I’ve struggled quite a bit with Batman for the last few months. Sometimes it’s just plain fun, while other times not so much. With this issue, I had to reflect on what that means.
I had strongly considered dropping this series after the last issue, and actually went as far as cancelling my subscription on Comixology. However, after reading this issue and digesting it for a few days I had to put my thoughts down about the issue and why I’m still giving it a chance.
First, I know James Tynion IV is capable of better. I’ve read almost all of his Detective Comics run, a bunch of his other DC work, and always enjoy his creator owned work. This isn’t an outright bad comic, and this issue generally works better than the rest of the arc has. I think one of my biggest struggles with this run is that it feels like Tynion’s voice is largely lost in the story, and I’m not sure why. Some elements of it definitely feels editorially mandated, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Even if it is, that may not be the problem. This might have been a story that was too ambitious to start with (as this issue is part twelve of a fifteen part story), especially before Tynion found his footing in what his solo Batman is.
What doesn’t work for me? Number one is that Batman definitely has some moments that are heavily out of character. Though Tynion gives that a solid justification with Punchline’s souped-up Joker toxin and Bruce being pushed to the breaking point, it doesn’t quite land because Batman himself is aware he’s lost it, and comments on it multiple times. It pushes the boundaries of breaking the fourth wall in a way that strains the story more than if he had just spoken directly to the reader. Additionally, the dialogue feels off, whether it’s Punchline being a little too self-serious for her speeches to come off as someone who would follow the Joker, or Harley with her barely coherent ramblings (though letterer Clayton Cowles continues to do fantastic work bringing it to life).
But plenty in the issue and the run as a whole does work. First and foremost is the art, with stellar work by Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey. Jimenez is a singular talent, and I’m thrilled to see every page he does. He gives every character a wholly distinct personality, and he depicts probably the most expressive Batman we’ve seen in a very long time, maybe even since Jim Aparo. He also has a strong sense of action choreography, whether its POV, character movement, or using sight lines to improve the experience. With the colors, Morey makes Gotham feel like a real city under siege, full of harsh light and moody rooftops but also changes palettes to emphasize a story point when needed.
On the story side, Tynion gets the Joker. His Joker is threatening without pushing the character into the conventional tropes the character is forced into. It doesn’t mean that I feel the Joker isn’t overexposed (I mean, we’re getting the potentially shark-jumping event Three Jokers later this week), but his version of the character actually feels like a character, with motivations and desires, rather than just a story point to check off a writer’s bucket list. The interactions between Joker and Batman recall The Killing Joke for me, more in the sense that Tynion gets how it works between them than there being an actual Alan Moore homage in the issue. It gives the story a lot of substance beyond just another Batman versus Joker story.
In the end, I realized that this is popcorn comics. It’s far from Tynion’s best work, but there enough here to make me wonder what’s going to happen next, both within the story and behind the scenes. However, it’s enough to make me sit back and enjoy what I do like about it. And maybe this story is all about him finding his footing as a writer with Batman on his own and if that’s how it ends I’ll call it a success.
Batman #97 is available now from DC Comics.