Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March, Rafael Albuquerque and David Baron
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Batman's 'dark design' of Gotham City becomes somewhat clearer in Batman #94. Standing as the finale of James Tynion's first arc with the main title, this issue finds Batman attempting to refocus himself, turning introspective after being one-two punched by the Designer and the Joker and trying to steel himself and his allies for the impending war with a newly resourced Clown Prince of Crime.
But while the elevator pitch of this issue sounds fun, Tynion's self-serious and stony narration cuts down on the potential fun of this finale. Worse still, it's still just more table setting for the looming summer event, with even the flashbacks to Bruce's pre-Batman past being thematically linked to the incoming event in no real novel way. Artists Guillem March, Rafael Albuquerque, and David Baron are similarly hemmed into corners, focused mainly on detailing static panels of exposition and flashbacks. Some of the details, however, speak to a flash of style and thematic resonance, but it is sadly lost in all the wheel-spinning to mark time until Joker War finally kicks off.
That said, we open on a curious but enjoyable bit of character building from Tynion. Flashing back to Bruce's pre-'Year One' days, Tynion shows us the fateful meeting between Bruce and "Gotham's Greatest Detective" C.W. Baker, whom he hopes will train him in the art of deductive science. This opening mines a great deal of pulpy fun, echoing shades of Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis' famous Detective Comics story in which Batman teams up with Sherlock Holmes. And even though co-artist Rafael Albuquerque and colorist David Baron are locked largely in a single interior setting, the pair still present an engaging naivete in the young Bruce and menace for Baker as he takes on Bruce as a student just for one lesson — to teach him how to lose.
But from there, the pulpy drive of this detective story gets ground to a halt as Tynion continues to set up for 'The Joker War.' Cutting between an injured Batman under the care of Lucius Fox and a convalescing Catwoman under the care of Fox's daughter at Gotham Mercy Hospital, Tynion continues to plot Batman like a game of Risk. The Joker's forces are fully marshaled now, but he wants Batman at the top of his game for this next round. That means taking out Catwoman so he and The Bat can have a proper fight.
Tynion happens upon some fun bits of world-building here, such as the Joker seizing Wayne Manor, effectively cutting Batman off from the Cave and his childhood home. There is also the fun idea that the Penguin and other various Bat-Rogues have gone to ground in a vault-like "Cold Room" where they plan to sit out of the war and pick over the aftermath once the dust has settled. But again, it all feels too much like setup that only serves the incoming story, not the current story that is still ongoing. I can see the value of bringing Batman to his "lowest" for the incoming event, but the only thing missing from Batman #94 is an explicit 'Road to Joker War' tag on the trade dress.
And like Albuquerque in the opening, Guillem March is similarly hemmed in by the scope of this issue. Confined to mostly interiors, most of which we have already seen before, March tries to jazz it up a bit with some expansive layouts, such as a nine-panel grid when Batman and Catwoman finally get a chance to talk, or an expressive flip book-like effect as the Joker preens from a cell phone screen about his impending conflict with Batman. Like Tynion, March runs across some effective detailing, like in a bust panel of the Joker where he preaches about his own "design" for Gotham with tiny city-scapes in his eyes, staring directly at the reader. But unfortunately, in the service of a story that barely goes forward, it is hard to get that excited about it.
DC calls this issue the "thick of a Joker attack," but reading Batman #94 you would be hard pressed to feel that yourself. Though peppered with fun visual detailing and occasional moments of engaging world-building, Batman #94 finds the title just marking time until 'The Joker War' begins in earnest.