Well… Batman #96 starts off bad and only gets worse as it goes… That’s not promising for the remaining issues.
I feel like I need to start this review by saying, “I love comics.” No, this isn’t Comics Now, but, at this point, I’m finding that most of my opinions on today’s work are not positive… Especially when it comes to Batman. King’s run started strong for me, and had some incredible moments, but for the most part, I did not like it, especially towards the end. Now we’ve got Tynion taking a stab at the book, and I actually dislike it even more! Is that even possible? Well, for me, it is.
My reasons for disliking King’s run are well documented – just check any Batman review or Upcoming Comics post – but, despite the book’s shortcomings, there were still themes, elements, and attributes that I would typically enjoy or think were done well. But for Tynion, I’m finding it hard to find anything I enjoy about Batman under Tynion’s pen. Like King, the characters are way off base. He’s even more dependent on shock value than King. Half of his ideas are lifts from previous stories. And then the sheer execution is so over-the-top that you’d think I have a problem with my eyes because I’m rolling them so much.
The previous issue ended with Batman being gassed with a new Joker serum by Punchline. He had also been stabbed by her, and the micro-cave he was in was blown up. This issue starts with a dream sequence of Batman in his “little Gotham.” It’s a utopian type city where there’s no crime and he operates during the day. Does this sound familiar? Yeah, well it should. The story is called “Gothtopia,” and it occurred during the New 52. It wasn’t great then, and it isn’t great now.
Anyway, daylight Batman is going up against Mr. Freeze and his sons, Sno-Cone and Ice Pop. No, I’m not joking. That is really their names… %$#!&@ Sno-Cone and Ice Pop. %&@# me. There’s plenty of ice puns as well, a la Batman & Robin (what a wonderfully bad film), and yet another example of Tynion being incapable of having an original Batman idea. I’d love to say that these opening moments are hilarious, but it’s clear that Tynion is taking this so seriously that it is honestly cringey.
Believe it or not, the dream sequence gets worse. There’s an abundance of new devices – clearly intended to be a shiny distraction hoping you don’t notice the lack of actual craft and crap story structure and technique – Alfred is back, Bruce is married to Selina, there’s a vacation planned for Tokyo… And then the dream turns to a nightmare as Batman begins to wake up. Then, bam! Reality. Now awake, we discover that Batman is safe and being tended to by Harley Quinn. Why Harley Quinn? Because Harley Quinn sells. What else does she add to this issue? Nothing.
It’s been three days since the explosion. How did Batman survive? How did he escape Punchline and the Jokers? How did he get here? We don’t get most of those answers. It’s a trend that was ever-present in King’s run, and I’m annoyed to see it here. Writers keep setting up interesting scenarios – moments that should create suspense and excitement/ anxiety – then gloss right over it. Why do this? You’re skipping over key elements of the narrative that add weight. Not only are we robbed of seeing our hero encounter difficult situations, but we’re also being robbed of seeing them overcome them – even if overcoming them at this point is just managing to escape to fight another day. I’m sure I’m in the minority – as always – but I find this annoying.
Anyway, Batman wakes up, and Harley fills him in that it’s been three days since the explosion. Within these three days, Joker has completely taken over Gotham and is ruling the city. Nobody can do anything. There’s no hope. The Bat family isn’t there to help. The GCPD isn’t there to help. Why? Not because they can’t, just because they won’t. It’s stupid. And if this also sounds familiar, then you are right again. We just experienced this same general story in “City of Bane.” A story that also fell quite flat because the parameters in which the story “defined” to create this scenario were so poorly constructed that it didn’t hold any water.
And that’s one of the key problems here. We’re told the Bat-family and GCPD can’t do anything. Really? Why? Why can’t they? Because it’s a battle where the odds are against them? When has that ever stopped them? They’d still be fighting the good fight. We’ve seen them do it time and time again. I get that some of the characters have been addressed in their own books, but there are still a handful of heroes and citizens that would be doing something. It’s been a while since I’ve said this, but it’s just cheap, lazy storytelling.
I should point out that there actually is one person who is fighting against the Joker… Clown Hunter. Yep, we get his first appearance here. How do I feel about him? I’m intrigued. He’s young – clearly a teenager – and he kills one of Joker’s clowns to save a family. When the woman he saves asks if he’s ok, he claims that he isn’t. Right away, that makes me interested. It’s the most gripping and real moment in the entire book, and the only moment I actually took an interest in. There’s definitely potential here. Do I feel confident Tynion will deliver on that potential? No. Do I think Clown Hunter should be viewed as a hero? No. Do I think he will be viewed as a hero? Yes. Ultimately, he’s only here for one scene, so judgment will need to be saved for a later date.
Back to Batman. Harley glosses over her throat being slit – much in the way that Tynion has glossed over Penguin’s throat being slit, Catwoman getting shot in the back? The head? Nobody really knows. And Batman still has a severed artery in his leg, which should have killed him within a few hours. But none of that is important because they were only plot devices for shock value rather than actually serving a purpose to the plot because… (say it with me) it’s cheap, desperate writing and Tynion can’t actually rely on his story or craft to accomplish the job. Anyway, Harley shows Batman the extent to which Joker has taken over the city. He’s bought up all the ad space on tv and online (this was an eye roll moment for me), and it’s only showing adds for the Monarch movie theater, which is showing The Mark of Zorro, and is also the movie theater that the Waynes left when they were murdered.
The ad itself is honestly quite effective, but, again, is practically a complete lift from The Dark Knight, so I can’t help be annoyed by the fact that, yet again, Tynion doesn’t have an original bone in his body. If you’re keeping count, that is four lifts now within a single issue. He’s just recreating the same stories, but with worse execution and to nearly no affect, and cramming it all together. It’s embarrassing. It feels like fan fiction… Honestly, I’ve read better fan fiction than this.
Batman decides he has to stop Joker. Harley is painted to be the sane one of the two, and then Batman sets off. He makes his way to the Monarch theater – which has magically been restored, repainted, fixed up, and looks brand new in a matter of 3 days – only to discover a theater full of corpses. Without missing a beat, Joker pops up on the screen and so begins Tynion’s dreaded wall of exposition. Who are these corpses? They’re apparently all of the victims of Batman and Joker’s war.
(Wait. Pause for a second. Victims of Batman’s war… Why does that sound familiar? Oh yeah! The Victim Syndicate. Well, at least he’s lifting the theme of one of his own stories this time… Anyway, back to what I was saying. )
So, the corpses are all of the victims of Batman and Joker’s war, and Joker is now using “Designer tech” to reanimate them so that he has an army. Let me run through my problems with this. First, throwing away that this as just “Designer tech” that is reanimating corpses is lazy. I know we’ve been dealing with this since Tynion’s debut, but it is lazy. Also, why is this “reveal” the ending? As I stated, we’ve been dealing with this since Tynion’s debut. There’s nothing new here. I mean, is this supposed to be a shocking development? Isn’t it expected? The Joker used this method all through “Their Dark Designs,” so why wouldn’t he use it here? He’s had an army of corpses. Nothing new.
What’s that? Oh, you think this is interesting because Joker has pulled the victims of he and Batman’s war? Yeah… Let’s talk about that… It’s crap. You want to know why? Because the Joker doesn’t care! He does not remember all of the people he’s killed. Batman might, but Joker? Nope. There are multiple stories where Joker fails to recognize Barbara Gordon after shooting her, and that actually was a personal attack on his behalf rather than some random act of chaos. His carelessness is exactly what makes him so scary and unpredictable, so when you take that away, it doesn’t feel like the Joker.
Now, I could see him killing a theater full of people and then joking about how it must have something to do with the move because these people faced the same fate as the Waynes, but that is not what happened. I don’t know… My thing is that there are certain foundations that need to be adhered to, and I don’t support this whole notion of, “We need to do something different, so let’s just change the core of the character to subvert expectations.” There used to be a handbook of what writers could and couldn’t do with characters based on the foundations and archetypes of their characters. I don’t feel as though that exists anymore, and it needs to.
And yeah… That’s the end of the issue. There’s not much plot progression. Not much in the way of character development. No follow-up on key plots (Batman’s actual escape, Bullock, Catwoman, Penguin, Punchline, etc). And there’s nothing really exciting or gripping to help improve the momentum of the book. We just get five “lifts” and Tynion being Tynion.
Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey deliver the art for this issue. I think both individuals are some of the best in the industry right now, but I don’t feel like they deliver their best work here. And that’s not necessarily their fault. In my opinion, the script doesn’t have enough meat to it for Jorge to actually play to his strengths. I mean, the artistic storytelling is fine, but there needs to be an actual story there to win my favor. There’s some big crazy stuff happening, but big and crazy doesn’t always equal good.
- You were a fan of “I Am Bane.”
- You were a fan of “Gothtopia”
- You were a fan of the film Batman & Robin.
- You were a fan of “The Victim Syndicate.”
I’ve made it quite clear I’m not a fan of this run. I know many people are loving it, but, for me, this is not Batman. In so many ways, I feel as though Tynion is missing the mark. All “Joker War” is, is “shock value” and a desperate attempt to try and create something that will last long-term, but, unfortunately, misses the mark on the one thing it needs to be: a good, cohesive story.