James Tynion’s first story for his Batman run has not gone as well as I hoped. The story of Bruce Wayne trying to create a better Gotham City in the wake of Alfred Pennyworth’s death and the opposition he is fighting has been solid. The problem this story has run into is that the big bad of the story is not as compelling as the writing for this new mysterious villain has turned out to be. There is still time to turn this major aspect around and for Tynion to make his first story arc on Batman a success. Will that happen with Batman #89? Let’s find out now.
Writer: James Tynion
Artists: Carlo Pagulayan, Guillem March and Danny Miki
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Over at Gotham Mercy Hospital the doctors talk about their opinions on Bruce Wayne using his resources to rebuild Gotham City.
As their discussion gets heated a bloody Penguin runs into the hospital and rants how Batman threw him out of the car. Penguin tells the doctors he will pay a large sum of money to ensure he survives. Penguin then threatens that if he is not healed all the doctors’ families will be in danger.
Elsewhere Batman is fighting Gunsmith on the streets. Batman is able to knock Gunsmith off his motorcycle. Using his knowledge of Gunsmith’s history Batman is able to defeat the villain.
After defeating Gunsmith, Batman calls Lucius Fox to request a replacement costume as his suit got heavily damaged in the fight with Gunsmith. Batman then tells Lucius they need to change their tactics, which includes finding Catwoman to learn what she knows about what is going on.
Lucius asks what Batman is going to do while he searches for Catwoman. Batman says he is going to find the other conspirator in this conflict.
Over at a graveyard Harley Quinn and Catwoman take out all of the Designers men. During the fight Harley Quinn reveals that the “Joker” body is one of Joker’s old henchmen. She goes on to say the plan by the Designer is too simple to be the Joker.
Harley then reveals that she has learned that Joker has been cleaning house and she is back in Gotham City to kill him so she can put the past behind her. Catwoman mentions that she needs to find Batman. Harley offers to give Catwoman a ride on her bike
Before Harley can give Catwoman a ride they are attacked by Merlyn and Cheshire. Merlyn reveals the Designer has hired them to kill Catwoman and Harley Quinn.
As the four begin to fight someone hiding in the bushes watches from afar.
Elsewhere Batman finds Mr. Teeth. While Mr. Teeth tries to put up a fight, he is easily defeated by Batman.
Batman then finds that Riddler is not there. He contacts Lucius to let him know he did not find Riddler. Batman then mentions that because of how messy things are set up that this must all be a message from Riddler about his riddle.
Batman uses Riddler’s computer to find footage of someone dressed in a white mask with a “D” on it attacking the Riddler. Lucius says he can’t find any information on a person with that costume. Batman realizes this costumed guy must be the Designer and the one who hired Deathstroke.
Continuing to look at the footage Batman sees Riddler sneaking in clues for him to unlock more information on his computer. Not finding all of the clues with the footage he has Batman has Lucius use the Batcomputer to help in seeing what Riddler sees from his perspective.
As Lucius does that he mentions that he found Deathstroke’s location. Batman tells Lucius to deploy the Batspawn drones to slow Deathstroke down.
Over at the Tricorner Yards a large number of Batspawn drones are deployed. The Batspawns quickly find Deathstroke and start chasing him through the city.
Back at Riddler’s hideout Catwoman and Harley Quinn show up carrying Merlyn and Cheshire, who they’ve knocked out.
Batman wastes no time and shows Catwoman an image of the Designer. He asks who the person is. Seeing the footage Catwoman realizes the Designer is going to go after Penguin and Joker next. Batman asks Harley if he can have a private word with Catwoman.
Batman takes Catwoman to the side to find out what is going on. Catwoman says that years ago she, Joker, Penguin and Riddler made a deal with him. Before she can continue to reveal everything Catwoman says “I’m sorry.”
Elsewhere someone calls Joker to tell him that while Catwoman and Harley Quinn found his grave they are pointing Batman’s attention elsewhere. Joker says that is fine as he has a few other people he needs to talk to before starting his game with Batman.
Joker is then shown standing in front of a board that shows he knows Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl, respectively. End of issue.
The Good: Where previous issues faltered Batman #89 shows how much potential there is with the “Their Dark Designs” storyline. Though it is far from a perfect comic book there are a lot of things that Batman #89 gets right or fixes that previous chapters in “Their Dark Designs” did not. These improvements made for what may be the strongest issue in James Tynion’s young run on Batman.
One of the things that I always appreciate about a comic book from Tynion is how he is able to maximize the page count he is given. Batman #89 is a great example of this as the entire issue moves with a purpose. Whether it’s the doctors at Gotham Mercy Hospital arguing if what Bruce Wayne is doing to rebuild the city is a good thing or Harley Quinn and Catwoman’s team-up, there is no wasted time in Batman #89. Everything that happens in this issue is here to progress the storylines Tynion has introduced us to up to this point.
Opening with the doctors arguing at Gotham Mercy Hospital is something that “Their Dark Designs” needed. Tynion made it a point to put over how Bruce is trying to create a legacy that goes beyond being Batman to honor Alfred Pennyworth in Batman #86. Since introducing that plot point it has taken a back seat to Batman’s ongoing adventures. Bringing this Gotham City rebuild project back up is an important reminder how there are large plans at play. Those plans for Gotham that Bruce has is something that plays into not only the Designer’s own plans but future storylines.
Having this argument between doctors is also an important part to the larger narrative Tynion is crafting with the Gotham City rebuild project. While Bruce has Gotham City’s residents best in mind he may not have a complete pulse to the city. In trying to create a better Gotham City from an infrastructure level he risks pushing those he is looking to help out as cost of living could go up. This provides a relatable aspect to Bruce’s plans for Gotham City as we see how things like this are happening all over our country, especially in cities like San Francisco.
While having that relatable sub-plot in place Tynion quickly transitions the main attention of “Their Dark Designs” to the mysterious Designer. Penguin angrily running into the hospital is a reminder of how desperate he is in the current situation he is in. While Penguin tries his best to show he is in control it is clear that it is all a facade.
Penguin’s attitude along with Riddler leaving a secret message for Batman to discover was all a much better way to build Designer up as a threat. Even though Designer isn’t on screen for that long, Tynion is able to give us a better idea of why he should be seen as a threat by the reader. There is clearly something that Catwoman, Riddler and Penguin are hiding out of fear of retaliation from the Designer.
This all adds to the backstory of the Designer going back to the short lived secret alliance Catwoman, Joker, Riddler and Penguin had years ago. There is still not a lot of information about this alliance between four of Gotham City’s biggest villains of that time. But given how Riddler and Catwoman both show a hesitation to be upfront about the information with Batman we understand it was serious. It helps give Designer a wicked aura now that we know how he looks like.
Catwoman’s involvement continues to be the most interesting because she is a reformed villain. While she has been more on the superhero side of things in recent years there is this dark history with Catwoman’s character because of her villainous past. Tapping into this past with Catwoman is a good next step in her relationship with Batman as now it is her turn to open up about her past. It adds another layer of complexity to their relationship as Batman is shown to be shaken up by not knowing about Catwoman’s relation to Designer.
Tynion also does a very good job having Harley Quinn involvement in “Their Dark Designs” serve multiple purposes. For one, Harley is able to add some sense of levity to the scenes she is in as she can’t help but have quippy dialogue. This made for a fun dynamic with Catwoman during their scenes together at the graveyard.
Another thing that Tynion has Harley bring to the table is that she is able to take Joker’s place in this story. Since Joker is busy setting up his own plans we needed someone that would likely be connected to the period of the villain alliance that ties into the Designer. Harley is able to step into fill that role as she knows Joker just as well as anyone can.
Harley’s appearance in Batman #89 also helps in furthering the currently sub-plot involving Joker. Harley bringing up how Joker is cleaning house as part of his plans shows that she is still connected to him in a way. That connection opens the opportunity for Harley to be a key character once “Joker War” begins. This also could help in furthering how Harley is more of an anti-hero as she teams with Batman and Catwoman against Joker.
Speaking of the Joker, Tynion does an excellent job building the hype for the upcoming “Joker War.” We already knew that Joker was going to be trying to reveal Batman’s identity to the world. The intriguing surprise in all this is how Joker’s new mission extends to the entire Batman Family. There is deep unease when you see the board that shows Joker already has discovered that Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl, respectively. You immediately have a great sense of fear for the entire Batman Family.
Tynion also does a good job in introducing Punchline, Joker’s new sidekick replacing Harley Quinn. Tynion does not throw Punchline in your face. Tynion is making sure he is slowly introducing you to Punchline by just having her be Joker’s eyes for the moment. Only showing the bottom half of her face in this first appearance makes you wonder how long Punchline has been watching everything. It’s a slow build that works to build interest in learning more about Punchline and how she differs from Harley Quinn and other previous Joker sidekicks.
The use of Lucius Fox as Batman’s new assistant continues to be a highlight in Tynion’s run thus far. Tynion understands how to make the dynamic between Batman and Lucius to how the former previously interacted with Alfred in that same role. Lucius being ready to provide field assistance for Batman is a good way to show the reader how he bring a lot of different skills to the table. It adds to how the banter between Batman and Lucius has a different energy to it as we see the pair using more advanced technology to help protect the city.
The artwork for Batman #89 was solid but not as strong as previous issues. The artwork from Carlo Pagulayan, Guillem March and Danny Miki helps push the story forward with a nice flow between panels. There are times when you can notice a different art team is working on a page or panel. But it does not get in the way of the story as the emotions on each character’s face is able to further the story.
I specifically liked how Joker was drawn much differently than everyone else. The detail on his face made him seem like a character that you should be scared of. The scary aura from Joker is totally different from Deathstroke and the other assassins in this issue.
The Bad: Though Batman #89 does a much better job giving us information and showing us why Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth should be feared they are still not given a good showing. Tynion is still struggling to make Merlyn, Cheshire, Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth come across as credible threats. At no point do you fear that Batman, Catwoman or Harley Quinn are in true danger. These four assassins just appear as minor distractions, as if they were nameless grunts.
And as cool as the Batspawn drones are the introduction of them has Deathstroke join Merlyn, Cheshire, Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth’s rank of mere grunts. After being built as a dangerous foe the way Batman shows no care to follow Deathstroke lowers his credibility as a fighter and villain. It is such a shame that Tynion has not found a better way to have Deathstroke, Merlyn, Cheshire, Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth appear as bigger threats than they have thus far.
The other problem that Batman #89 runs into is the fact as soon as Joker appears on screen you completely lose interest in the Designer’s plot. Joker’s plotline about learning the Batman Family identities is something that actually makes you forget what else is going on. That speaks to Joker’s stature and how it overshadows the development Tynion gives to Designer. As a new villain this is not something the Designer can afford when it comes to fan interest in his plans.
Overall: James Tynion is quickly finding his footing the more issues of Batman he writes. Batman #89 is a good example of that as he is able to properly develop several storylines at the same time. Every character from Batman to Catwoman to the Designer to Joker get time to shine during this issue. It all helped build greater interest in how things will turn out in “Their Dark Designs” and how it leads into “Joker War.”
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