Dear God, this is one wordy, mess of a book that tries way too hard to create a moment…
It’s clear that I’m not a fan of James Tynion’s Batman. I just don’t feel that the quality of execution is there. That’s me. I know many people don’t share my sentiments, and that is ok. If you like this run, I don’t want to take that away from you. But I do not like this run, and I’ll be speaking to that here. So, if discussing this book negatively is going to trigger you, you might want to go ahead and step away now.
Every time I read Batman, I can’t help but feel that James Tynion is trying way too hard. He’s trying too hard to land a joke. He’s trying too hard to create an emotional moment. He’s trying too hard to deliver a badass action scene. He’s trying too hard to make a character cool. He’s trying too hard to create the newest Bat-gadget (see below). He’s trying too hard to be gritty and dark or violent. And he’s trying too hard to be campy and fun. It’s just too much. And, unfortunately, in all of this, he’s failing because his main priority really should be to tell a good story… Which he isn’t.
In my last review, I criticized “Joker War” because there was no plot progression and nothing was actually happening. I got a decent amount of feedback that I was wrong, and how could I say that when there’s so much going on? So, I want to clarify. For four issues now, there has been a lot of noise. There’s a lot of background action, fights, explosions, etc, but the plot is still exactly where it was when we started “Joker War.” The Joker now has control of the Wayne fortune, is using it to rule Gotham, and nobody can do anything to stop him, including Batman. Four issues later, we’re still in the exact same spot. Batman hasn’t made any progress in stopping Joker. Joker hasn’t done anything further with Gotham or even hinted at his endgame. And all of the supporting characters are just standing on the sidelines watching. So, yeah… No plot progression and outside of the explosions, the fights, and Harley continuously saving Batman, nothing has actually happened.
The problem here is the same problem King’s “City of Bane” suffered from. There was never an actual build. Yes, for “Joker War,” we had the entire arc with the Designer, but that arc ended with Joker gaining the Wayne fortune. Then, the very first issue of “Joker War” jumped forward to after Joker had already completely taken over the city and was ruling everything. There was no build. We didn’t get to see the gradual takeover. Like “City of Bane,” we just jumped to that point, and we’ve sat there for four issues now.
A good writer would have shown the horror of Joker slowly taking over – by legal means that was referenced in an earlier issue or through anarchy. Instead, Tynion started the arc with Joker already at the point of complete control. The problem with structuring your story this way is that you don’t have anywhere to go. We don’t get to experience the rise of the villain or the fall of our hero. We’re forced to meander for some time until we reach the “climax” so that the story can close… And that’s exactly what Batman has done for four issues.
Now, typically I wouldn’t mind this if we were getting some great character work, but that’s not the case. Yes, we have an abundance of characters new and old here. Among the likes of Batman, Joker, and Harley, we also have Punchline, Clownhunter, and the Underbroker. All of them are paper-thin under Tynion’s pen.
The two big draws for this issue are intended to be Batman speaking with Alfred and the rematch between Harley and Punchline. I didn’t care for either of these scenes for both similar and different reasons.
For Batman, the big tease that he sees Alfred at the end of the previous issue had a lot of people hyped. I saw many comments on social media where people hoped Alfred was actually back. While I definitely share that sentiment, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I also saw people commenting that it was shocking that Bruce was seeing Alfred even in a hallucinatory state. It was as if they didn’t see this coming. My thing is, Tynion has just been repeating the same story beats from issue to issue. We just had an entire issue where Batman was hearing Alfred, so yeah, I kind of expected this.
But, if we’re being honest, Tynion only has Alfred here because he’s extremely desperate to create an emotional “moment.” For example, take the Darjeeling tea conversation. Alfred quizzes Bruce, “Which tea am I pouring for you?” Bruce answers correctly, claims that Alfred made him this tea whenever he was disturbed or frightened, and then comments, “You thought I didn’t notice… Blah, blah… Your way of telling me you knew I was afraid… Blah, blah, blah.” It’s not great and it’s all very wordy.
I understand the sentiment that Tynion is going for, but it doesn’t land. And not because it isn’t sentimental, but because Tynion just came up with it out of the blue and was way too wordy in a failed attempt to be poetic. If he really wanted this moment to land, then throughout the course of his run, he should’ve had moments where Bruce remembered Alfred making this tea for him prior to this issue. Actually show Bruce trying to make the tea and comment that it’s not the same prior to this issue. Too many writers these days don’t seem to understand that you have to build on ideas to create moments that resonate emotionally. When you just try to create them out of thin air and throw them in, they’re going to read as hollow. Even with 80+ years of history between Bruce and Alfred, something as simple as serving tea reads as hollow.
Unfortunately, nearly the entire Bruce/ Alfred exchange is an example after example of this. Tynion hasn’t earned any moment he tries to create. There are moments of dialogue that are ok, but for the most part, it’s as if Tynion couldn’t help himself from writing more, and more, and more. The conversations become so wordy in an attempt to be “pretty” that they become a chore to read and come off as desperate. (Sheesh… I seem to use that word every time I review Batman these days.)
The exchange eventually leads to Bruce being mopey and defeated, claiming “I’m sorry. I failed.” – the very aspect that many people despised about King’s run – before Alfred completely loses it, slaps Bruce, and yells at him. It’s… absurd.
Hardly any of this reads as authentic, and because of that, it doesn’t resonate. This issue depends on this moment resonating, but it ultimately falls flat, which kind of makes the story fall flat. I wish that weren’t the case, but… I don’t know. It just makes me wonder about Tynion’s perception of things. There are too many times that I read his work and feel that his approach or understanding of human interaction is juvenile. Or, at the very least, the way he executes it is.
Anyway, you also have the Punchline/ Harley rematch. I don’t have much to say about this other than I’m not a fan of it. There really isn’t a point to the fight other than the give Batman a heroic moment, which is also quite cheesy in the way it’s executed. But, man… The dialogue between Harley and Punchline leading up to that moment is just bad. It’s like when you’re in junior high and two teenage girls fight over a boy, but you can clearly tell that both girls think their actions are super “mature” and “adult” and they’re being “women” because they’re not “little girls” anymore…. Yeah, that’s the exact vibe I get from Punchline and Harley every time they interact. I find it annoying.
Finally, we have Catwoman popping back up again. After a miserable attempt to create humor between Riddler and Scarecrow, Catwoman eventually decides that she’s going to do something – finally – and basically tells Riddler and Penguin they’re going to help here. That’s it. That’s her role. We also get nothing with Clownhunter, the rest of the Bat-family, the GCPD, or the Underbroker. Yes, I am in fact rolling my eyes.
As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of Jimenez. I love his work and I think he’s an excellent artist. I don’t think his work on Batman is his best though. I think part of it is because of the scripts, and I also think part of it is the reality of having a double-ship schedule. And look, Jimenez is an incredibly fast artist, but the reality is that this schedule will prevent anyone from delivering their best work.
But outside of this, I don’t think these set-backs, I don’t think this is the best work for Jimenez because I don’t think Batman is the right book for him. Don’t get me wrong, he draws a fantastic Batman and is an excellent storyteller, but he shines when he can dive into the earnestness of a character. There’s not really much room for that here, nor can you rely on Tynion to deliver scenes of quality to allow for this.
There were times that this book was also quite messy. The pages with the Harley/ Punchline fight in particular weren’t the best aesthetically. I don’t think colors helped either. You have this garden that Ivy created that’s full of pinks, purples, and yellows, and then you have Harley with her own red and blond, pink, and blue hair, plus Punchline’s purple, then the oranges, reds, and yellows of the fire, on top of the distortions from smoke/ heat, the action blurs… It’s just too much. It’s a lot of lines with a lot of similar colors from the same color palette. The art isn’t bad, it just isn’t either of their best.
- You’ve been waiting for the Harley/ Punchline rematch.
- Bruce and Alfred reunite in a dream.
- For the fourth issue in a row, there’s endless rhetoric about stopping Joker but nobody is actually trying to do it.
Tynion, his editors, and DC really need to ask themselves a few questions. First, what story are you trying to tell? We’re four issues in, and other than saying this is a rip-off of the maligned “City of Bane” but with Joker, there’s really nothing more to say. Second, who is this book for? There are so many different tones and genres conflicting with one another that the book has a bit of an identity crisis. And finally, why have we had four issues with no actual plot progression?