Last month we got to know Lady Bane, aka Vengeance, a little better. She has broken away from her handlers, but still has a goal to kill Joker, and offers to do it for Jim. After accepting her offer to kill the Joker for him, they took off for the island where Joker’s currently hiding out to end this menace once and for all–well at least they hope so, we’ll see if they succeed or not.
I have, for the most part, enjoyed this series. I like the mystery of just what Joker was up to during A-Day, the blending of multiple story lines, and the heavy focus on Jim’s journey to take out Joker. I think the story makes the case for a strong narrative featuring Jim himself tackling the idea of killing Joker, letting him live, and living with the consequences after– in fact the opening pages of this issue have him struggling with that very idea, and I like it.
What I have enjoyed best in this comic is that all three stories: Jim, Vengeance, and the Sampsons have their own vendettas against Joker that all feel very unique to them. They are people who are angry at Joker and out to get him, all on a collision course with one another. Up until this point, their narratives have crossed, but they aren’t woven together or tied into some complicated mega plot with Joker being a demigod puppet master. And I’ve enjoyed that immensely. It makes it interesting to see all these characters desires clashing as only one person can kill Joker in the end. The problem with this issue is that all those disparate threads–and more– start to lean into puppet master territory and I don’t like that.
The issue opens with Jim recapping his history with Joker, from him shooting Barbara, killing Sara Essen, and summarizing just the general idea of Joker after Jim. It also touches on the recent tragedy of James Gordon Jr’s death. As readers we don’t really need this since most of it has been covered in this series already, but as we’ll see later it serves as a reminder of all the ways Joker’s been in Jim’s life for years. The opening also jumps to Barbara in contact with Julia and we more recap as we learn that Joker and the men in Santa Prisca behind the new Bane project are tied together through Jason Todd’s death. It’s five pages of exposition that probably could have been folded into less, but it does serve to start showing readers that everything is tied together and it’s all personal–notes the issue will continue to bring up a few more times.
Once we’re past the opening, Jim and Vengeance at last face off against Joker–well kind of. Vengeance is neutralized pretty fast, and Jim just kind of stands there looking surprised at the turn of events. It’s actually kind of frustrating that Jim doesn’t fight Joker at all in this issue considering they walk and talk together for the majority of it. Sure he’s told Vengeance she can kill him, but he has so many opportunities! He wants to do it! And with Vengeance out of commission for most of the issue he’s the only one who could. The only thing that might be stopping him from at least trying is the fact that the house is wired to explode, but if he’s fast enough that shouldn’t be a problem. Instead he just walks with Joker and the man he’s with learning a little more about the whole operation. It’s wild.
Instead of a fight the issue focuses on the man with Joker: Dr. Friedrich Baum, a member of The Network and the guy behind getting villains body doubles and helping them fake their deaths. The bulk of the rest of the issue is dedicated to telling us about Dr. Baum, what he does, why he does it, and detailing out a super secret project to develop not just brain dead clones of bad guys, but more creations like Vengeance. The idea of genetically modifying and growing new versions of villains isn’t terrible, but it feels a little drowned out in everything else going on in this whole story. There is so much happening in Joker, and at this point it’s starting to feel like a bit too much.
What’s most off about this section to me is that Joker seems less like a threat and more of a vehicle for the narrative to push forward, and honestly that’s kind of all he’s been through the entire series. He hasn’t been the focus at all, mostly being a background character used to push the other main narratives and act as Tynion’s mouthpiece there to tell the characters what they need to know or to prod Jim into learning more of this great mystery. He’s a central figure, but one who really kind of never feels like he’s doing anything but being a narrative tool, and it’s kind of odd to see the character in that position. It doesn’t feel like Joker at all, and nothing he does here really feels in character with how he’s represented in other media. He feels like a set piece, especially here since he spends a good deal of the story just casually walking with the others and letting them chat. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Why’s he here? What’s his goal? What does he want? In a story where everyone else’s motivations are very clear, his is murky at best which is odd because the entire series is named after him and the narrative keeps trying to make bigger and bigger connections between him and everyone else.
Speaking of those bigger connections, one of the big reveals at the end features one of those, and I want to talk briefly about it because it kind of points out just how frustrating it is for me to see the individual story bits start to be melded into one big conspiracy, centered around, if not controlled by, Joker.
Apparently the Talon sent after Barbara in the Clock tower was a clone of James Jr.! While I don’t think Joker ordered James to be cloned, it’s just one more big red flag yelling “everything is connected! It’s all super personal!”. And I don’t like that. Again, I don’t know what Joker’s motivations are, if he has any at all. And as much as I like Jim I don’t really think he’s the kind of character that warrants some multi-year mega plan aimed at personally hurting him.
I will say, not every story string points to Joker being behind it yet –even Joker himself admits to it– but with the trajectory the story is taking I’m getting the feeling that it’s where Tynion is taking things, and I don’t really care for that. All this does is muddy the water and make the narrative even more confusing than it already is. There are so many players here, and what was a simple revenge story has spiraled into some giant conspiracy I can’t begin to really explain anymore. That’s not interesting to me. It has gone from something deeply personal for each player to something telling me it’s personal by pointing out tons of history between all these players and forcing connections where I don’t need them. It’s quite simply trying too hard at this point and that makes me so sad.
Let’s move into a discussion of the art. This, like the story has hits and misses. The high points are where Stefano Rafaffaele creates panels that carry the horror vibe of the story really well. In particular I like the sections where Jim, the doctor, and Joker are walking through the lab with all of the various bodies grown to act as dead doubles for criminals. He does an excellent job making this scene feel unnerving with just how deformed many of the bodies are.
One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of this issue though was some of the character expressions. Dr. Baum’s eyes are sunken and green the whole time and he looks almost brainwashed. For a while reading I thought that somehow Joker had actually managed to do some kind of brainwashing to him, but in the end I just decided he was threatening the man since Dr. Baum seems very much like he’s acting mostly of his own volition. Joker too has some odd facial expressions, he doesn’t really react often, and feels more like a prop than an actual character.
The issue ends on a cliffhanger, dropping not only a narrative bomb but also by putting a number of characters in grave danger. It should feel exciting and make me genuinely concerned for the characters, but it’s lacking the energy I want it to have. There’s a little too much surprise packed into the last couple pages for me to focus on one thing too long, and I suspect one of the events was added just to delay a character so the story can take a different focus next issue.
I liked the backup a little more than I have previously in this issue. It feels a little meatier than quite a few of its predecessors. Here we learn from Punchline’s ex-friend about her history with Punchline, and get a little more of Punchline’s own history. Again the narrative feels heavily weighed in Punchline’s favor as she somehow manages to magically make everyone she hates disappear from the school, and then kills them with Joker venom as she’s trying to get Joker’s attention. But it’s more bearable here told through someone else’s point of view, and actually does feel like a horror story where a girl gets revenge on people one by one.
Outside of the flashback, it tackles some of the repercussions of Punchline knowing who Bluebird is, and how it’ll be impossible for Harper to attend Punchline’s trial or face the possibility of being called out–though I’m not quite sure how she managed to figure out that Harper and Bluebird are the same person. Still, as much as I hate bad guys figuring out the hero’s secret identity, I’m glad it seems to have some impact on the narrative here.
The colors are also much better here than they’ve been in previous backups. Gone is the focus on pastels, instead Marissa Louise sticks with a more traditional scheme of warm tones for Leslie’s home, and a darker palette for the flashbacks. It looks nice and makes the characters feel like the stand out more.
While the backup feels stronger here than it has before, I’m still not a fan of this story and will be happy when it wraps up.
- You like stories that have all the plot points interwoven
- Issues with lots of big reveals are your thing
- Creepy doctors and some spooky body horror are in your wheelhouse
A lot of what I liked about this series seems to be falling away, especially in this issue as we learn more about what’s been going on behind the scenes of this story. The scope keeps growing and growing, and it’s starting to lose my interest with every big “it’s personal” reveal. What was an actual personal story has been artificially boosted in a way that’s making it feel more grand and less down to Earth. I’m hoping it’ll win me back next issue, but that hope is waning.
Overall Score: 5/10
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.