Part two of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is little more than a preamble to the main event.  But can I just say, if the story is already this awesome and we are only in setup mode, well then, I believe we can expect some truly great things to come from this arc.

Let’s start with The Joker.

There is something delightfully old-school about this Joker interpretation that I just love.  And when I say old-school, I’m not talking old-old-school (as in the 40s and 50s).  I’m talking about the 70s and 80s.  In recent years, Joker has become much more synonymous with city-wide destruction.  But there was a time when The Joker was perfectly content threatening single individuals or smaller groups of people.  And it wasn’t even necessary for his plans to garner any kind of major media attention or even  monetary compensation.  Sometimes he simply did things because it was something he wanted to do.  I recall this one story from the early 70s where Joker killed an entire family just because one member of the family testified against a criminal.  And this witness wasn’t even testifying against The Joker.  Joker simply killed him and his entire family because he felt they were sticking their noses into other people’s business where it didn’t belong.  So yeah, that’s definitely a Joker I can get behind.  A Joker that carries out grizzly murders….just because.  And that’s where this story starts. Joker killing a family of five nobodies…for no real reason at all….just because.

Then we’ve got this great scene where The Joker is in the bathroom starring into a mirror and practicing smiling.  It’s creepy as all get-out.  And while I’m on visuals, can I just say how happy I am with the way Janin is rendering The Joker.  It’s super classic and classy all at the same time, somewhere between Brian Bolland and Alex Ross.  I think the only thing I could possibly hope for would be longer coat-tails on that tux.

The Joker’s career is barely a year old and he is already a force to be reckoned with, as even other well-established criminals hop-to when he says jump.  But the single coolest/creepiest Joker moment from this entire story has to be the way he punishes someone for failing him.  I’ll throw it in a spoiler just in case you haven’t read the issue yet.  Not because knowing it ahead of time really ruins the plot in any way, but simply because it was more shocking to me when it came out of left field.

Spoiler

Holy crap….  Yeah, that’s pretty hardcore.  But when you consider the number of times I’ve seen The Joker kill people, simply for speaking out-of-turn, I’d say Carmine got off easy.  Sure, Joker killed his mom, but later on in the story it’s revealed that the two of them were estranged.  So, I have to imagine this wasn’t a huge loss for Carmine.  More of an insult/disrespect than anything.

The Riddler

While Joker is running around killing random people to try and bring his smile back, Riddler is busy recuperating and recruiting.  And as much as I love Janin’s work on Joker, I think I might just love his Riddler work even more.  The two greatest Riddler designs are undoubtedly the green suit and the one-piece body-suit.  One fulfills the classy yet colorful gangster look and the other is more in line with the form-fitting body-suits that superheroes so commonly wear.

Yes.  I know we are talking comics here.  But I’m using Frank Gorshin as my visual example because I think he rocked both costumes like a boss.  In any case, Janin manages to combine the visuals of both suits into one striking look.

Yep.  Riddler uses the scar from his bullet wound as the point in the question mark.  Admittedly, I’m not too fond of the idea of Riddler self-mutilating himself.  But when the results are an amalgamation of the giant question mark paired with an open-shirted green suit….well, I won’t be raising too many complaints over it.

The Joker vs The Riddler

The idea of these two fighting with one another made me grin from ear to ear when I first heard about it over the Internet.  I’m sure everyone has their own personal reason as to why they are looking forward to this story line, and I’m guessing mine won’t apply to many, but I’m going to share it with you.  Back at the beginning of the 40s when The Joker first entered the scene, he was a murderer and a thief extraordinaire.  But very soon after that, he was transitioned into a much more kid friendly Joker that was all about gimmicks, clues, puzzles, and…..yes, riddles.  Joker was such a popular character , one could almost guarantee he would show up in either Batman or Detective.  His frequency became so regular that DC feared readers would become fatigued with him.  Hence, entered the Riddler.  While the Riddler wasn’t a copy of the original Joker blueprint, he did borrow heavily from the kid friendly version that The Joker had morphed into.  This way, DC could continue to tell the stories they were telling, but make them feel slightly more original since they were being pulled of by a fresh villain.  If The Joker were a real person, I think he would be highly offended at the idea of some carbon-copy upstaging him and stealing his work.  And that’s where this story fits in for me.  It hasn’t been suggested in any way, shape, or form within the comic itself.  But I’d like to think of this story as the meta culmination of a rivalry that started 69 years ago.

The Batman

Throughout the entire story, Batman is one step behind our villains.  And when you’re one step behind a bunch of murderers, it means you’re going to be looking at an awful lot of bodies.  What I really liked about Batman’s sections of this story was how much he allowed himself to feel each and every death.  He knew all the victims names.  Knew all about their lives.  It’s as if he committed everything to memory to honor them and not allow himself to ever forget his failures.  In an odd sort of way, each victim becomes additional motivation that helped to strengthen his resolve against the forces of evil.

It was also interesting how the book approached the henchmen.  Far too often I think we just lump all the villains together and say, “if you’re working for a bad guy, you must be a bad guy”.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes good people are forced to do bad things for good reasons.  As much as I liked the sentiment behind showing the thugs as real people, I felt like it was a little one-sided.  I just find it hard to believe that every “bad guy” that got killed just happened to have noble aspects in their lives.  Certainly some of them would have to be bad eggs that were drawn to crime simply because they were bad people.  It’s possible that Batman only bothered to recount the parts of the tale that would bolster his resolve.  Or, it could be to show that it’s never that black and white.  To show that people that do bad things can still do good things.

Then again, this guy didn’t get any kind words spoken about him by Batman.  He must have been the one that made a hobby out of kicking puppy dogs and used his mother’s social security checks to buy booze.

I also really really really appreciated the fact that Batman had all that stuff in his actual memory.  He wasn’t scanning faces with a retina camera to pull up files or using some other bat gizmo.  He just memorized it.  I always really dug that aspect of Batman.  Whenever I’d read scenes in the past with Batman recounting random details about some nobody thug, I always envisioned that he just had all that knowledge at his beck and call from pouring over police file after police file back in the Batcave.  Much in the same way you or I probably memorize issue numbers to our favorite stories or someone else might spend their time memorizing batting averages of their favorite baseball players, I’d like to think that since Batman has no fun hobby, he fills that spot in his mind with the personal details of every low life residing in Gotham.

Mikel Janin

Yeah.  Janin deserves his name in big bold letters.  While King did a phenomenal job on this story, Janin has never failed to impress me.  Not once.  And the same holds true here.  I already peppered my opinion of his art through The Joker and Riddler section of this review, so you already know I love the guy’s work.  But there is a 4-page spread in this book that’s composed of The Riddler army vs The Joker army, and it was so wonderful that it got me to fantasizing.  If I ever won the lottery, I would totally commission Janin to do a panoramic mural in my game room of all the Batman heroes and villains squaring off.  Ah…the stuff of legends.

The only real problem I had with this story

The Penguin was Carmine Falcone’s man-servant?!?  I remember they really hated each other in Batman Eternal, but was that why?  In my memory, I simply can’t recall this ever being a thing.  If it was something from the comics and I somehow forgot, my apologizes.  But right now, this just reeks of the Gotham TV show to me.  On top of that, it just feels like a really weak origin to give Penguin.  Instead of him becoming his own man, he was handed his empire by The Joker.  It just feels like it cheapens Oswald to an unfathomable degree.  If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I tend to take issue with A LOT of things.  But surprisingly enough, this is the biggest and really only problem I had with this story.  So, that’s really saying something.  I think…

Roll Call:

Joker’s Army:  Cluemaster, Deadshot, Man-Bat, The Mad Hatter, The Ventriloquist and Scarface, Solomon Grundy, Mister Freeze, TweedleDee and TweedleDum, Penguin.

Riddler’s Army:  The Scarecrow, Mister Zsasz, Two-Face, Killer Croc, Clayface, Death Stroke, FireFly, Poison Ivy.

PLACE YOUR BETS!

Question of the Day:

  • Why is Batman running around with an axe?

Interesting Facts:

  • You know, in all the years I’ve heard or read Dick Sprang’s name, I never once associated it with an erection.  Now, because of this dirty joke, I’m never going to be able to see his name again and not think of this.  Is this disrespectful to a legendary Batman artist, or is it all in good fun?  I guess if you look at it as a roasting, it’s a little of both.
  • For those of you not familiar with the name Dick Sprang, he was basically the primary Batman artist throughout the 1940s and 50s.  If you’ve ever looked at some Bob Kane artwork, it’s possible you were actually looking at Sprang’s work.  Much in the same way that Kane took primary credit for Batman over Finger, much of Sprang’s work was credited to Kane.  But unlike Finger who didn’t receive official recognition until just recently, Sprang was acknowledged for his contributions to Batman way back in the 60s.
  • Given Riddler’s significance to this story, it’s worth mentioning that Riddler was created by Sprang and Finger.  Sprang and Finger were also responsible for another character that King seems to have a major affinity for…Kite Man.

  • Sheldon Moldoff was another such artist that did Kane’s work for him from behind the scenes.  Moldoff took over around the time that Sprang stopped doing Batman.  Moldoff is also the co-creator of Poison Ivy and Calendar Man (another King favorite).  I guess if your villain appears in a King comic, you get an Easter egg cameo.
  • The taxi driver in this issue is named Darrell Campbell.  If you are at all familiar with King’s critically acclaimed work on The Vision, you know that Campbell is also a character from that series.  In The Vision, Campbell appeared as one of the children that was going to vandalize Vision’s house.  Are they supposed to be the same person, or is King merely dropping more Easter eggs to his other works again?

  • Slight change in dialogue and a little bit of a different order, but this is unmistakably the “Joker Surgery” scene from the 1989 Batman movie with Jack Nicholson.

Variant Cover:

  • I absolutely love this variant cover by Josh Middleton.  Love it to the point that I’m actually curious as to how much he might be charging for the original painting.

Recommended if…

  • You love The Joker
  • You love The Riddler
  • You love the idea of The Joker and The Riddler squaring off.
  • You love the idea of entire armies of villains under the control of Joker and Riddler squaring off.
  • You love Mikel Janin’s art
  • You love Tom King’s writing.
  • You love Easter eggs, cameos, and references.

Overall:

Loved it!  This is exactly the kind of story I can get behind.  It’s just old-school enough to appeal to the nostalgic in me, but likewise, there’s just as much fresh material to make me feel like I’m looking at something original.  It basically pays homage to the past while simultaneously carving out a new and exciting future for itself, and that’s simply fantastic.  So…sit back, relax, and let Batman tell you the most disturbing bedtime story ever.

SCORE: 9.5 / 10