After the somewhat drawn-out nature of the last arc, the opening salvo of James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez's 'The Joker War' is a nice change-up. With the build-up out of the way, Tynion is able to settle into a more brisk storytelling pace and Jimenez is up to the task. His layouts are modular and character-focused in a way that lets Tynion's writing breathe. On its face, 'The Joker War' looks to be one of those 'Batman versus a world that's turned against him' stories, and this issue succeeds in establishing the stakes.
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
At first glance, Tynion's penchant for quirky outsider characters over the course of his career almost makes the basic premise of a Batman versus Joker story seem incongruent. But it's one of the marquee match-ups in comics that hooked us all in the first place, and Tynion is no exception.
While that last arc wasn't helped by COVID-related delays, the propulsiveness of the conclusion led into 'The Joker War' quite well. As a reader, it's easy to believe how we got here, and that's Tynion's big strength with this issue — he knows his readers likely know Batman inside and out, and he strengthens the stakes of the story by showing that Joker does, too. It's not enough in any modern Batman story to show that Joker and Batman are two sides of the same coin. It's not enough to just communicate Joker's obsession — you have to show how deep it runs, and I think Tynion really succeeds at that here.
To get more critical, however, I'm not crazy about Tynion's dialogue across the issue. Punchline still falls really flat as a character, while Tynion's stab at Tom King's 'Bat-Cat' back-and-forth doesn't endear me to that relationship anymore than King's run did. Though in King's defense, the somewhat poetic usage of those exchanges across his run arguably give them a sort of stylistic pass. Tynion has taken a different approach, and I wonder if the callback was really that necessary.
Jorge Jimenez is a great get for a Batman book, but he feels a bit reined in here compared to most of his other DC work. That might just be the claustrophobic nature of Gotham, but Jimenez does try to make the best of the space he has. His take on Punchline is a bit tighter than Guillem March's work was, and outside of the opening credits scene, characters across the book are extremely expressive. Even though Jimenez doesn't get a lot of chances to give us big superhero moments, he still manages to use space well and do great character work.
I mentioned his layouts earlier, because it's a simple way to twist structure to aid in reader understanding. Jimenez sticks to a lot of fairly conventional grids, but that allows him to deviate from that in an action scene to illustrate greater impact or danger. As the story continues to ramp up, I can't wait to see Jimenez flex his muscles some more.
In a lot of ways, the beginning of 'The Joker War' feels like the beginning of the Tynion's first arc — it checks all the boxes for what you might be looking for in a Batman story. But the big difference here is that this already feels like the story that the writer really wants to tell rather than the necessary set-up for that story. Jimenez is a strong artistic collaborator for Tynion and should complement his work even more moving forward as they learn each other's quirks. Tynion is clearly interested in telling a really memorable story here, as the nods to Batman and Joker's history feel especially deliberate. While the title feels like one they just had lying around the DC offices, Tynion has proven himself to have some tricks up his sleeves in the past and he's laid out a compelling enough pledge here for fans to come back for more.