As I read Batman #99, I feel like I'm waffling a lot on 'The Joker War.' On one hand, it has more urgency and takes a bigger swing at having stakes than James Tynion's first arc on the title but simultaneously it feels like an odd amalgam of what has come before. And part of that is just the nature of comic books, right? But when Tynion's been at his worst with Batman, it's generally been because he's not tapping into his strengths. Arguably, Batman isn't a character that plays to those strengths the same way that Dick Grayson or Batwoman do. So 'The Joker War' ends up feeling a bit like a facsimile of a Batman event despite consistently good art from Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey. It strives for the overarching approach of something like Batman Eternal but it doesn't feel like it has the space to really breathe.
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
When Tynion is at his best, he's able to deliver on great character moments through dialogue and interpersonal dynamics - we, the readers, understand the importance of a moment because that moment is consistent with who those characters are and what they're about. To Tynion's credit, we get a couple of those here. Bruce rallies the Bat-Family around him as we hurtle to a conclusion. He gives Dick back his Nightwing costume and completes the first Robin's quest to regain his identity. Those moments just feel right and they're extremely satisfying.
There are other elements of the plot that take place in other books, namely Catwoman and Detective Comics, that just rings hollow if you aren't reading them. Batwoman's story feels like it would have been a better fit somewhere in this Batman book given Tynion's history with the character but we don't get that here. Catwoman's heist is fine but also feels like busy work for those villains to keep them as satellites to the main plot. It's always interesting to see some synergy amongst titles but there's something to the ramshackle nature of this arc. Is it an event? Should I feel like I need to check in on those books to get the entire story? Despite the incendiary title, 'The Joker War' feels strangely small and while Tynion attempts to help us understand the Joker's endgame a little bit here, it feels kind of hollow.
And this begs the question: is there anything left to do with a Batman vs. Joker story or has Tynion just been put into a corner where his story is forced to serve too many masters? Or to put it another way, has DC overexposed the Joker, with the White Knight universe and recently released Three Jokers, to the point that even the idea of a story called 'The Joker War' feels exhausting? Maybe. But I also don't think the Batman versus Joker dynamic jibes with Tynion's strengths as a writer. Despite being a DC writer for so long and no doubt a fan for even longer, the oversized mythological implication of many DC characters doesn't always allow for Tynion to deliver to smaller moments that his best work is known for. That's extremely evident here. While Bruce giving Dick his costume is a home run, I'm so much more interested to see Bruce win back the Bat-family than I am to see him battle it out with a Batman-suited Joker.
I'm beginning to feel like a broken record talking about Jorge Jimenez's art but he really does bring out the best in Tynion in those smaller moments. I think there are some design elements that represent a lack of imagination in this issue, though. First, what we'll call the 'Jokermobile' looks like something they might have given a fan of the Joker on a particularly uninspired episode of Pimp My Ride. It's really nothing more than a Hummer limo with some graffiti on it. And then the big Joker suit is a moment that is so heavily teased earlier in the script by the time it shows up, it's almost anti-climactic. Plus Jimenez doesn't really do much with it, much like the Jokermobile earlier in the issue.
Tynion and Jimenez feel a little like they're going through the motions. And Tynion having Harley Quinn say to Batman that their story "needs an ending" feels a bit like the writer recognizing the shortcomings of the plot but knowing that there is some inevitability to its conclusion.
There's always the chance that the end of this arc pulls the rest of the arc into focus - Tynion is a good enough writer to do it. But maybe the problem is really the audience and the times we're living in. Superhero universes are never going to accurately reflect our world. But they can teach us lessons - many that stick with us our entire lives. But when we learn that good prevails over evil and fail to even a scrap of that in our everyday lives, what's the point of one more story about good versus evil?