator in the DC Universe, this seven-issue miniseries finds Commissioner Gordon and the rest of the GCPD with a headline-grabbing crime on their hands, a suspect list that includes just about every villain in Gotham and the only the Clown Prince of Crime’s testimony as a lead. But how much of what the Joker says can you believe? Was he behind the crime, or just a witness? Is that red stain on his shirt just a little strawberry jelly like he claims, or is it something more sinister? And why isn’t anyone else willing to talk?
The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox is a comic swarming with questions, and not just about the book’s story, but about the nature of the project itself. What exactly is this unique digital first tale that features a dream team of fabulous artists, including Jesús Merino, Joshua Hixon, Keron Grant, Dani, Vanesa Del Rey, Domo Stanton, Juni Ba and more? Is there actual puzzle-solving involved? Now that the first chapter is available digitally—in two uniquely different versions, no less—we figured we’d go directly to the guy who has the answers, writer Matthew Rosenberg, to see what we can find out.
How would you describe The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox? It’s clearly not a typical comic book. What are we in for here?
The simplest way to describe it is that it’s the Joker telling stories about Gotham’s most dangerous villains. But it’s much stranger and more complicated than that. The thing that gets me most excited about this book is that it is really hard to explain. It’s equal parts an episode of The Twilight Zone, a book of riddles, an Agatha Christie mystery, a police procedural, and some other weird stuff all thrown together with callous disregard for comic book norms. I always like stories that keep people guessing and that’s what this is until the very last page.
On top of all the puzzles, and mysteries, and the crazy cast of characters, the jaw-droppingly talented artists working on each chapter of this book are going to be a real highlight. Who doesn’t want to read gorgeously illustrated stories of murder, mystery and mayhem, as told by a madman?
Can you talk a bit about how the book works? What are readers going to be looking for with each issue?
Each issue starts with the Joker in a police interrogation room, helping Jim Gordon solve a murder. But helping in a very Joker way. So, he tells these stories that are all riddles and mysteries about villains like Two-Face, the Penguin, Harley Quinn and others. Each story is self-contained…or so it seems. They start to spill into each other and as every story answers one question, it poses another. Each issue of the book will contain two of these stories, all drawn by some of the most exciting artists in comics.
The book is described as a “puzzlebox.” Will there be actual puzzles that readers will need to solve? Or is this more of a typical mystery where we’re looking for clues in the art and dialog?
The term puzzlebox has a few different meanings here. There are actual puzzles in many of the chapters that the reader can try to solve along with the characters, but there are other puzzles winding their way through the story that play more like a traditional mystery. There is also a literal puzzlebox—a mysterious item with missing pieces that everyone is looking for. But we don’t have to get into that here. It’s a lot of puzzles.
The Joker is the narrator here. What role can we expect him to play?
The Joker has a dual role as both a traditional narrator, introducing our stories and guiding us through them, and a deranged murder suspect being interrogated by the police. It’s up to the reader, and Jim Gordon, to decide how much he can be trusted. He happily shares these disturbing tales of murder and mayhem, but is also a main character in many of them. What his real role is in all of this is anyone’s guess.
How did this project come about? Were you particularly interested in seeing what new things you could do with the comic book medium?
I wish I could say that I had some divine inspiration to change what comics could be, but I definitely didn’t. DC Editor Katie Kubert, who had recently hired me to write a Constantine story for the Last 52 anthology, called and asked if I wanted to work on something else together. I think Katie is a great editor and always has interesting projects going, so of course I said yes without hesitation. When she finally explained what the project was, I knew I was in trouble. Fourteen unrelated mysteries, all told by the Joker, with different artists for each one…and maybe they’re not as unrelated as they seem. It’s a ton of work and very intimidating, but I was excited to dive in. From there it was months of me coming up with wild stories, crazy diagrams of how they could all work, and just generally driving myself, Katie and our other editor Liz Erickson crazy as we all plotted this out. But I think the end result of all our madness is a comic that’s pretty unique and fun.
A page from Chapter 1’s “Bonus Box,” available exclusively on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE
This is coming out in print, but first it’ll be on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE with a special “Director’s Cut” edition that includes something called a “Bonus Box.” Can you describe what that is? As I understand it, it has some extra clues that aren’t in the regular edition. Does it have extra story as well?
I’m really excited about the bonus box. They are five or six-page stories by me and brilliant artist Jesús Merino that show you what else is going on inside the Gotham Central Precinct while the Joker tells his tales. They are the kind of stories comic writers don’t get to write often. Just these quick moments that can be strange, or intense, or exciting. But they all provide clues to a bigger mystery happening in the main story.
The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox #1 by Matthew Rosenberg, Jesús Merino and Ulises Arreola is now available digitally, including in a special Director’s Cut edition featuring a “Bonus Box” story on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. Look for it in print on August 3, 2021!