After what felt like months of build-up, we finally have “The Joker War” at our fingertips! I’ve been highly critical of Tynion’s run on Batman so far, so will this event do anything to change that trend? Find out below!

The Story 

The Joker has set his master plan in motion! With the help of Punchline, he has now stolen the Wayne fortune, and has taken all of Bruce’s companies and toys along with it. Now that he has the arsenal he needs, he’s bringing a full-on assault to a financially broke Batman. Sound familiar? Yeah, well that’s because Tynion was part of the team that brought you this same concept back in Batman Eternal. The main difference here is that Joker is the madman behind this mission instead of Lincoln March… But Lincoln March is being used over in Detective Comics to set this whole story up, so maybe it isn’t too different…

Anyway, this is one of my problems with Tynion in general, but especially concerning his Batman work. I feel like most of what he does is just a regurgitation of what’s happened before, but never as good. I mean, look at his work with Cass and Jean-Paul in Batman Eternal. Look at his entire Detective Comics run (minus the first arc). There are multiple instances that can be considered poor reimaginings of previous events and stories. It’s like of his M.O. What’s worse is that Tynion himself is aware that he’s doing this, and appears the think he’s adding some level of greatness to these reimaginings. 

There’s an entire scene in this issue where someone tells the Joker, “Folks don’t want to see something they’ve seen a hundred times before.” And the Joker replies, “They always say that, but they never mean it. They want all of the pieces in the right places. All the characters saying the parts they want them to say. Which isn’t to say they don’t want something new. They want to see it peeled back, to find out there was a layer underneath all this time they didn’t know about.” 

To a degree, I definitely agree with him. In fact, those editorial pieces I’ve discussed recently, they touch on this very topic. However, I still don’t think he understands what it is that people want. It’s as if he mistakes the “pieces in the right places” and “characters saying parts they want them to say,” as retelling stories. The reality is, we want “classic” representation of the characters. By that, I mean we want the foundation and archetype of these characters to be present so that they’re familiar. We don’t want regurgitation. 

As for the “something new” and “they want to see it peeled back” bit… Mmmm… Yeah, we do want something new. That newness we want is called progression. Let characters grow, develop, and change. Not, “here’s a hot new take” on a character that makes them recognizable. As for peeling things back. Look, we’ve endured a lot of deconstruction and analysis of characters like Batman and Joker. If you’re going to use that approach, you need to be better than the dozens of writers who have attempted this before you. If you don’t, then your work will fall short. Hence the problem here.

I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a sense of desperation in Tynion’s writing and I think it’s because he tries too hard. He tries too hard to tell an amazing story. He tries too hard to create cool moments. He tries too hard to be edgy or dramatic. He tries too hard to make the next “big bad.” It’s almost as if he’s so concerned with hitting these beats, that he neglects his actual story to a degree, and the book suffers because of it. 

This is all high-level discussion so far though. What actually happens in this issue? Well, the book starts off with a flashback of Batman’s first encounter with Joker (Note: go read The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. Side note: We will cover this book in the Batman News Book Club, relaunching soon!). The entire scene isn’t needed and ultimately adds nothing to the story. Tynion is just using it for a dramatic effect so Batman can psychoanalyze the Joker. Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with The Man Who Laughs, Batman hasn’t actually had enough time with the Joker to accurately assess these things or feel this way. It should also be noted that with this scene, Tynion is peeling back the layers on a story (The Man Who Laughs) which is already a story that’s purpose was to “peel back the layers.” Brubaker and Mahnke added some great insights and revelations. Tynion, however, just adds melodrama to try and add weight to his story. 

From here, the story shifts to the present day. Now, had the book just opened with this, the impact would have been much greater. The opening pages feature various news anchors reporting on Wayne’s embezzlement while some of the Joker’s goons hunt Batman in the Batmobile. The scene is very reminiscent of the chase in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but I consider that a good thing. Also… Jorge Jimenez…. My man… Incredible art! This could, quite possibly, be some of your best work yet! More praise will be lavished on you later. 

Continuing on with the story, I have two minor gripes about the opening scene. The first is that one of the news reports is already making claims that the Joker is behind the embezzlement accusations, and it feels too premature for that. It also takes some of the weight off of Batman before the story ever really gets going. Tynion does this again later with Bullock, and it makes me question the timing of these scenes more than anything else. He’s planting seeds of hope when everything is supposed to feel hopeless. 

And while we’re on the subject of embezzlement. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the FBI isn’t involved. Joker has his goons and the Underbroker strong-arming Wayne Enterprises, and the GCPD is outside – mainly for the sake of creating an exchange between Bullock and Graves (the Underbroker) – and all I keep thinking is, “The FBI would totally be raiding this facility, and that would be far more interesting than having Joker’s goons scattered throughout. It would’ve been a completely different assault on Bruce.” And yes, I get that Joker is the new owner, but the FBI would still be confiscating a ton of equipment.

Another issue I have is Joker’s attempts to kill Batman. Joker previously said that he didn’t want to kill Batman, but he’s made two attempts at his life now. I would have originally thought that Joker didn’t want to kill Batman because it would have prevented him from getting his money, but one of the attempts to kill him came before Joker got the funds, so… I think this should have been worked a little better. Also, why would Joker go through the trouble of his plan in this issue (more on the specifics below) if he’s just going to kill him? What am I going to say, kids? Work your stories!

I don’t think everything is bad though. What I like about this issue is that, more than anything else, Tynion appears to have really put some effort and texture into his characters. It’s clear that he slowed down to consider motivations before writing some scenes, especially with Punchline and Underbroker. He also shies away – even if just a little – from the dismal, heavy-handed one-liners he often seems so proud of. 

Punchline does seem inherently different here, and I feel like it’s equal parts Tynion and Jimenez that deserve the praise. Tynion refrained from the terrible puns – as well as the over acknowledgment of them – and then Jimenez appears to have put a slightly Asian slant to the character. Or is that just me? There’s something about how he presents her physicality that reads Asian (perhaps Japanese or K-Pop to a degree) and I’m all for that. 

The biggest improvement is Underbroker. He feels like a completely different character here. He’s less robotic, more waspy, and actually feels like a credible threat from a legal standpoint. It’s almost as if you pulled Wolfram & Hart from Angel, and found a way to insert it into the Batman mythos. I think most of what Tynion does with the Underbroker here is brilliant. I know that Punchline is the big attraction at the moment, but I genuinely feel that Underbroker is the character that will stand the test of time. There are endless stories that he could be part of. 

Speaking of characters, I even thought Tynion did a great job with the old man running the movie theater. While I didn’t care for the Joker – more on that in a bit – I thoroughly enjoyed this little, old man remembering Gotham and recanting the history of the theater. I sometimes reference the need for writers to add “texture” to their stories or create a world that feels lived in. I think this is a good example of doing this. Whenever you can insert regular citizens into the story, it helps ground the story. So, kudos to Tynion for the execution in this area.

Now, the Joker… I’m probably going to make people mad, but I feel like Tynion is dropping the ball. My biggest problem is that nothing about the Joker’s dialogue sounds distinct. In fact, that’s true for a number of characters here. And despite my praise for Punchline, she falls into this category as well. Even the Joker’s role in this issue. I’m not crazy about it. Remember how I said Joker’s mission doesn’t make sense if he’s trying to kill Batman? Well, he’s buying the movie theater that Bruce attended the night his parents were killed. He specifically plans on screening Zorro. Why go to these limits if  you’re actively trying to kill someone before that plan can come to fruition?

I mean, look, I get it. In theory, I really like this idea, and I do believe it is something the Joker would do to get inside Batman’s head. Had this been presented differently, I probably wouldn’t be complaining. Instead, it feels more flashy and self-serving for Tynion than anything else. The way the scene is approached and the plan is revealed, it comes off as a “Oh! Everybody! Look! Do you see? It’s the theater in crime alley! *Gasp* And Joker’s looking for a certain film… I wonder which film he’s looking fo- Oh! The Mark of Zorro! *Gasp* That’s the film Bruce watched with his parents the night they were murdered! *Gasp* *Nudge, nudge*”

Which brings me back to execution. The beats for a great story are here, but the execution isn’t living up to the expectation. I don’t mind the idea of Bruce losing his money. It would force him to stop being Iron Man lite, and make him go back to the streets – which is where I like him. That’s my personal preference, I know. My problem is that I strongly believe that nothing will actually come from this run. And history backs that up. Terrible things will happen. Bruce will lose his money. And then… Batman will carry on with new stories as if this never happened, just like it did post Batman Eternal. 

One final point, there isn’t much in the way of progression, so you have that to deal with as well. After spending an entire arc to set up this story, it is a little silly and frustrating that the issue is as slow and boring as it is. There are moments of greatness here, but they are clouded and lost in complete mediocrity. 

Oh, what’s that? You want me to comment on the new suit? Yeah… I hate it. It looks like it is designed for Batwing for the whole 5G rumors that may or may not come to pass. 

 

The Art

Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey deliver the art for the issue. I’ve already made it clear that I’m going to praise the hell out of Jimenez, and it’s praise well deserved. I’m so used to seeing him on “bright” books (Earth 2 Society, Super Sons, Justice League) that it’s refreshing to see him play in Gotham and dig a little into realism and grit. And not only does his art look fantastic, but the storytelling is incredible! There’s so much detail in his work. Whether it is the way he frames his panels or his approach to characters. There’s so much storytelling that comes from the unspoken word, and Jimenez excels in this! 

I already spoke to the opening chase, but part of the reason it works so well is because of how Jimenez approaches the panels. The framing does wonders, but his ability to infuse energy into stagnant pictures is incredible. Then there’s his overall presentation of characters. I commented on Punchline reading Asian, perhaps Japanese with a bit of K-Pop vibes based on her physical mannerisms and costume design. Whether my assessment is on point or not, it is the subtleties added to characters, their actions and reactions, that provide more depth to the characters. I’m, once again, in a position where I wish I understood the technicalities of what artists do and why so I could speak to it better. Despite my inability to speak to the specifics, one thing is very clear, and that is that Jorge Jimenez is one of the greatest gifts that has come to comics in recent years! 

I can’t neglect Morey. I’ve said this a couple of times now, but he’s one of the best colorists in comics today. While I love the richness of his work, it’s his use of lighting and shadows that really push him above and beyond! I mean, if you want an idea of how well these two men complement each other just look at the image below. It’s literally a panel of two men entering a room of film reels, but there’s so much detail that it’s fascinating! Beautiful work!

 

Recommended if:

  • It’s the launch of “Joker War”
  • Just come for the beautiful art from Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey

Overall

After spending an entire arc building to “Joker War,” it’s a little disappointing that not much actually happens in this issue. And while James Tynion does improve some of his character work, he also continues to fall into opportunities that are ever-present in his work. There’s a quality issue here concerning his craft, and it is something that hinders the execution of the story as a whole. Thankfully, Jorge Jimenez more than makes up for the script’s shortcomings by delivering the best art we’ve seen in Batman since Tom King and his band of artists left the book. The art alone is honestly worth the cost of the book and definitely bumps the score up a bit. 

SCORE: 6/10