Some say the only way to play the game is to not play at all. Turns out, that’s Punchline’s entire strategy! In fact, it seems as if Punchline: The Gotham Game is really Alexis Kaye’s rebellion against both law and order.
After Catwoman’s arrest, Punchline inherits Black Mask as her new nemesis. Emasculated in Tini Howard’s Catwoman, career criminal mastermind Roman Sionis is excited to get back to business. Primarily because he doesn’t see Punchline nor the Royal Flush gang as a threat he can’t handle. Despite being unbothered, this results in Roman proactively sending a team of hitters to Punchline’s hideout anyway. Alternatively, Sionis enlists Tiger Shark and Scarface to lead distro and transport of Punchline’s designer drug. Although, I personally don’t think “mafioso-types” would jump at dealing in drugs. I’d much prefer to see a Scarecrow take interest in XO.
Sionis absolutely represents misogyny in this story. His dismissive behavior toward Selina, Hasigawa, and other women like Stephanie Brown is a point of record in comics, even factoring in the Harley Quinn and The Birds Of Prey (2018) film. While Punchline’s sense of anarchy defines her every nonsensical movement, Black Mask seems to move with order and purpose. In short, the Howards write Black Mask as not only the consummate gangster, but also a competent supervillain foil. Sadly, because Punchline bemoans anything with meaning or coherent goals, he makes her look amateur in comparison. It absolutely brought to mind Mark Millar’s contrast of Red Mist and the crime families of the world of Kick-Ass.
Furthermore, Punchline has a lot of housekeeping to do as well. Even Black Mask cleverly compares her flimsy gang to a “house of cards.” Punchline chooses to bench “One-eyed Jack” Knave in favor of Bluff after he captures Bluebird’s brother. The Howards still write Cullen like a helpless homosexual damsel, incapable of truly having discernment. Bluff is clearly making his own power play and Alexis sort of respects that. Consequently, this sets up the eager Knavy_Seal ending up getting a read from Cullen. Like most of the thugs in The Royal Flush gang, it only highlights how pathetic and needy they truly are.
I have a few moments I liked in this issue of Punchline. I enjoyed reading the camaraderie between the crime families during their toast of Amygdala. Also, something about Nightwing bonding with Harper sat well with me. Bluebird is one of those Gotham characters who haven’t quite joined the Batfamily officially. In fact, despite being similar in design, I don’t think Harper and Grayson have ever met outside of Batman & Robin: Eternal. I will always root for this character to find her footing. Lastly, it should be obvious that I approve of introducing a superior antagonist in the form of Black Mask. As of now, he is the Franchise-Viagra we need to carry this book across the finish line.
In terms of artwork, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, the use of Gotham’s glowering cityscape as a backdrop looks good. Even the featured backgrounds utilize flat colors to efficiently highlight emotion appropriately. Though sometimes the perspective on the buildings or the card Punchline flies on is slightly off. The color isn’t complex in philosophy, but simply does the job. Negatively, I’m not feeling a lot of the designs. Various expressions and facial features seem inconsistently pained or warped. Bluebird’s hair has less of her side Mohawk and looks more comparable to the Genie in Aladdin. It doesn’t even have her blue highlights in it. It’s just a constantly shrinking patch of hair at the top of her head. Her bust also seems to expand and deflate from panel to panel.
- You’re already a reader of Punchline: The Gotham Game.
- You are always on the look out for Bluebird sightings.
- Black Mask doing his thing in a book sounds exciting.
Overall, I’m not mad at this issue. In two issues, the Howards have introduced far more interesting antagonists and angles to work with. While I can bet money that almost nobody is finding interest in Alexis Kaye’s story right now, there are now some promising threads to follow. I think a big thematic conflict of the active and passive supervillain models makes for good conversation. However, I’m still not comfortable calling up those people on the fence about this book back into the yard just yet. I mean, there have been four issues and each one feels like another pilot episode.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.