Interview with Punchline: The Gotham Game’s Tini and Blake Howard

The story of Alexis Kaye is far from innocent. Not that she would ever admit it! First appearing in the early stages of James Tynion IV’s Joker War event spun out of Batman #89, Punchline would join several new characters like Ghost-Maker, The Designer, Miracle Molly, and more in populating the new Gotham. Once a curious co-ed, Alexis would go on to obsessively study the crimes of The Joker to the point of auditioning to be his newest paramour. Her specialty? The spread of corruption and misinformation made ever relevant by today’s political climate and the shallowness of the internet. However, her true deviousness continued to evolve with her origin story in Punchline #1, her trial and release in The Joker (2022), and even graduating to the Legion of Doom in Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths #4.

The future of her campaign now lies in the hands of the dynamic writing duo of Blake (Batman: Urban Legends) and Tini Howard (Excalibur, Catwoman 2022). This time, Alexis wants to unite the long divided sects of the Royal Flush Gang under her leadership and challenge the structures of power in Gotham City. So it was absolutely an honor to interview and pick the brains behind her latest madness in Punchline: The Gotham Game (coming October 25th).

Punchline: The Gotham Game #1 preview- art by Gleb Melnikov

Batman News: Gotham City already has its share of crazy rogues and psychotics stuffing up the place. What unique quality does Punchline bring to the conversation that no other character could?

Blake Howard: Punchline is, in many ways, the natural evolution in Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Classic villains such as the Joker and the Penguin have a 1930s gangster feel to them, while later villains like KGBeast and Zsasz arose from a grittier era. Punchline is a 21st Century villain that reflects a postmodernism-to-nihilism pipeline.

Tini Howard: Blake’s absolutely right – she’s a product of her time for sure. She has an irreverence and detachedness that only the internet age could breed, haha.

Punchline: The Gotham Game #1 preview- art by Gleb Melnikov. Clowns in Gotham City are getting it from both sides!

Batman News: In unavoidable comparison to Harley Quinn, who long outgrew the Joker and his influence, do you believe Punchline will ever need to evolve beyond Joker or is the character built to embrace him?

BH: It’s a precarious dance! Punchline was inspired by the Joker, but wasn’t forcibly molded by him as Harley Quinn was, so ultimately, I think she has a bit more of a natural mean streak to her.

TH: I think it’s that kind of underestimation that Punchline relies on. If someone thinks that every girl that comes from the Joker’s influence is the same, well – all the better for her. She’s the sort to sniff out your weakness and use it. If your weakness is underestimating her because she’s “another of the Joker’s exes” then she is going to use that to hurt you, badly. 

Batman News: Villains are sometimes intrinsically tied to the hero. When writing a solo book for characters like Joker or Lex Luthor, writers tend to either pit them against bigger villains or lesser heroes. Specifically in The Joker (2022), Alexis was challenged by Harper Row and now she will be targeted by other rivals. How did you go about finding the right kind of antagonist for a villain?

TH: It was fun to have the opportunity to do something we don’t often see – a character working their way up the ranks of Gotham’s heroes, catching their attention as they take bigger and bigger swings, becoming a bigger and bigger problem. But rather than deciding if her antagonists would be ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’ we just realistically picked the folks who would be having the biggest problems with Alexis herself. It’s the best way to distinguish her as a character – watching people discover her goals as she goes up against them. 

BH: And the good thing about writing villains is that most of them have their own selfish agendas — therefore, the antagonist to a villain doesn’t necessarily have to be a hero. Punchline is an up-and-comer in the Gotham crime community — and some of the “old guard” may not take too kindly to her ambitions.

Punchline: The Gotham Game #1 preview- art by Gleb Melnikov. The introduction of the Hearts chapter of the Royal Flush Gang: Rex & Regina.

Batman News: Gotham Game puts the spotlight back on Gotham’s most sociopolitical felon. Have there been any personal influences on what you intend to communicate with the series?

BH: The Gotham Game is, essentially, a story about chasing clout, which we all do in our lives, in some form or another. We all value validation. However, while some people go about it by working on themselves or achieving a productive goal, others go about it by being provocative and inflammatory. 

TH: I actually, unlike most of us, truly believe that people are good and helpful, and that inciting them into awfulness is harder and more complicated than it seems. I think that’s part of Punchline’s struggle – Gotham is bad, but it’s not as bad as she wants it to be. Not yet, at least. <3 

Much thanks and appreciation to Blake and Tini Howard for their time. Be sure to pick up Punchline: The Gotham Game available everywhere October 25th, 2022 with artwork by Gleb Melnikov.