You know what I love most about reading collections of older Batman comics? Like, say, the old Brave and the Bold series or even material from the Grant/Moench/Davis/Breyfogle era? It’s that, even though you could see a sense of progression over the course of each story, the stories themselves were remarkably standalone. You could flip through these volumes, pick a story, and read it, and its main story is not reliant on what came just before or what will be coming soon after. In a way, it makes the stories easier to read, and it also makes the collections feel bigger. You feel like you’re getting more story, even if the issue count matches another volume that tells one longer, complete story.
That’s the feeling I got after reading Detective Comics #1008, and something I wish was much more common in modern comics storytelling. Sure, I get the desire for publishers to “fill a trade” and make each collection feel like a cohesive unit, and that can work just fine. Still, with the mentality that “every comic could be somebody’s first comic,” somebody picking up part three of a six issue arc has their work cut out for them over someone who picks up a one-shot or a standalone story.
But I digress. This review isn’t about the current state of comics publishing, but about the latest showdown between Batman and the Joker. While it maybe isn’t the best issue of Tomasi’s run to date, it’s still a winning entertainment and a fine single-issue story.
In the best way, the story here is very straightforward: the Joker is up to some shenanigans, so Batman has to go stop him. It’s not a deep-dive into the psychology of what makes each character work, or an exploration of their relationship and conflict. I don’t mean that as an indictment toward stories like that, because it’s not; stories with heavier themes and symbolism and what have you absolutely have their place. But so do those where a good guy goes after the bad guy because he’s a hero and they’re a villain, respectively, and that’s precisely what we get here.
See, the Joker has hijacked a carnival, and he is holding all of the attendees hostage, more or less. They’re free to do as they please about the grounds, after a fashion, but everyone has been fitted with a necklace that, when triggered, will release some of Joker’s signature gaseous toxin. Batman receives an invitation from the Joker, and decides to RSVP personally.
The story, as I said, is very simple and straightforward: Batman wants to rescue everybody on the grounds, but he knows that he needs to outwit the Joker to do so. With all their history together, Batman knows he has to bide his time and keep the Joker distracted until the Clown Prince of Crime shows his hand. So, he waits.
And also throws a few punches, for good measure.
Love those sound effects from Rob Leigh too. They’re distinct without being intrusive, and you can practically hear the rough “SPTOO” and the cleaner “PLIK” based on how they’re rendered.
Also, genuine question: how many teeth has the Joker lost in all of his encounters with Batman? He either has an incredibly talented cosmetic dentist, or some sort of very specific power where he can regrow lost teeth.
Ohh, like a shark. That’s… yeah, there’s nothing there. Never mind.
In all seriousness, though, this is all a fun cat and mouse game between Batman and the Joker. Tomasi excels not only at writing stories but characters as well, and he pretty much nails the chemistry between these two mortal enemies. The Joker, for one, is wonderfully unpredictable, prattling on with silly jokes and one-liners while still maintaining his underlying menace. The fact that the whole charade was simply to lure his “best friend” into spending a “pleasant” evening with him, all while innocent lives are at stake, is a classic Joker move.
Batman handles the situation with a calm confidence in return, and behaves exactly how he should.
I absolutely love that panel. That is what Batman should be: an assuring presence for the innocent, not a figure of terror and dread. There is not a single reason that the common people of Gotham should fear Batman, because he’s fighting for them. He’s there to protect people and save lives and prevent tragedy, not strike fear into everyone he encounters. Because, no matter what he may say (or what others may say about him), Batman is good. He fights for justice, and wants to prevent the tragedy that made him from befalling anyone else. After all, like the late great Darwyn Cooke wrote in DC: The New Frontier, Batman is out to frighten criminals, not children.
It’s not just Tomasi’s strong writing that sells the story, though, as Doug Mahnke, Jamie Mendoza, and Dave Baron are back together after a few months away. Mahnke takes advantage of a few highly cinematic splash pages, like the terrifying title page reveal of the Joker and Batman’s first appearance at the carnival. Largely, though, this is a more intimate affair, with interesting panel layouts driving the visual storytelling. There are a few action beats here and there, and those are appropriately exciting, but it’s the smaller moments that stand out. Take the hilarious montage where Batman and the Joker visit different attractions, like the bumper cars and the Tunnel of Love, or the scene referenced above where Batman comforts a child and saves him from no doubt poisonous cookie.
Mahnke’s Joker will likely cause some conversation, as he has a pretty unique look. In fact, I’d almost say that he has a “shifting” face, that goes from fairly rounded and “normal” to a classic Joker look with a long face and pointed chin, and even a point where he almost looks like a bare skull with sunken eyes and a hollow nasal cavity. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I found Mahnke’s “inconsistencies” to work in his favor. After all, the Joker’s personality can change at the drop of a hat, so why shouldn’t his appearance change as well? It’s quite unsettling, just like the Joker.
The final conflict is appropriately fun, a little goofy, and pretty much what you’d expect from a showdown between Batman and the Joker. There isn’t any finality to it, which is perfectly fine, because how could there be? After the story proper there is a brief “Year of the Villain” epilogue with… well, I won’t spoil it, but if you saw this issue’s variant cover you’ll know who it is.
Through and through, this issue feels like classic Batman storytelling. Like the preceding two-parter with the Spectre, it feels like this story could have been published at any point in Batman’s history, or at least any time over the past forty years or so. There’s striking art and excellent characterization, and above all, it’s a single story that begins and ends in twenty-ish pages. We need more comics like this.
- You like a nice, tight, one-and-done adventure.
- You want some classic Joker antics.
- You’ve been waiting for Mahnke, Mendoza, and Baron to return (though, come on, Walker and Hotz and the like ruled too).
Overall: This is a classic single issue, one-and-done story of the best sort. Tomasi’s writing is as sharp as always, nailing the unpredictable menace and lunacy of the Joker and the taciturn, protective drive of Batman. Mahnke, Mendoza, and Baron make a welcome return as well, with dynamic storytelling that makes even the smaller moments exciting. Frankly, we need more issues like this: self-contained stories that aren’t beholden current continuity, but enhance it by being easily accessible.