Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Punchline makes her first full appearance as “Their Dark Designs” reaches its seventh installment, and the results are middling. It might be that this story has lost some momentum due to the pandemic, but this whole package seems shakily put together. Artist Guillem March oscillates between some really effective cartooning or giving Catwoman and Harley Quinn the same wide-eyed, open-mouthed facial expression. Writer James Tynion IV has a lot of the pieces of a decent Batman story here, but the team doesn’t really deliver to the best of their potential here.
And what’s worse, a lot of the issues here are the kind of stuff that an editor is paid to catch. Tynion’s instincts as a writer are pretty good but even the best writers need a little bit of help getting over the finish line. Tynion has Riddler take over the city with another grand scheme that requires Batman to solve a crossword puzzle. In true Batman fashion, he decides to do this entirely without looking at the puzzle himself, as he and Deathstroke instead take the Bat-Subway (not an exaggeration) to Riddler’s location. It’s an odd-couple routine that lets Deathstroke be the set-up for showing just how smart the Batman is.
You might be thinking that sounds pretty good, but bad editing makes the whole thing fall apart. (Like, if you’re going to have a crossword-themed deathtrap, you want to check for spelling — who spells “bandana” with two n’s?). Because the Riddler scenes are supposed to have urgency to them, Tynion is forced to do some work with Catwoman and Harley Quinn but his dialogue work is not on the level it has been in past issues. Meanwhile, despite the speculator hype, Punchline ends up being kind of punchless. Tynion doesn't inject much personality into the small moments he's able to work with her, while March's design lacks the iconography that made Harley Quinn so effective in a similar role. Compounded with the lengthy covid-related delay, this entire arc already feels three issues too long as Tynion and company are padding out the lead up to “Joker War.”
But March really doesn’t help the writer out, either. Don’t get me wrong, he turns in some really solid work when it comes to Batman and Riddler — March's gnarled take on Edward Nygma gives the artist a lot of room to lean in on the character's outsized reactions to Batman solving his riddles. But for as much personality as March puts into the male characters, his female characters’ expressions come across as totally vacant and sexualized. That really takes the teeth out of Harley and Selina’s scenes. I know that March has a reputation for being a more cheesecake-y artist, but his work here deflates the narrative. This is another instance of an editor needing to step in to guide the artist a little bit more, and a situation where switching between artists hurts the flow of the story.
I’m sure there are some folks out there that will love this book and despite flat writing and art, I’m sure Punchline has just become someone’s favorite character. But this is an issue that was so poorly put together that it negatively affects the reading experience. It’s certainly not of the quality expected from one of DC’s flagship titles, and that poor execution makes it clear how much this arc is just treading water getting to a big reveal.