The Killing Joke is known as one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. Some even call it one of the greatest comics ever. Then there's the ever famous Year One, which served as an update for Batman's very first days of crime fighting. In 2005, a sequel to both Year One and The Killing Joke (well, at the same time it's a prequel to the latter) came about. This one would serve as an update for Batman's first ever encounter with the Clown Prince of Crime. The Man Who Laughs is the title of this graphic novel. It never reached the popularity of The Killing Joke, yet alone Year One. For that, some call it underrated. The Man Who Laughs I would definitely say is underrated, it doesn't get half as mentioned as its cousin The Killing Joke. Yes, I enjoyed this one more than the ladder.
Batman and Joker probably have the most interesting and greatest hero/villain relationship. Greater than Superman/Lex, Captain America/Red Skull, and maybe even Spider-Man/Venom.
"You can't kill me without becoming like me. I can't kill you without losing the only human being who can keep up from me. ISN'T IT IRONIC?!"
That was a quote by the Joker from the infamous story The Clown at Midnight. It pretty much describes their relationship as worst enemies best. The Man Who Laughs is interesting, because prior to the story's timeline, Batman had never faced a person as insane as Joker. Throughout the the story, Joker has the upper hand, outsmarting Batman every time. Ed Brubaker, who would become best known for his Marvel work later, wrote this book. His Joker is fantastic, he appears to be 'insane,' but hasn't totally lost it. He appears to still have a human mind in his motives. Instead of just trying to get the attention of Batman, he doesn't care about him and just focuses on his 'revenge' on Gotham City. Brubaker's Batman is also very good. He seems sure of himself, but at the same time, clueless at the bigger picture surrounding the Joker.
As expected, the narrative is separated between Batman and Commissioner (in this book, Captain) Gordon. I find it amazing that no matter who the writer is, the ladder stays true to his character fully. (Can't say the same about Spider-Man.) And for the first time ever, Bruce Wayne realizes what it's like to be on the laughing end, to be like one of Joker's victims. It's classic fanfare as Joker announces who will die at midnight. Even though this book came in in 2005, the art by Doug Mahnke has an appropriately retro feel. Saying the art isn't dynamic is true, but it would be a crime to count it as a negative, because it captures the retro feel. And I gotta say, the cover is truly fantastic. I'd even go as far to say that it's the best Batman cover I've ever seen. (Isn't it nice to see the old fashioned DC logo?)
Overall, The Man Who Laughs is a definitive Joker story. Not only is it a story for when Batman first met his enemy, it's also about how the Dark Knight progresses as a crime fighter against the insanest of the insane. Never before had a menace such as the Joker threatened Gotham, so it was interesting to see how their relationship as worst enemies happened. Joker at this time didn't even know Batman existed, yet alone care about him at all. No, he just treated the Dark Knight like a nuisance. So it's interesting to look at modern Joker stories. You can see that now he's completely obsessed with Batman. He no longer cares about anything else, he just wants to mess with the Dark Knight. Their final battle in this book was really, really good. That would be their first major confrontation. (Aside from a brief skirmish in the middle of the book.) We even get to see how the Bat-Signal originated, that was a nice little ending. The Man Who Laughs may never be known as a classic as The Killing Joke, but that doesn't stop it from being a great read. I even liked it more than The Killing Joke, but that's just me. The Man Who Laughs is definitely one of the best standalone Batman/Joker stories out there.