If the first installment of 'Joker War' established the stakes as they relate to Batman directly, Batman #96 allows James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez to show a little bit about how Gotham City has been affected.
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Tynion works in some nice juxtaposition between Batman's dream for the city and its grimmer reality, while also showing what a "superior" sort of evolution of Batman might look like. That allows Jimenez to have a little bit more fun with the art, especially as he blends in the influence of recent Batman artists like Jock and Rafael Albuquerque into his work. We're still solidly on the lift hill of this roller coaster, but the anticipation for the drop is building, and it's looking better than ever.
We open on a future vision of Gotham that's awash in an overarching blue, gold, and gray color palette that immediately calls to mind one of Batman's classic looks. It's nice work from colorist Tomeu Morey to use the golds and grays to balance out the electric blues of the new Batman suit and Mister Freeze's frostbitten family. For both Tynion and Jimenez, this sequence is an opportunity to show off — Tynion scripts some tight Batman action that is familiar but has a couple of fun details (Clayface-tech Batarangs?!), and Jimenez is just living in his element, showing the power and speed with which Batman handles crime.
Where Tynion really excels in this issue is in pushing the horror elements of this script, as Batman's idyllic future gives way to another reminder of his recent failures, as Bruce awakens to a Gotham that isn't his anymore. Harley Quinn provides all the exposition needed to give Batman and readers a fairly full view of what's gone on since Bruce was last conscious. Tynion shows us how the city has lost its way but reminds us that Batman is still going to persevere even in a drugged, weakened state. He is a constant.
Jimenez does his part to support Tynion's ambitions. He does have a habit of building a page around a single figure as a focus, eschewing regular paneling in some cases to do so. But that works to emphasize parts of the script. A panel of Harley shining a flashlight at Batman has Jimenez doing his best Jock impression with his linework, but it works well for the scene. Jimenez's calling card is probably always going to be his character work, but he delivers on his environments here in this issue, too. Whether it's something like the establishing shot of the Monarch Theater or keeping the "camera" low in the streets of Gotham to give readers a little view of Batman's surroundings, Jimenez is hitting all his marks.
Some readers might take issue with the fact that Tynion is a very deliberate writer. There's a lot going on here, but not a lot happens, if that makes sense. For an arc called 'Joker War,' there's not even really an abundance of the Clown Prince of Crime just yet — but it's tough to ignore the good work here. Readers already recognize that Joker is a threat, but he's been foiled so many times before. Tynion and Jimenez have to show how this time is different, and that's the fun of this part of the ride.