Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March, Javier Fernandez, Tomeu Morey, and David Baron
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
'The Joker War' continues to inch toward its opening gambit in Batman #93. Facing the grand plans of the Designer, Batman faces the author of all his pain throughout this arc. Or does he?
Though handsomely rendered with splashy, '80s-inspired flashbacks by Guillem March and Javier Fernandez, James Tynion’s Batman thus far still reads like so much preamble in service of the incoming 'The Joker War.' Even with the much-hyped Punchline fighting her predecessor Harley Quinn, Tynion effectively cuts the legs out of the whole of his opening arc within the span of a few pages, clearing the board he just finished setting up in favor of a larger event. Despite some lush artwork, Batman #93 still feels like vamping for time until the curtain can rise on 'The Joker War.'
The issue opens, however, on a pretty wonderful set-up, as Batman and the once-dormant Designer walk readers through what would have happened had his grand design taken hold of the city in the 'Year One' days. This allows Tynion plenty of room for some juicy world-building narration, flicking between the voices of Batman and the Designer as they build a hypothetical empire of crime with the worst Gotham has to offer. This is also a neat contrast between the way Tynion has handled Batman’s voice and the voices of his opposition, clashing them both in evocative ways as he cuts from scene to scene.
Better still, this opening montage is a sumptuous display of Guillem March, Javier Fernandez, Tomeu Morey, and David Baron’s artwork. Cutting between the “past” and the present, the art team lean fully and hard into the '80s era of Batman while also delivering a pretty fun, visceral sword fight in the present action. Bolstered by the tattered current state of Batman’s costume and the Designer’s ridiculous costume, the art team deliver a much more theatrical version of Batman’s many desert duels with Ra’s Al Ghul, intercut with pin-up-ready splash pages of the past. It really is a wonderful showing from the artists involved and one of Batman #93’s highest points as a read.
Unfortunately, it’s with what comes after where everything starts to deflate. As Batman and the Designer duel, Punchline is still cutting a bloody swath through the women of Gotham. Tynion still hasn’t given us a showstopping scene with the new character just yet, but her viciousness is fully established here, as she attacks both Harley Quinn and Catwoman, taking them off the board for now. From there Tynion pivots the actions of the Designer into actual actions of the Joker and tying up Punchline’s narrative threads into the incoming 'The Joker War' for good measure. Though the weird, macabre mechanics of actually how the Joker was able to achieve this could have been cool to explore, the actual reveal is less than stellar.
At best, Tynion's final twist works as a smallish flourish for the arc, further setting up 'The Joker War.' At worst, it’s... nothing but set-up for 'The Joker War,' undercutting the pulpy fun of the opening arc as little more than clownish machinations that swallow up the Catwoman and Punchline side stories in one big miasma of plot. One could argue, of course, that Tynion is playing the longer game, attempting to set wheels-within-wheels to properly set the stage for the incoming event. But after reading Batman #93, it looks less like wheels-within-wheels and more like a hastily constructed puzzle with a pretty obvious ending picture.
Joker War has been looming for awhile now, from previews to interviews to teasers. But the line between marketing and effective storytelling blurs too much for comfort in Batman #93 — while March and Fernandez deliver some compelling artwork, Tynion has spent six issues spinning his wheels as he reveals this entire arc has been just more stage dressing for 'The Joker War.' Given how in-your-face the upcoming event has been, this sort of reminder is both underwhelming and overkill.