At last, a book gives me a chance to really share my expertise: critiquing how a creative team chooses to represent my home state Texas. I’m kidding–mostly. It’s not often I get to see names and places I know as well as my own face in fiction, so there is some sense of ownership of these locations. I do promise I’ll try not to whine too much about them, it shouldn’t be too hard because there’s plenty more to say about this book.
You will, however, have to bear with me talking about Texas a little bit in this review as it is set in and above the state. It opens up with a commercial plane preparing it’s descent into the DFW Airport. From there, Vengeance sends luggage spiraling down into a large body of water that almost looks like the ocean, but could also be a lake. In the next moment, Vengeance lands in the middle of nowhere Texas. While there is a lake relatively close to the airport in question, it’s very hard to picture her landing in as desolate an area as she does, because that’s just not where the Dallas Fort Worth Airport is. It’s shoved in between a maze of highways, and housing developments, and yes some stretches of farm land, but by no means does it look like the empty barren desert landscape we get for a few panels.
I don’t want to blame Giuseppe Camuncoli for these errors because they both could have been avoided by simply having the pilot state they were “over Texas” to make it more general. Instead I’m left wondering about how we represent places in art. How much research should be done on an area you’re filming, drawing, or otherwise showcasing in media, and how much can we allow for generalizing that place because fitting an exact setting is not always easy? Here, it creates a problem where readers from the area will find themselves possibly frustrated by how their home is being represented on a page, and can be enough to take someone out of a story. While not the bulk of the issue, I did find this little moment of dissonance frustrating myself, and sparking an interesting rabbit hole of discussion and thought.
That said, the opening credits page is my favorite in the book, even if it’s set in a location I question a bit. It looks gorgeous. Tom Napolitano did an excellent job laying out the letters and title among the falling luggage, and Vengeance herself looks great on her dive towards the ground.
The rest of Camuncoli’s work on this issue is really enjoyable. Most of this issue spent inside planes, split between two groups, which puts the focus more heavily on the characters. He works in some really great expressions, and especially in the moments between Jim and Harvey. There is enough movement and expression created here that you feel like they’re having a real conversation. Even so, he also works in small details between the two separate vehicles to give them slight differences, like how the seats on Barbara’s plane are more curved, while Jim’s are a little more standard.
The issue itself cuts mostly between Jim & Harvey, and Barabara & Cressida and the various interactions between them all as they travel to Texas. We get a peppering of Vengeance and the Sampsons to help keep up the timeline of where they are, but the real focus is the two groups flying. On Babs and Cressida’s side, there’s quite a bit of tension and maneuvering to try and gain power. It’s quickly revealed that Cressida never intended to let Babs or Julia take over for Jim, and brought her own people to make sure they’re out of the way.
During this, we get another moment here of a character knowing someone’s secret identity. Cressida knows full well who Babs is, and talks about her work in the Clocktower. I’m not a fan of this trend of secret identities meaning nothing these days, especially in this series. What’s the point in them if every friend, enemy, and random Gothamite on the street knows the identities of the entire Batfamily? It’s boring, removes tension, and makes each of these reveals feel trite and lacking repercussions and I’d like it to stop already.
On the opposite side of Babs and Cressida, Jim and Harvey have a less tense conversation. This is mostly due to Jim spending a large portion of the book summarizing his adventure so far, waxing poetic about justice, and generally acting as less a main character and more a reader proxy.
Which takes me to more of a general critique of the series as a whole. Jim Gordon doesn’t really do anything. Sure he’s on the move chasing Joker, but he’s kind of like a set piece being shifted from one location to the other, existing to either tell, retell, or in most cases be told the story. The only other character with less action or physical drive in the story in this series is the titular Joker himself. Everyone else is doing something to move the narrative forward. Babs with research then jet setting off to Texas. Vengeance with her constant stream of violence. The Sampsons as they doggedly pursue Joker. They all feel like more active members of the narrative than the supposed main characters themselves.
It also means Jim’s whole demeanor in the last third or so of the issue feels out of place. The issue goes from the slow and steady pace the series has had, to a rush to the end. After his explanations and morality talk he shifts, suddenly being very aware of everything that’s going on. He knows Cassandra followed them, about Cressida’s betrayal, and most shocking of all seems to have figured out the entire mystery of A-day, and announces it! And while he seems sad about this knowledge, it doesn’t stop him from acting with confidence and swiftness to get things done.
This level of active competence is in direct conflict to how he’s been presented through large swaths of this book. Part of that is due to him being so static and reactive through issue after issue. It gives off the impression that he is six steps behind and struggling to keep up with the myriad of activity going on everywhere around him. It’s not hard to read him that way when characters constantly talk at him, and tell him not only their backstories, but what’s going on right then. Or when he’s relegated to repeating the events of the story back at others.
The worst thing about this feeling is that I know Jim is a competent detective. He’s not Batman, but he was commissioner of the GCPD for an incredibly long time and has the skills to figure out the A-day mystery. He is not a bumbling character, and generally I don’t think his personality is that of someone who would put on that facade. So I’m angry that the narrative has made me feel like he is incompetent, and that his reveal feels unearned.
Speaking of the reveal, let’s get into that.
It’s Bane! Bane seemingly orchestrated A-day, faked his death, got the Court of Owls on his side, and has been lurking around all along with a dastardly endgame in mind. What that endgame is hasn’t been revealed yet, but he’s got enough of one it let Jim strong arm them into releasing Babs and Julia.
I’m really not sure how to feel about it being Bane, especially since we don’t know a lot about his reasons yet but I’m also not too surprised to see that it’s him. The reveal feels very much a Tynion type of move. I’m not saying it’s a bad move, because I really don’t have the information to make that decision just yet. But I’m also not super excited by it being him because it adds another character to this already packed series.
The reveal itself reads very much like the style of detective fiction that doesn’t give you enough clues to go on. Jim essentially says that he figured it out by looking back over the clues and case, and gives no other details. It’s a speedy way to get us to the endgame without actually having to explain the how or why, but I’m sure in the next issue we’ll get a lengthy explanation from the A-day mastermind themself as to just how everything shook out and it feels like cheating. I know there are mysteries that have the detective declare the answer then reveal how it all happened, but I’ve never been a fan of that style. Here it makes the story feel like it’s being rushed to the end now that a deadline is looming.
It’s with the reveal that the issue wraps up, leaving us to wait out the next month to learn the motivations behind why everything has happened up until this point. I’m torn between wanting to know the answers and being frustrated by this rush to the end and that’s not a great place to leave readers in my mind.
Much like The Joker has sped things up to reach the endgame, Punchline is doing the same thing and shoving readers headlong towards it’s finale. The bulk of the story is interested in getting rid of the players we’ve spent most of the backup with, mainly Punchline’s old friends/enemies. It also takes her back to the courthouse to prep her and readers for the trial and it’s outcome.
It feels rushed, and spends way too much time telling readers once again how the whole world is in love with Punchline and it’s so terrible she’s been put in prison for the crime of loving the Joker. While Harper is once again relegated to the position of simply wondering at how it’s possible for people believe in Punchline that much. To which I say, same Harper. Same. Her almost godlike sway over Gotham and everyone she runs into is hard to believe. So far we haven’t really ever been shown the why of her ability to win people to her side, but that hasn’t stopped the title from telling us with every installment. And frankly, I’m beyond ready for this backup to end.
- We finally know who was behind A-Day, the truth is here at last
- Watching things wrap up in a mystery is your favorite part
- You don’t mind long discussions in airplanes
The first season of The Joker is wrapping up, and you can feel it in this issue. All of the characters travel to, and arrive in Texas, and the pieces are lined up to move into the end game. The whole tone has a feeling of wrapping up, from the conversations to the reveals. While I’m frustrated by the characterization going on, I am happy to see that the story can see it’s end in sight and I’m interested to learn how everything wraps up over the final few issues.
Overall Score: 4/10
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.