James Tynion’s first arc as the main Batman writer has gotten off to a solid start. Tynion has nailed how Bruce Wayne is not the same person we’ve known the last few years. The things he went through during Tom King’s run on Batman changed Bruce in many ways. Tynion is using that to enhance the direction he wants to take Bruce and Gotham City in general. Now with some of the deadliest assassins in the DC Universe on the loose in Gotham City how will things go down as the mysterious Designer continues their plan? Let’s find out with Batman #88.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Guillem March
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Over at a graveyard, while digging up a grave, Catwoman contacts Riddler to help her with what she is looking for. After some back and forth Riddler realizes Catwoman hasn’t told Batman about what they all thought was over years ago.
Catwoman brings up how Batman knows what Riddler is doing and is building a case to put him in Blackgate permanently. Riddler reveals that several clowns were found burnt at an amusement park recently. He then mentions how the Designer had four different conspirators, two of which included them. Then he asks Catwoman where she thinks Joker is.
Catwoman discovers a casket and opens it. She tells Riddler she has a good idea where Joker is while staring at what looks to be Joker’s corpse.
Elsewhere, Lucius Fox patches Batman in on a call with Commissioner Harvey Bullock. Commissioner Bullock reveals that the assassins have escaped from their holding cells at Black Block and have been taken somewhere.
Cheshire mocks Batman for failing. Batman quickly knocks her out then tries to figure out how he should get his Batmobile. Lucius suggests using the Echo device he just created. Batman takes out the Echo device and places it on a parked car, which turns out to be one of Lucius’. Lucius reveals that the Echo can create a holo-interface to make any car look like the Batmobile.
Back at the graveyard Catwoman questions Riddler if what she is looking at is Joker’s body. Riddler answers by saying Batman would know that if she called him but she is likely not calling him him so he doesn’t discover what she is hiding. Riddler continues to push how Catwoman is still hiding how she helped build as she is scared if Batman will still see her as a lover or another villain like them. He then bids Catwoman farewell.
Catwoman breaks down. Eventually she attempts to call Batman to tell him what is going on.
Before her call can go through a voice comes out of the Joker’s body taunting her for trying to rat them out. The voice calls themselves the Designer and suddenly two men appear out of nowhere. One of the guys hits Catwoman with a shovel.
The two men then start burying Catwoman alive as she is in Joker’s casket. As that happens the Designer tells Catwoman that this is what she gets for taking down his previous masterpiece.
At a warehouse Penguin has Deathstroke and the other assassins chained up. As Penguin rants about how much money they all cost him Deathstroke escapes his chains. Penguin tries to make a deal but Deathstroke says he can’t afford them.
Gunsmith hears a car coming but before he can fully warn everyone Batman drives the holo-Batmobile through the building. Lucius reminds Batman that he crashed his car not the actual Batmobile. Batman tells Lucius to bill him.
Batman then proceeds to quickly take out Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth. Merlyn attempts to attack Batman from behind but is also quickly knocked back by Batman.
Deathstroke holds Penguin hostage. As that happens Merlyn finds Cheshire in Batman’s car. Batman demands to know what is going on. Penguin taunts Deathstroke. Hearing that Deathstroke slashes Penguin’s neck with a knife.
Deathstroke then tosses Penguin on the ground and tells Batman he has a choice to save Penguin’s life or go after them. Batman goes to Penguin which gives Deathstroke and the other assassins a chance to escape.
As he bleeds out Penguin admits that years ago he, Riddler, Joker and Catwoman united the underworld. He admits that it was all a shell game to defeat him. Penguin then reveals that the current targets, while still targeted for death, are just being used to keep Batman busy as part of The Designer’s perfect crime. He then reveals that the one true target is Bruce Wayne.
Back at the graveyard Catwoman is able to stand up before being fully buried alive. While The Designer taunts Catwoman that she can’t escape someone hits the men trying to bury Catwoman.
Catwoman asks the person who saved her why they are there. Harley Quinn appears and says that if Catwoman knew how deep this went she would go crazy. End of issue.
The Good: Batman #88 continues to tease a bigger plot going on in Gotham City that both the Dark Knight and reader knew was going on. James Tynion is building this big mystery that has some intrigue as to how it will unfold. Though the approach the whole storyline with The Designer is taking does not necessarily hit the mark as being a main story.
One thing that Tynion has impressed me about how he is building up the Designer is the fact that he has ties to the early years of Batman’s era of Gotham City’s history. When it comes to Batman’s Rogues Gallery the four that will always come to mind is Joker, Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler. Hearing that years ago these four came together and almost permanently united the underworld is a cool thing to learn. Given how Batman defeated them all so many times this is a thing that you would expect the top four villains in Gotham City to attempt something like this.
What this secret does to Catwoman is a good reminder that Selina Kyle’s past is shrouded by the period when she went full villain. Going in this direction for Bruce and Selina’s relationship is a good next step. Especially considering how Tom King mostly focused on what Bruce and Selina mean to each other, Tynion examining the impact of Selina’s villainous past has untapped potential.
We see that with how Tynion has Selina reacts to everything Riddler said. Seeing how she was not able to argue anything Riddler said showed how deep it all cut for Selina. It all speaks to how Selina has a history that runs deep and cannot be erased. How Tynion continues to explore this part of Selina’s character and how Bruce reacts is a strong long-term sub-plot to keep the relationship as a focal point in this series.
Batman #88 also made much better use of Riddler’s character than the previous issue. In his appearance in Batman #87 the focus felt like it was more on how bad he looked. This time around Tynion instead focuses on what makes Riddler such an intriguing villain being the mind games he plays. Through his interaction with Catwoman we see how Riddler is still a dangerous villain. Going more with this type of Riddler will give this storyline a better secondary antagonist, especially as we still don’t know who the Designer is.
The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox is another early sub-plot that Tynion is doing very well in slowly developing. Unlike Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius does not come in with a military or medical background. Lucius expertise is with business and technology. Tynion leans into that when it comes to showcasing the dynamic between Bruce and Lucius. That is the best thing to do right now because the fact is Alfred’s death left a huge hole in Bruce’s life. Lucius will never be able to fill that hole nor should he. Lucius needs to show what he brings to the table with his skills and past with Bruce.
The quick banter Bruce and Lucius throughout Batman #88 gives their dynamic a nice slow build. Adding in how Lucius is developing new text for Bruce to use is also another great way to add in how their relationship will be different. Tynion can now go more futuristic with the tech that we see Batman use, getting us closer to the Batman Beyond timeline for the character.
Guillem March once again delivers strong, consistent artwork throughout Batman #88. His best work comes during the various back and forths between Catwoman and Riddler. March taps into how devious Riddler is during this scene. Riddler’s portrayal was strengthened by how March drew Catwoman’s anguish during this scene. He showed how hard it was for her to listen to this as her villainous past weighs heavily on her.
March also does a great job with the scenes at the warehouse with Batman, Penguin, Deathstroke and the other assassins. March showed how Batman’s fighting style is all about efficiency. There is no wasted motion in how Batman fights Merlyn, Mr. Teeth and Gunsmith. At the same time, March was able to get across how there was no remorse in Deathstroke’s face when he sliced Penguin’s throat.
The Bad: The main story around the Designer’s plans for Gotham City begin to fall flat with Batman #88. A big reason for the Designer’s plans not hitting the way it should is that Tynion is writing the character as if he should be a secondary antagonist. The entire storyline about the Designers plans for Gotham City read more like they should be more of a sub-plot to this first arc with this mysterious character being built as a long-term threat.
I understand that Tynion may want to avoid going down this route with the Designer as it would be a similar build to what Bane got during King’s run. But the fact is that we are three issues into this story arc and all we know about the Designer is that he has a past with Catwoman, Joker, Riddler and Penguin. Outside of that there is very little to be invested in the Designer as a character.
That is a big problem when Tynion is using so many intriguing villains like Deathstroke, Riddler and Penguin in this story. Each villain being used is stealing the thunder when it comes to reader interest. Even when Tynion tries to make the status of these villains a part of the Designer’s plan the fact that Peguin reveals that plan makes it a mute point. We get that the Designer is now supposed to be Bruce Wayne’s enemy as well. Revealing that makes the Designer come across as a fill-in threat for a bigger storyline down the road.
The reason why Deathstroke and the other assassins are in Gotham City should’ve been what the story was about. Keeping it simple to a bounty being on Batman’s head would’ve made for a intriguing storyline of Batman trying to survive the night. In going with that Tynion could’ve pushed the Designer being the one funding this as contract as a sub-plot that builds to it being thrust into the main plotline for the next arc. Having that flow from one arc to the next would’ve made the mystery behind the Designer a stronger hook.
The use of the Joker in Batman #88 was another big miss. We already know that the Joker is not dead since the the prelude to Tynion’s run in Batman #85 showed that the villain is plotting something big with revealing Batman’s identity. Given that tease there is no way Tynion could convince us that the Joker is dead for a single second. As soon as you see Catwoman uncover the Joker body you understand that is not real.
It would have been much more effective if Tynion used a villain like Two-Face or Scarecrow, who have not been used as much lately, in the Joker spot. Utilizing other villains like this would’ve at least given the perception that these characters may be dead. Then there would be an actual mystery to who the Designer is. Instead it just feels like Tynion is doing all this to build yet another Joker storyline, something we’ve gotten many times over again.
Once again Merlyn, Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth are made to be nothing more than grunts in Batman #88. There is never a point that you think Batman will struggle against these assassins, even with Deathstroke their. Batman so easily defeats Merlyn, Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth that the level of threat they pose is lessened. If Tynion wants to give a greater sense of danger with deadly assassins running around in Gotham City then we need to see why Deathstroke is not the only dangerous person who has taken on the Designers contract.
Overall: There are certain aspects where James Tynion is able to excel in Batman #88. The way he portrays Batman, Catwoman, Riddler and Lucius Fox shows why Tynion’s has a solid handle on this world. Unfortunately the storyline around the Designer and his plans for Gotham City have left a lot to desired. There are a lot of little problems that combine together to drag the overall interest in Tynion’s first story arc on Batman down.
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