It's the aftermath of 'The Joker War' and Bruce Wayne must learn to be a leaner, meaner Dark Knight in Batman #101. Coyly titled 'After The Laughter,' writer James Tynion IV settles us into the post-100th issue Gotham City, and sets up a few very interesting ideas for Batman and his new defunded and infrastructure-less status quo. Pair those with the showy debut of a WildStorm mainstay, theatrically and kinetically rendered by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey, and you find Batman #101 showing little signs of slowing down in the aftermath of its triple-digit milestone.
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The Joker's infiltration of the institutions of Gotham City and his pilfering of Bruce Wayne's billions have been put right, but the repercussions are still thrumming through the city and its protector. With this premise as a foundation, James Tynion IV sets up a bunch of very fun elements to carry forward the title beyond its hundredth installment.
For one, Batman now is without his seemingly infinite funding, thanks to it being stolen from him by the Joker and then later stolen back by Catwoman (but given ultimately to Lucius Fox and his children). Though one would just assume that Batman would somehow find a way to restore it further, Tynion offers a neat bit of corporate intrigue into the title, revealing to Bruce through Lucius that the Wayne Foundation board wants Bruce nowhere near the company and effectively cutting Batman's infrastructure off at the Bat-themed knees.
This new paring down of his resources leads Bruce to a genuine revelation; that the Joker was right about him. He had become complacent and reliant on his many "systems" of tackling the crime and supervillainy of Gotham City. Tynion and the art team gracefully walk us through Bruce's thought process, opening on a gorgeous sequence of classic Batman action. Where the signal would be thrown by Jim Gordon, Batman would respond and work the case, "staring at the evidence" until it unlocked and he could deal with the threat. It's a shockingly introspective sequence from Tynion, March, and Morey, as well as the Batman title overall but one that feels fresh, providing the title a keen narrative drive heading into its next arc.
But beyond the opening, Tynion seems to be committing to this thesis, stripping Batman down to his base parts, and moving him deeper into the city he protects by trading Wayne Manor for a brownstone (one he didn't even know he owned) in the heart of Gotham. The idea is a bit muddied by him having to deal with the ongoing Batman/Catwoman romance threads left over from the Tom King era, but I feel this issue sets up the potential for a back-to-basics Batman in a really entertaining way.
This stripped-down, more muscular brand of storytelling also extends to the artwork, most explicitly in their first sequence with the issue's cult-favorite guest-star Grifter, arguably #101's standout sequence. Taking over from the flashy and slickly produced Jorge Jimenez, artist Guillem March and colorist Tomeu Morey adapt very well to the theatrical scope of Tynion's script and the dynamic visuals a solo Bat title demands. The opening sequence, in particular, is a nice display of the pair's powers, bounding Batman and Robin across old-school cityscapes and rooftops in a very Alan Davis/Norm Breyfogle inspired set of pages.
But it's with Batman's encounter with Grifter, hired by Lucius Fox as a bodyguard, that the pair truly start to show out. Spread across multiple pages, including an outstanding double-page splash, the pair punch, kick, and block themselves into a stalemate and deliver the issue a fantastic main set piece. The main splash page is a real showstopper, sparring the hero and anti-hero against each other in tightly blocked, expertly detailed panels allowing readers an intimate look at the battle amid the theatrical scope of their version of Gotham City. Though the previous issue carried the novelty of its marquee numbering, Batman #101 makes a few very strong cases for being the better-looking issue.
Armed with a newfound introspection and thrillingly laid out artwork, Batman #101 sets the title up with real room to grow into something fresher. After the bombast of his first arcs, James Tynion IV seems to be settling into a more pared-down, leaner take on the Dark Knight and it couldn't have come at a better time for the book. Couple this new direction with the expressive and smoothly produced artwork of Guillem March and Tomeu Morey and you have a Batman that could rise from the ashes of 'The Joker War' a better title and hero.