Thus far “Their Dark Designs” has been a solid start to James Tynion’s run on Batman. Tynion’s background writing Batman in Detective Comics and Justice League have been able to help him quickly establish the voice for the character. The relationship Batman shares with his supporting cast and Gotham City as a whole has changed in the wake of Alfred Pennyworth’s death. Tynion has captured how important that change has been. The one thing that “Their Dark Designs” isn’t completely nailing is the portrayal of the new villain, The Designer, and DC Universe assassins being used in this arc. Can that turn around with what Catwoman will reveal to Batman about her past with The Designer and Gotham City’s villains? Let’s find out with Batman #90.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Deathstroke races through the city trying to avoid the Batspawn drones. When he attempts to contact the other assassins he gets no answer.
Harley Quinn, who is controlling the Batspawn drones from one of Batman’s Batcomputers, reveals she already used the drones to take down the other assassins. She then mocks Deathstroke about how she could probably knock out his other eye.
Elsewhere, Lucius asks Batman if it is a good idea to have Harley Quinn in control of the Batspawn drones. Batman says it is just a temporary solution. He then says that unless it looks like Harley Quinn is going to kill anyone to keep his communication lines clear.
Catwoman then talks to Batman about how beautiful things are as a new city rises up from the old one. Batman asks Cawoman to tell him everything. Catwoman agrees and once again apologizes before telling her story.
Catwoman then begins talking about how one night years back she received a card with an ornate “D” on it with a meeting date and time. Catwoman talks about how back then danger had a different connotation for her and the “D” was part of an urban legend of a legendary master criminal. She goes on to say that Joker, Penguin and Riddler also received the same card.
The four villains end up meeting at a pier where they are taken by the Designer’s assistant in the Styx boat to the location of the meeting.
At the meeting point The Designer welcomes Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler to his home called “Tartarus House.” While Joker laughs Penguin tells everyone to show The Designer respect for being a legend. Joker continues to poke at The Designer, saying he doesn’t know who he is.
Before going on to talk about The Designer’s meeting Catwoman talks about how bleak things were in Gotham City and how Batman changed the game by coming on to the scene. She goes on to mention how while the original Dynamic Duo would likely catch a bad guy if the villains had a good night they could get a diamond for their troubles. She mentions it was these scores that villains used to get the money needed to acquire better costumes and tools to fight Batman and Robin.
She then talks about how back then Batman was trying to be a role model for Robin (Dick Grayson) so he made sure to make the conscious effort to not cross the line. Catwoman understands Batman did this so Robin wouldn’t carry the same wounds he had into his adult life.
Batman tells Catwoman to continue her story about The Designer. Catwoman says that it is important to the complexities to story she frames the time period this all went down.
Flashing back to the meeting, The Designer says he has been impressed by all he has learned about Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler’s criminal history. The Designer mentions in his youth he took on someone (who is implied to be a Zorro-like detective hero). Over time his criminal plots turned into how he can defeat the detective.
He goes on to say once he realized he was playing right into the detective’s hands he decided to create a complex plan that would allow him to evolve while his adversary didn’t. That is when he went from being a regular criminal to becoming The Designer. Once he became The Designer he was able to break the detective, causing the detective to never solve another crime again.
The Designer then offers Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler a way to take down Batman by creating a unified criminal underworld. He goes on to say he will give them all the means to do and in return they will give him half of what they steal.
From there The Designer met with the four individually to create plans specific to their skill sets. Catwoman mentions how through her conversation with The Designer she was able to describe the largest monetary heist on the planet. With The Designer’s plan she felt a great sense of power believing Batman wouldn’t be able to stop her grand heist.
While Joker met with The Designer we see how Catwoman, Riddler and Penguin all are excited over the plans they put together with The Designer. Catwoman then talks about how after hours the Joker The Designer got pissed off at the apocalyptic crime that the Joker described to him. Though Catwoman says this is what she just put together given what happened next.
After his meeting with Joker, The Designer angrily enters the main room and tells his attendants to kill Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler. During the fight when The Designer is about to kill Penguin, the Joker appears from behind and shoots The Designer in the back of his head.
Penguin and Riddler are pissed over what Joker caused. Joker says The Designer just didn’t like the joke he made. Catwoman wonders what they will do next. Penguin says his men will make sure to make it look like this day never happened.
Catwoman then mentions how while Penguin and Riddler were busy burning down the Tartarus House she remembers watching Joker staring off into the sea. She goes on to say that on that day she saw the look on Joker’s eyes change, giving her the first hint at the type of evil he would become.
In the present, Batman still believes there is something Catwoman isn’t telling him. Catwoman says Batman is correct because it is the hardest part. She reveals that if The Designer is back and then she knows who the target of his heist is. Batman says he already knows that the target is his family’s wealth in Wayne Enterprise, the manor and billions of dollars.
Batman then believes if The Designer is back he is about to lose everything. Batman and Catwoman then swing through the city. End of issue.
The Good: Batman #90 is exactly the chapter this story needed. Specifically, it is the chapter that The Designer needed to build up actual credibility with the reader. Tying the story of “Their Dark Designs” to Batman’s early years gave this story greater depth. While Batman #90 accomplishes that there is a big thing that continues to keep “Their Dark Designs” from reaching its full potential.
Diving into Batman’s early years for what ties The Designer’s current plans to that time period was a smart thing to create an instant connection. Tynion does a great job framing that time period in Gotham City’s history as a time of change and discovery. Specifically, it was a time where we saw how Batman evolved over the years so would his villains. The Designer being part of the reason why villains would be able to evolve to match the ways Batman changed to try to stay a several steps ahead.
The meeting taking place during the time Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were protecting Gotham City as the original Dynamic Duo was an intriguing time to frame things. As Catwoman said, that was a time where everything was changing in not just Gotham City but also Batman and his rogues gallery. What made using this time period better was the fact that we haven’t seen the original Dynamic Duo’s era revisited often. Which leaves a lot of room to modernize that time period, something Tynion takes full advantage of.
This all speaks to what has always made Batman’s villains such a fascinating cast. As Batman has evolved and changed over the more than 80 year history of his character so have the villains. The whole thing about the one big take that they were each able to get once in a while when clashing with Batman was great character development. It modernized these characters while giving high stakes to every time Batman has clashed with each of his villains.
Having The Designer step in to be the trigger for Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler to step up their games gave credibility to the new villain. That is something The Designer has been lacking up to this point. In using this time period, Tynion gets us to understand how The Designer was instrumental in why these four villains, who were the core of Batman’s rogues gallery in the early years, started making more of an effort to evolve alongside Batman. Tying that together adds depth to a time period for Batman that needed to be modernized.
Giving The Designer a backstory that implies he faced off against a Zorro-like hero was a nice tie-in to how Batman is originally based on Zorro. Having that connection draws more interest around who The Designer is and how long he has been around. It taps into the greater criminal history of the DC Universe that we can see explored beyond this introduction story arc for The Designer.
Making The Designer more intriguing was how differently his meeting with the Joker went down in comparison to Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler. Since Catwoman mentioned that The Designer spent hours with each villain it creating plots that are specific to that character’s strengths you do have to question if things were staged. Even though it is very likely that Joker’s chaotic evil approach could’ve completely clashed with every plan The Designer tried to explain there could be more to things. The entire battle between The Designer and the four Batman villains just seemed to be over to quickly. This could tie into beginning to plant the seeds for a bigger storyline that will focus on The Designer at a later point.
At the same time, Tynion really does continue to nail his writing of the Joker. With the Joker War event right around the corner Tynion has shown to have a strong sense of how to write the Clown Prince of Crime. Every time you see him on screen there is a cold shiver that you feel from his presence. That is no more true than in the final page involving the flashback as we see Joker’s facial expression change, something Catwoman noticed, and turned into more of what we know the modern version of the character to be.
All this work to talk about the past created a compelling narrative around the next stage of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle’s relationship. Tynion clearly is going to keep them together as he sees the potential in this pairing. Part of that potential is exploring how Bruce and Selina’s past as Batman and Catwoman comes into play. We saw Tom King deal with a lot of Bruce’s past when it comes to their relationship. Tynion is now looking into Selina’s past as part of Batman’s original Rogues Gallery to explore how both they and Gotham City have evolved.
While not a big part of the issue, Harley Quinn’s presence in the opening scene showed how Tynion can add a bit of light heartedness into a story that is covered in darkness. His Harley Quinn is just fun with how she teases Deathstroke about how she will take him down. It’ll be interesting to see how Harley Quinn factors into not just “Their Dark Designs” but also the upcoming “Joker War” event.
Jorge Jimenez did a phenomenal job bringing Tynion’s story in Batman #90 to life. Jimenez captures how The Designer is to be believed to be a larger than life villain with his design. That carries over to how Jimenez gives Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler their classic looks that capture that era of Batman’s history. There’s a youthful feel to all the flashback scenes as each villain and the Dynamic Duo have a look that you can see how it evolves to where they are now. Jimenez does a particularly great job with his design for Joker as we see how he transforms into an even more chaotically evil villain at the end of Batman #90’s flashback, as Catwoman points out.
The Bad: The one spot that Tynion’s “Their Dark Designs” is not hitting its mark is the continued use of Deathstroke and the other assassins. Deathstroke has at least had some good material that shows how deadly he is. The other assassins like Cheshire have not been as lucky. Thus far “Their Dark Designs” has just shown how they are all low-tier villains and Batman #90 continued that trend. The way they are shown to already be taken out by the Batspawn drones controlled by Harley Quinn in one panel is another example of how they aren’t characters to invest in.
Another place Batman #90 slightly stumbles on is how we are supposed to fully buy into The Designer as a threat. While his plans and charisma are built up to be high it did not help his credibility that he didn’t put up much of a fight when things broke down with Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler. The quickness of the fight with how easily Joker got the jump on The Designer in order to shoot him in the back of the head hurt his credibility. Hopefully Tynion can explain why this happens because The Designer needs to end “Their Dark Designs” with strong credibility even if he is destined to lose.
Overall: Batman #90 is a notable jump in quality for “Their Dark Designs.” Tying The Designer’s origin story to the early years of Batman’s career, particularly during the original Dynamic Duo era, made him a much more intriguing character. How Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler factored into The Designer’s plot added to that intrigue as Tynion explored how everyone has evolved over the years. With all this set-up out of the way Tynion can hopefully tap further into the potential of this story about the future of Gotham City.
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