Writers: James Tynion IV
Artists: Jorge Jimenez,
The Man Who Laughs. Death of the Family. The Killing Joke. Almost all great Joker stories share one thing in common: they are all stories about Batman and the Joker’s relationship. So when Tynion’s Joker War kicked off, I expected a similar story. But so far, Joker War is surprisingly devoid of Joker. Sure the majority of the story consists of Batman punching clown-faced goons, but the core of the story doesn’t require the Joker at all. Joker in Joker War could easily be replaced with Ivy or Riddler, or hell, even Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. The Joker here is just a force to bring out Bruce’s internal conflict.
Joker War is shaping up to be a story about Batman overcoming his ability to move on, whether that be from his parents’ death or Alfred’s. And once we accept this as the core of the story, Batman #98 turns into one of the most important issues in the story. In a Joker induced hallucination, Batman meets Alfred for one last time. The entire scene is heartwarming and inspiring. Tynion makes the absolute best out of Alfred’s needless and pointless death. There were many ways to followup Alfred’s pointless, shock-value death sentence. If I were writing the book, I’d bring him back and pretend the whole thing never happened. But Tynion actually uses Alfred’s death to drive Bruce’s character forward. While I still believe the decision to kill Alfred was unnecessary, I’m glad the aftermath is actually in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.
Batman #98 also takes the medal for containing the first instance of writing that makes me interested in Punchline’s character. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of Joker getting a new girlfriend. But since her debut, Punchline never did anything more interesting than her costume. But this issue makes a distinction that really makes me appreciate the character. Tynion mentions that while Harley loved the Joker because she saw the good man inside of him, Punchline loves the Joker because he’s absurdly evil. This is a good premise for Punchline and I hope it guides her character direction in the future.
But Punchline (and everyone else in the book) wouldn’t look half as great as they do if it weren’t for Jorge Jimenez on pencils. Oftentimes, grim and moody pencils best suit a story starring our dark detective. But for an all-out, wild story like Joker War, Jimenez is the perfect fit. His work carries most of the action in this issue in combination with one standout lettering moment that I won’t spoil.
Batman #98 solidifies the true nature of Joker War. This is less a story about Batman and the Joker and more a story about just Batman. While I’m sure this might be a let down for plenty, what Tynion gives us here is pretty great. While previous issues suffer from a couple of problems, Batman #98 puts the spotlight where it should be, on Bruce and Alfred’s relationship.
Alfred whips Bruce into gear with a heartwarming pow-wow from beyond the grave.