The DC special Batman: Joker War Zone #1 anthology may be set in the middle of the ongoing 'Joker War' arc of the main Batman series and its related titles, but it seems to work more to set-up several storylines that will be key to the post-'Joker War' future of the Gotham City corner of the DC Universe.
The special's purpose lines up with what 'Joker War' architect James Tynion IV told us back in June on the eve of the story's launch.
"...I'd say 'Joker War' is both an ending and a beginning," Tynion told Newsarama. "This is meant to close off an era of storytelling, while simultaneously opening up a new era of storytelling."
'A Serious House'
Joker War Zone opens up with a story by Tynion and artist Guillem March with a broken Bane residing at Arkham Asylum. He's tied up to a giant gothic-like machine that is being used to withdraw Bane's venom. The Joker pays his fellow Batman villain a visit, reminiscing about Tom King's 'City of Bane' where just a short time ago Bane was the king of Gotham. The Joker is disappointed, Bane had all that power but didn't truly destroy Batman.
Joker argues Bane could have destroyed Batman by killing Alfred in front of him but only succeeded in breaking Damian Wayne by killing Alfred in front of him instead.
This doesn't seem to be the end of their confrontation as the disappointed Joker promises to make Bane pay for his error and Bane's inner monologue seems to suggest he's just biding his time to escape.
The caption "to be continued in 2021" graces the last page as the Joker leaves the asylum.
The next story focuses on a supporting character that has been heavily involved in 'The Joker War' since the beginning of Tynion's run – Lucius Fox. But Lucius seems broken, still reeling from his near-death experience at the hands of Punchline.
It's a family reunion as the Foxes have been given Catwoman's USB drive that holds billions of dollars in offshore accounts, a story thread that directly ties into the events of 'The Joker War.'
The story ends in chaos as the Joker's goons confront Lucius's family, leading Luke to don his Batwing costume to protect his loved ones. Lucius resorts to darker measures, killing the clowns at gunpoint. Does this mean we will see a more tragic path for Lucius in the future pages of the Batman flagship?
Bear in mind the story is written by 12 Years a Slave's John Ridley, whose four-issue still-untitled Batman series with artist Nick Derington will star a new Batman that is very likely a person of color.
We already know the series will focus on the Fox family - and billions of dollars will certainly help whoever wears the cowl in their quest. The last remaining question, however, is which member of the family will take the mantle?
The next pivotal chapter introduces a new villain, Henchman – a goon that knows all of Gotham's villainous secrets. It's up to Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) and Cassandra Cain (Orphan) to put down Henchman and bring back hope to Gotham as they find a way to re-light the Bat Symbol. This leads both Spoiler and Orphan to carve their own places in the Bat-family, officially wearing the Bat symbol on their costumes – closely resembling their respective classic Batgirl suits.
Does this mean we will be seeing more of the former Batgirls play a bigger role in the Batman titles, perhaps even in their own title?
Remember, DC has recently canceled many ongoing series and the publisher seems primed to launch some new ones. Jim Lee recently chose to answer a fan question about the future of Cassandra Cain during Fandome, and while he didn't commit to any specific plans for the character, DC's very deliberate marketing style makes just the selection of the question seem like it could be a preamble to something.
'Ashes of Eden'
The penultimate story focuses on villain-turned-anti-hero-turned-sometimes-both, Poison Ivy. Ivy's luxurious garden played a major part in Batman healing from Joker's poison in 'The Joker War.'
Eden was Harley and Ivy's special place, but with Harley's conversion to heroism and their breakup, Ivy has once again turned her back on humanity. She embraces the ideologies of the "devil's ivy" calling herself Queen Ivy. This story is written by Sam Johns and drawn by Laura Braga, and also ends with the "to be continued in 2021" caption.
Now that Harley is a major supporting character in Batman, will we see Ivy confront her former lover in a future story arc?
The last story focuses on Batman's seemingly newest cast addition, Clownhunter. A very 'revealing' chapter as we finally see who is under Clownhunter's mohawk – making this a possible special issue with the first appearance of Clownhunter's still-unnamed true identity, who, though he isn't yet identified, bears something of a resemblance to some of the boys who have been Robins over the years.
Clownhunter goes toe-to-toe with Joker's ambitious goons - Krackle, Pop, and Big Ed. He easily kills them, but before annihilating the last henchman, his mask is knocked off, while he reiterates his vow to avenge his parents' death by doing what Batman could not – killing off evil in the city.
We'll see if Clownhunter's somewhat resemblance to all the former Robins plays a role in his future. After all, Jason Todd's introduction to the Bat mythos was stealing the hubcaps off the Batmobile.
That's not quite like killing Joker's henchmen, but hey, nothing is the same in 2020.
Joker War isn't the only Joker/Batman story going on in 2020. Newsarama just reviewed the second issue of the DC Black Label series Three Jokers.