Did Selina say, “Yes”. Did Selina say, “No”. That’s probably the biggest question on everyone’s mind right now. But before we get to that, we need to evaluate the rest of the issue.
In my last review, I brought up the fact that it felt as if the story was being spread out. As if there wasn’t enough story to fill all 20 pages, so they did whatever they could to fill them up and meet their quota. I wish I could say that feeling went away while reading this particular story, but it was actually stronger than before. We start off with a whole page of Bruce and Selina just sitting in bed. Then we have a two page spread that shows a bunch of black and white face shots detailing the way the pictured individuals met their end at the hands of Gotham’s Rogues.
Eaten by Tweedledee?
This is followed up by a page of Riddler, Joker, and Batman having a squinty-eyed staring contest. Then we jump back to another full page of Bruce and Selina sitting in bed. And only after all of this does the story start. That’s 5 whole pages before anything “really” happens. It also threw me a little because these 5 pages have no dialogue to speak of. On my first read through, I initially thought I had a defective copy and they accidentally omitted the dialogue balloons/inner monologue in the printing process. I guess I’ve just gotten too used to seeing King incorporate unspoken narrative with the visuals to go full on silent for so long.
While it might sound like I’m being a little too tough on these pages, it doesn’t mean they aren’t without a certain level of charm. Even though nothing is said between Bruce and Selina, Janin does a tremendous job at relaying their story through nothing more than facial expressions and body language. Likewise, the stare-down between Riddler, Joker, and Batman did feel like the calm before the storm and reminded me quite a bit of the ending from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The victim face shots were kind of nice because they were an attempt to make the victims more than just faceless victims, but it was far too literal in my opinion. And besides, just showing me what they looked like and how they died doesn’t really make them any less “faceless”. To do that, I’d need some insight into who these people were, not just what they looked like.
So, it’s not that any of these pages were bad. Taken on their own, most are actually quite good. For me, it was just the abundance of them placed adjacent to one another that threw me off a little.
Once things do get rolling, we have an absolutely wonderful fight scene. Personally, I hate when a comic shows fights where you can’t really tell what is going on. You know, random punches and kicks that don’t naturally transition into one another. But here, this fight has a natural evolution and flow to it. It feels as if it was well thought out and choreographed. And it doesn’t jump around. The panels are all pretty much sequential, which is something I love to see. It’s as if we are getting a fully realized and fleshed out play-by-play instead of randomness. I also love the fact that it’s just a couple of guys fighting. Nothing over-the-top. Just punches. And the less skilled fighters (Joker/Riddler) using objects to try and level the playing field.
I guess the one thing I would say is that The Riddler seems a little too proficient. Or perhaps, it’s more apt to say that Batman isn’t being depicted as proficient enough. This observation isn’t me comparing King’s Riddler to the quintessential Riddler archetype. It’s about inconsistency in depicted skill levels within King’s own story. Lets not forget the fact that Batman easily defeated Deadshot and Deathstroke in a previous issue. When you take that into account, it doesn’t make too much sense that Batman would fall prey to so many hits. He does block two, which I loved, but he should have blocked or dodged more. I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense to show Batman as godlike against Deathstroke, who is arguable one of the better physical combatants in the DC Universe, and then all of a sudden have Batman taking multiple hits from The Riddler who isn’t comparable to Deathstroke.
At this point, we are getting into genuine spoiler territory. For example: why Riddler did all this and what Selina ultimately decides. So, if you haven’t already read this issue, you might want to stop here because I’ll be discussing more crucial narrative elements going forward.
“over your…thighs…” I busted out laughing when I read that. Loved the delivery.
Funniest line in the story if you ask me.
The Riddler did all this because The Joker not laughing was a serious puzzle/riddle that he wanted to solve. For me, this works and doesn’t work all at the same time. It would have made more sense to me if The Riddler was doing all this solely to figure out why The Joker wasn’t laughing, because, that’s solving a riddle. But what it turns out to be, is that The Riddler did all this to get The Joker to laugh again. That’s not figuring out why it happened, that’s fixing the problem. And, that’s kind of like figuring out a puzzle. Which, is ultimately part of Riddler’s M.O. too. So, it still works. It just doesn’t feel as natural to me. When you couple that with the fact that The Joker shot The Riddler, it just means I’m going to need a whole hell of a lot more motivation on The Riddler’s part than just wanting to solve a puzzle. Sure, it speaks volumes about how crazy Riddler is. That he is willing to sacrifice his life to solve a puzzle. But when solving that puzzle essentially means helping someone that is actively trying to kill you, it just takes it one step closer to unbelievable for me. Like I said, I’m not fully against it. But I am conflicted.
What I really really really liked was that all of this actually played out exactly as The Riddler wanted it to. In my last review, I commented on the fact that Batman was playing The Riddler and getting him to do what he wanted him to do: plans within plans within plans. But in reality, it was actually Riddler playing Batman and orchestrating everything to the ends he wanted. Wow. If this had all been about something serious, it would have been devastating to see Batman lose to The Riddler. But, since it’s over something that ultimately doesn’t matter (it’s not like Batman failing results in the destruction of Gotham or anything), it’s actually kind of fun to see The Riddler one-up Batman. And, Riddler gets to live up to his self-proclaimed reputation: The smartest man in the room. Granted, his plan didn’t work, but he still got to enact it without anyone catching on.
I think it goes without saying that I’ve read a lot of Batman stories. Over the years, I’ve read stories where Batman lost his cool and would have killed someone if someone else hadn’t been around to stop him. I’ve read stories where Batman inadvertently killed someone. I’ve even read stories where Batman consciously, coldly, and of sound mind and body did kill someone. So, in that sense, there is really nothing here that is new. The only thing that really makes this shocking is when you factor The Joker into the equation. In this story, The Joker stops Batman from killing The Riddler. And that’s actually pretty cool. When you stop to consider the fact that Batman fights against everything The Joker stands for, and that The Joker stopped Batman from becoming everything that he fights against, it’s got to be devastating to be constantly reminded that the only reason you aren’t your greatest enemy is because of them. That’s a pretty brilliant dynamic to incorporate into their already complicated relationship.
Bruce/King takes it a little too far though. He acts like he is always out of control and the only reason he doesn’t kill is because he is stopped. And that’s just not true. Maybe it was true in this instance and a few others. But it’s far far far from the rule. It’s the exception. He also acts like everything that he has become since then is because of The Joker. We can’t know for sure because Batman didn’t kill The Riddler, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that killing Riddler would have pushed Batman over the edge and sent him on a downward spiral where he would have become a mass murderer. If anything, I could see how killing someone would reinstill the values he already had. Joker didn’t teach him that killing was bad. He already knew that.
Basically, it’s just a little too over-dramatic for my tastes. Instead of leaving it at a simple, “I’m not a killer because of the Joker”, King decided to go all the way to, “I’m not noble at all”. And that’s kind of silly. Someone giving up their shot at a normal life, and deciding to devote it instead to helping other people is exactly that…noble. He was definitely noble before this little encounter took place.
She says, “Yes”
Earlier this year at Comic Con, King discussed this storyline in a press conference. He said, if Selina were to say “yes”, this might happen, and then he basically said one sentence. Then, when he said she might say “no”, he proceeded to talk for 5 minutes about what might happen. It seemed pretty clear that he was going for “no” since he talked much more in detail about what would happen if she rejected him. Or, at least that is what he wanted us all to think. He talked about “no” being the catalyst for a voyage of self-discovery. But really, he duped us all. The stuff that he said would result from a “no” looks like the stuff that is coming up later this year as a result of the “yes” answer. So, really, it’s the same story he always intended to tell, it’s just coming from a “yes’ instead of a “no”. And I can totally see how that could happen. If Bruce wanted a “yes”, but expected a “no”, he might not have been truly prepared to deal with a “yes”. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t feel that he deserves a “yes” and is going through some kind of self punishment.
Odds and Ends:
- Kite Man became Kite Man to seek revenge upon The Riddler for killing his son. Ultimately, Kite Man doesn’t get true revenge. So, that’s unresolved and unfulfilling in my book. Second, if Kite Man became Kite Man to enact revenge, why is he still running around in the present pulling off petty robberies? I mean, maybe it’s all to help fund his ongoing quest for revenge. But to me, this feels like a loose end because I ultimately don’t have an answer for it.
- You want to see the “shocking” conclusion to “The War of Jokes and Riddles”.
- You want to find out if Selena says yes. Although, DC totally ruined the surprise by releasing interviews days before the actual issue hit stands. Incidentally, they did the same thing with the proposal issue. They really need to learn how not to spoil their own stuff.
- You want to see Janin killing it. Great fight scene. Great facial expressions. Great body language.
“The War of Jokes and Riddles” never really succeeded at delivering the “War” aspect of the title. And this finale installment is no exception to that rule. Instead, this arc has been much more about themes and ideas. While many of those ideas have been genuinely interesting, they are never truly explored to fruition. Consequently, many things are left to our imagination. Some acceptably so, and others to our annoyance. While I really like many of the seeds King has been planting of late, and look forward to where all this goes, his track record tells me that we’ll never really get to fully explore all the wonderful notions he is constantly bringing up.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10