If 'The Joker War' didn’t make you a Punchline fan, it's unlikely that Punchline Special #1 will win you over. James Tynion IV and Sam Johns attempt to bring some depth to the character and almost provide an interesting treatise on what online radicalization might look like in the DCU. But the whole issue really stumbles forward and makes it clear that this stands more as a way to get Harper and Cullen Row back on the board rather than flesh out Punchline. Mirka Andolfo joins the writing duo on art, and turns in a few solid pages here and there but isn't able to bring any real sense of urgency to the plot.
Written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns
Art by Mirka Andolfo and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Lettering by Gabriela Downie
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Obviously, Punchline is a character with a lot working against her. Her design is uninspired. She'll always seem like knockoff Harley Quinn because of her proximity to the Joker. And she was introduced when the Bat titles were in a bit of upheaval and uncertainty. That's not ideal.
Tynion and Johns attempt to create a bit of a cult of personality around Punchline and her podcast, which is essentially a true-crime show that's focused on her obsession with the Joker. So, in essence, she's a murderino who becomes enamored with the Joker after a chance encounter. It's not all that dissimilar from Harley's backstory and that's where Tynion and Johns lose me. The podcast sections are laborious and don't give Andolfo much to draw. I like some of the thinking behind the concept of a podcast radicalizing people but it feels kind of too little, too late. Even though we get Harper and Cullen Row back in this story, everything presented here feels like a table setting for something that's completely unclear. To this point, Punchline has never seemed like much of a threat and the writers do very little to sway that notion here.
Mirka Andolfo's work really varies throughout. Sometimes her character renderings feel extremely intentional and well thought out. On other pages, they seem hastily sketched and haphazardly executed. She falls into a sort of shorthand across the issue where expressions lose a lot of details and the linework becomes much simpler. There's nothing wrong with that kind of approach but it is not consistently executed across the book. It's a shame because there are a lot of instances where Andolfo's work is really aesthetically pleasing and Romulo Fajardo's coloring works extremely well to highlight those moments. The courtroom scene for one has some strong character work but elsewhere in the book, the podcast narration overtakes the pages.
If Tynion has a plan for this character, it's still unclear. There's a case to be made for her becoming a rogue for Bluebird in the future but the writers do little to create a compelling case for that. The two characters don't really interact and the backstory that they've cooked up for Punchline might leave readers a little cold. Andolfo's work has potential if she can nail down the consistency that can draw readers in. I don't find the superhero bits in this issue quite as compelling as the more slice of life scenes but a great superhero artist has to be able to do both. Punchline Special #1 may not be the origin story that readers expected but it's probably not one they'll be dying to see expanded on either.
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