BATMAN: JOKER WAR | ‘New to Comics’ Review

New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. 

Been a little while since I wrote one of these, but the 100th issue of the current Batman series came out yesterday, bringing Joker War to a close. So it seems like it’s time to get back in the game! Since this has obviously just finished coming out as single issues, the details below obviously won’t reflect what’s included in the regular trade paperback. I’m sure we’ll all manage though.

Published by: DC Comics
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Jorge Jiminez, Guillem March & Carlo Pagulayan
Year: 2020

Collects: Batman #95-100


CONTENTS
– Background
– Character Spotlight
– Plot
– Review


WHAT’S THE STORY?

As is to be expected, the Batman family has had a rather tumultuous few years that have, in hindsight, acted as a deconstruction of sorts. That’s something that was probably quite obvious to many, but it just clicked for me today how many things have happened in such a relatively short period of time, to necessitate a sort of ‘finale’ or ‘revival’ of the line that Joker War presents. 

The most obvious one, and the one that plays rather heavily into this own comic, is the death of Alfred Pennyworth.

Under writer Tom King, Batman had to face off against Bane after the muscled monstrosity had effectively taken over Gotham City… Like the Joker does in Joker War… Wait a second… Is this story just a repeat of City of Bane with some loose plot changes? 

Anyway, in the City of Bane storyline, Batman is temporarily out of action, while Bane has teamed up with Batman’s father from another reality (Flashpoint) to take over the city. Alfred, still trapped in Gotham while Bruce is away, is forced to act as a butler for his captors. Robin (Damian – the fifth one, Bruce’s actual son) makes an attempt to save Alfred and stop Bane, and consequently, Bane snaps Alfred’s neck. There’s no surprise twist or magical rebirth as of yet.

He’s dead. 

Around the same time, one of Batman’s other enemies, KGBeast – a lesser-known villain who pops up a surprising amount (he’s in Harley Quinn briefly and is also one of Lex Luthor’s main henchmen in Dawn of Justice – obviously sans costume and gun-hand) – shot Nightwing a.k.a. Dick Grayson, the first Robin, in the head. In retaliation, Batman hunted him to Siberia and paralyzed him, so it probably wasn’t the best decision on his part. 

This also had pretty dire consequences for Nightwing fans. While he didn’t literally die, his personality did. Dick Grayson ‘died’, and in his place was… Ric Grayson. A man with all the abilities of Nightwing, but none of the memories or apathy. This wasn’t your friendly, acrobatic hero, so much as it was a gruff, no-nonsense barkeep. 

I’ll admit my knowledge of all this isn’t the strongest as I didn’t read most of it because it doesn’t sound like what I want from a Nightwing story, and by most accounts it was a pretty poor run that everyone just wanted to end.

Maybe we’ll get to it one day.

Probably not though. 

With one Robin down, you’d think Batman would be more caring to those left behind, but instead, the various stresses he was under at the time led him to continue being a shit dad to his actual son, Damian Wayne

Alfred’s death hit both Batman and Robin hard. As did Nightwing’s ‘death’. Some years back, during Bruce Wayne’s absence following Final Crisis, Damian Wayne became Robin while Nightwing was himself Batman, so they have a special and unique brotherly bond, one that is much more nurturing than Damian’s relationship with his own father. 

So when Dick was shot, Damian decided he wanted to go further than Batman when it came to getting revenge. Not just beating up Dick’s shooter, but taking his life. In recent issues of Teen Titans, that had been Damian’s driving motivation, to take villains off the board who had previously been in and out of Arkham Asylum’s revolving doors. 

This obviously flies in the face of everything Batman stands for, and the two ended up having a falling out, which ended with Damian dropping the Robin identity. Noticeably, he is one of the only members of the Bat-family who subsequently doesn’t make an appearance in Joker War.  

Shame really, I always liked Damian. 

There are undoubtedly other things going on in Batman’s life, but the last one I’ll touch on was something I had completely forgotten about until reading this comic. Namely, James Gordon isn’t commissioner anymore. 

And after looking it up, I realised I was both aware of this development and have read the issues in which it happened. 

What’s going on, basically, is there’s an event at DC currently running called Dark Nights: Death Metal. It’s your usual end of the multiverse-type deal that DC events usually deal with. However, the difference here is that Death Metal and it’s precursor Metal both have a heavy Batman focus, with one of the primary villains being an alternate-universe Batman who has effectively also become the Joker. 

Post-Metal, this ‘Batman-Who-Laughs’ was trapped in the Prime Universe and got up to all sorts of mischief. One of his acts was to infect six heroes with his Joker…ness… to create a team called the ‘Secret Six’. The members were Shazam, Supergirl, Hawkman, Donna Troy, Blue Beetle and, you guessed it (or maybe not because he isn’t a superhero) Jim Gordon. 

Being evil and Joker-ish does sort of render you unfit to be police commissioner. 

So that’s where we’re at. And then on top of all of that, the story that preceeds Joker War ends with the Joker effectively robbing Bruce Wayne of his billions of dollars through legal means. Thus leaving Batman at what could be his lowest point, and set up perfectly for a final confrontation and rebirth, of sorts. 


CHARACTER SPOTLIGHT:

BATMAN

Real Name: Bruce Thomas Wayne
Affiliation: The Justice League
First Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (March 1939)

As a child, Bruce Wayne wanted for nothing – the son of some of the wealthiest and most respected people in Gotham City, Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce was, in essence, heir to the throne of Gotham. But all that changed when Bruce’s parents were gunned down in front of him, instilling in him a deep hatred for criminals that would hang over his entire life. Committing himself to become skilled in multiple disciplines such as combat and detective work, Bruce used the wealth and resources of the company he inherited from his father to become the vigilante known as the Batman. A figure of fear, Bruce now wages a war against crime with his trusty Batmobile and high-tech armoury of weapons, assisted by his loyal butler and father-figure Alfred, police commissioner Jim Gordon and his extended ‘Bat-family’ of sidekicks like Robin.


WHAT’S THE PLOT?

Bruce Wayne’s fortune has been stolen and is now in the hands of his arch-nemesis, the Joker. 

Armed with billions of dollars, all of Batman’s weapons and vehicles, the knowledge of his enemy’s secret identity and hideouts, and of course his new girlfriend/partner-in-crime Punchline, Joker has plans to take over the city and reveal Gotham’s true anarchic nature to the world. 

As clowns rampage through the streets, the police are tied up in legal battles and rendered inert, while the Dark Knight himself has been drugged to the point of near-uselessness. 

But what’s the Joker’s true endgame? And what’s Harley Quinn’s role in all of this?

REVIEW:

It’s rare that I’ll talk about ongoing issues of a comic-book with someone in person, but as luck would have it, Joker War was one of the few comics that both I and one of my co-workers were reading concurrently. 

And as each issue came out, we both came to the same conclusion. It’s… fine. 

Fine enough that further down the page I’ll give it a ‘New to Comics Thumbs Up’, and if that’s all you care about, then go right ahead and have a read of this storyline. It’s got everything people seem to want these days; Batman, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Gotham City on the edge of ruin. 

But there’s a lot more to this comic, things that could potentially turn that thumbs up into a thumbs down, depending on what you’re looking for. So maybe stick around, see what I have to say. 

There is a fair bit of good stuff in this comic. 

The art, for one, is absolutely stunning. Jorge Jiminez’ style is sleek and vibrant; the characters all animated and emotive. Paired with Tomeu Morey’s resplendent colour palate, the art in this book really makes everything come alive in the best way possible. 

Furthermore, while some figures are somewhat unrealistic, the way Jiminez and Morey pen, ink and colour these characters give them a sense of realism that some other artists lack. Not to say they look photorealistic, but if we take Batman, for example, he looks like an athlete or showman actually would look on the regular – big and imposing. Natural. Not the unrealistic look bodybuilders present after dehydrating themselves to become cut and overly defined. 

The female characters don’t always fare as well in that respect, as is often the way in superhero comics, but they too look athletic and not unrealistically disproportioned. 

There are also some cool moments in the writing; what with this being a finale of sorts, it makes time to give the audience crowd-pleasing scenes that present Batman at his best. 

However, the story that surrounds these scenes and dictates what’s shown in this beautiful art is what lets the story as a whole down somewhat. 

It’s not bad by any means, but it’s also not the Batman/Joker clash to end all clashes, as it was somewhat hyped up to be. A lot of the story sees Batman somewhat incapacitated, so unless you’re reading all the tie-ins, then you’re missing some of the set-up, and, most importantly, the consequences. 

While I’m sure issues from here will explore the fallout of Joker War, something this story severely lacks is a feeling that there are consequences to what’s going on. We’re told people are dying, but rarely actually shown it (there are a lot of dead bodies in this comic, yes, but they often belong to people who were already dead when the story started), and if we are, they are characters in the loosest sense of the word. There’s no attachment there. I’m not saying I want a big character death, but Joker shooting one of his henchmen doesn’t really make for empathetic reading. 

We’re also constantly told that the story will change the city, but due to the minimal amount of time watching the chaos unfold, it’s hard to really glean how this event is any different from all the other times the Joker has attacked the city. We get brief glimpses of utter chaos, but we never explore how truly devastating the Joker’s army is with Batmobiles and Batplanes and Battanks and Batboats at his disposal. 

In short, it feels somewhat empty. 

It’s all very beautifully depicted, but the story does very little to elevate itself to the height it supposedly wants us to believe that it’s at. 

Come the final few issues, there is some welcome closure to Bruce’s grieving over Alfred’s death, but ultimately the titular ‘Joker War’ falls a little flat. 

Still, if Batman fighting the Joker is your jam and you want some frivolous entertainment, then, by all means, check this out. It’s for that reason that I give this comic a…

 

…but if you want an intense final conflict between two of the oldest foes in comics, as promised? Maybe give this a miss. There is a brutal fight up for grabs here, and the Joker does some truly horrendous stuff, but this isn’t the big event that DC claimed it was, or the title suggests it is. 


Thanks for reading! What did you think of Joker War? Should the ongoing battle between Batman and Joker ever come to an end? Let me know in the comments below!

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