For this month’s installment of Batman Secret Files, we get a focus on Clownhunter. The last time we saw Bao, he was breaking into Leslie Thompkins’ clinic and appeared to be on a better, more heroic path. Will that continue? Find out below. (Hint: The answer is no.)
Look, I’m going to be honest with you… Clownhunter is not a likable character. As an individual, he just doesn’t have many redeeming qualities, and that works against him. Ed Brisson tries to paint Bao in a different light in this issue by giving him a tragic backstory to make him more sympathetic, but it’s an attempt that doesn’t really work for me.
As we already learned, Bao’s parents were killed by the Joker (and Harley) for no specific reason. The Joker was hungry. He picked the restaurant that Bao’s family ran, and they were, unfortunately, collateral damage. But even in that issue, I didn’t find many redeeming qualities to Bao as a character, even before his parents were murdered.
This issue is split between the present day and the past. For the past, we get a glimpse of Bao after his parents’ murder. His aunt and uncle have taken him in, but they don’t have any care or concern for him. They enroll him in Gotham Academy, but give him his own apartment so that they don’t have to deal with him. If there’s anything in this issue that makes me feel for Bao, it is this. I can’t imagine not feeling wanted by a parental figure, and yet, I know of many real-life examples of this.
His story with his aunt and uncle is nothing more than a throw-away line though. The crux of this plot is how Bao is treated at Gotham Academy. We all know bullies exist – hell, we’ve probably dealt with them – and he gets his fair share of crap from them at Gotham Academy. While I think this is a solid, albeit tired, approach to setting a character up, I can’t help but feel that how Bao deals with this almost feels more like the origin of a villain than it does the origin of a hero or anti-hero.
A lot of my dissatisfaction here stems from the execution. For one, the bullies here come across as complete sociopaths rather than your standard bullies. Also, we don’t get to see a progression here. The bullying starts at a 10 and ends at a 10. There’s never a progression, and the scenes at Gotham Academy span the course of a year. It’s a year’s worth of bullying that is presented the same way every single time.
For me, this just makes the story itself come across as stagnant. While I’m on board with the bullying, the immediately extreme nature of the bullies, right out of the gate, grates against what I find to be believable. It also doesn’t help that every instance of bullying involves Bao getting the crap beat out of him. I wish Ed Brisson would’ve elevated the extent of the bullying from scene to scene. Start with saying he doesn’t belong because he’s poor, then move to name-calling, followed by property damage, then pushing/ physical harassment, then actual violence. Letting the bullying build creates a better representation of why Bao’s limits are being pushed more and more, which parallels with the present-day story better. It makes me wonder why one of the editors didn’t call attention to it? It’s a simple note that would make a world of difference.
Speaking of the present day, Clownhunter is up to his old ways. There’s a clown named “Sol,” that’s making sure everyone in the narrows knows that he works for the Joker and that the Joker will be returning soon. The best bit of dialogue for this issue is Bao assessing the various meanings of the word “sol,” what it means in different languages, and the meaning that he associates with this person based on him being a Joker.
After spending some time assessing Sol, Clownhunter decides to take action against him. He gets the upper hand quickly but is soon caught off guard. When Sol turns the tide of the fight, he Facetimes Punchline in prison (no comment…), and it’s revealed that this entire interaction is a set-up. The dialogue throughout this portion of the book is incredibly clunky, and Punchline repeats that she respects Clownhunter on multiple occasions. She repeats it so much that it makes me wonder why an editor didn’t call attention to it. Mark it. That’s twice now that a simple editor’s note would’ve positively impacted the comic.
There are some mind games between Punchline and Bao as Punchline directs Sol to kill Bao. His attempt is unsuccessful, so Punchline directs Bao to kill Sol due to his incompetence. The scene drags due to the repetition and the long, drawn-out exaggeration of the attempted killing blows from both parties. As it turns out though, most of the talking was just there to buy time so the other Jokers could arrive.
It’s clear that Clownhunter’s fight against the Jokers is meant to mirror the bullying from Gotham Academy – especially in him being outnumbered – but rather than feel that the attempt is successful, I just can’t help but notice that Bao is getting the crap beat out of him for half of the book. Out of the 34 pages comprising this book, Bao is getting beat in 15 of them.
Why do I bring this up? Well, because I would understand this if it were to help symbolize Bao overcoming these odds that are stacked against him… But it doesn’t. Instead, he’s drug out into the street and hung from a street light to be made an example of. What makes it worse is that he has to be saved. He’s not even the hero of his own story.
While the issue tries to tease that Batman will save the day, it’s actually Red Hood. Now, on many levels this pairing makes sense, and I’d be lying if I didn’t think – for a moment – that these two should be working together. If anyone could potentially understand Bao and his rage, it’s Jason. I expected Jason to use his history and the way his story recently ended in Batman: Urban Legends as a compass to guide Bao in a better direction… But it doesn’t.
Rather than following the continuity that was just established last week (Jason giving up guns and vowing not to kill) he’s now offering to train Clownhunter so they can kill Joker. Umm… What? Again, editors… Where are you? Are you even aware of what’s going on with your characters in other titles? You should be!
Ultimately, Batman: Secret Files: Clownhunter #1 tries really hard to make Bao sympathetic, and while I enjoy the tenacity and drive of Clownhunter, I can’t get on board with the execution of the thought process that is presented. This isn’t a story of heroism, this is a story of revenge. And the mere idea that taking a life is okay if you’ve been bullied is not ok. It makes you no better than the criminals you’re trying to stop. I’m sure many people will love this issue. I’m not one of them.
Rosi Kampe delivers the art for this issue and does a decent job. Overall, the book has a “house style” aesthetic to it, and flows rather well, landing the storytelling beats where it needs to. There are some inconsistencies from panel to panel, but I’d chock that up to the artist’s work schedule more than anything else.
Kampe’s work is strong enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of their work in the future. If there is one callout I’d have for the sake of providing constructive criticism, it would be to read and practice action sequences. While the narrative beats flowed well, I often felt that the action wasn’t very clear. There are moments where the fights don’t flow well, or it’s hard to tell what’s actually taking place. There’s even a panel where I found myself wondering what actually hit a character. Plus, if you’re going to have a script where 15 pages essentially depict the same thing, you’ll want to find creative ways of displaying that action, where here it all kind of looks the same.
- You’re a fan of Clownhunter.
- Antiheroes are your jam.
There are elements of Batman: Secret Files: Clownhunter that I really enjoy, and then there are elements that are a complete miss. I question some of the character rationalizations that are set up for Bao here. Brisson’s script comes off as though an individual is justified to murder someone if they’re bullied, and I don’t back that ideology. I don’t agree with bullying either, but murder definitely isn’t the answer. I am even more let down by some of the technical issues with the script considering minor notes from the editorial team could have elevated this book tremendously before it was ever even sent to the artist.