Welcome back, everybody, to my read through DC’s premiere Bat Event for 2020, The Joker War! I’m continuing to take a look at each issue, including tie-ins, and assessing the Joker’s damage during this all-out war for Gotham-wide control! I’m adding each review to the master Joker War Reading Order and assessing which issues are essential and what tie-ins you can leave out if you like.
Beware light spoilers are ahead.
Batman 96 starts with a flash forward to the idyllic Gotham of the future! Bruce is clad in that shiny new batsuit we saw in Batman 95 and he’s chasing down the one group of ne’r-do-wells to act out in a month. If my eyes don’t mistake me, Bruce is actually smiling here. He’s found happiness after all. No more brooding or vengeance, just safeguarding his beloved Gotham. SNAP back to reality, though right? We knew better than this. This can’t be a happy ending right now.
We don’t know how, but Bruce survived that massive explosion cliffhanger in Batman 95 and now he’s on the receiving end of Harley’s much unwanted help. What I love about this scene is that Harley is very much on the outs with the Joker and doesn’t even pay Punchline the respect of getting her name right. I think making Harley and Punchline’s interests in Joker’s scheme less than 100% aligned was a smart move with this story. Some of the early criticism about the new character Punchline was that she seems to be a lot like Harley Quinn. Tynion has to act fast to distinguish his character and how better than placing the two on opposing ends of a conflict? It seems that whatever their differences may be, Harley does not appreciate the way Punchline operates one bit. That doesn’t mean Bruce trusts Harley. Not at all, and that’s very much so consistent with Bruce’s M.O.
Although Bats is still feeling the effects of Punchline’s Joker Toxin attack from issue 85, he wastes little time getting back to kicking clown ass. He’s not alone in a city gone to hell, though. If Joker gets a protege, so do the good guys. It looks like there’s a new vigilante in town fighting on the side of the Bat. Batman just doesn’t know it yet. Clownhunter managed to get his hands on a batarang that he’s wedged into a baseball bat and it seems, unlike Bruce, he has no qualms about killing. Will these differing philosophies on justice come to a head with Batman? We’ll see. This is Clownhunter’s first appearance and if you’re speculating on Clownhunter check out 1:25 design variant. Batman gets momentarily side-tracked fighting roving packs of clowns, but soon realizes this is all a distraction from the true plot at play. Joker has orchestrated a grand re-enactment of the fateful night Bruce lost his parents at the Mask of Zorro viewing. Here is where I really enjoyed the care that was taken crafting Joker’s theatrics. Joker mentions that the last time this “screening” happened, there was only an audience of three. He’s of course referencing Bruce and his parents and the screening is the murder by Joe Chill. A main theme in the Joker War story arc is that Joker holds all the leverage in this fight against Batman, including the knowledge of Bat’s true identity as Bruce Wayne. Tynion didn’t just blankly state this anywhere in this issue, but wove the elemtns of Bruce’s intimate and traumatic past into his plot.
While we don’t have more questions about what Joker is going to reveal than last issue, slightly more has been revealed about the plot by the final page. Things are slowly unraveling to reveal the final end game for Joker. If I can’t put it any more eloquently, Tynion at least made me want to turn the page, page-after-page, to see what happens next. And isn’t that what we love most about comics? The greatest thing to happen is always the next thing about to happen!
Jimenez’s art is clean, almost giving off a Brian Bolland vibe, but with heavier shading and a more varied style and palette. Rarely was a page laid out in uniform panel grids and the creativity of the lay outs actually went much further than surface-level variation. On one page, he event went as far as to make Bruce’s torso the panel border. Off-kilter panels and dutch angles both high and low made for an uneasy “Joker” feeling to the whole issue.
Another solid entry into the Joker War event and I’m excited to see what the future holds! You can grab Batman 96 at fine e-tailers, ebay of course (if you’re speculating on Clownhunter check out 1:25 design variant), and your local comic shop.
Reeling from the effects of the worst Joker toxin attack ever, Batman is on the run through Gotham City, pursued by the dark shadows and voices that haunt his past and present! As the Joker’s plan materializes, the only person who can save Batman from the brink of true madness…is Harley Quinn?! Plus, who is the mysterious new figure known as Clownhunter?