James Tynion has spent the beginning of his run on Batman to set up several big storylines. The one that has been on the forefront is the plot involving the mysterious Designer who had a previously unknown past with Catwoman, Joker, Penguin, and Riddler during the original Dynamic Duo’s era. Now with Catwoman revealing this to Batman in the present there is no telling if they can use what they know to save Gotham City or if they are both playing into the Designers plans. While that is going Tynion is also developing the major plotline around the upcoming Joker War of the Joker seeking to discover the true identity of the entire Batman Family, including the Dark Knight himself. Let’s see how things go with both the Designer and Joker plots in Batman #91.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque, Jorge Jimenez, Carlo Pagulayan, and Danny Miki
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: At a bar the Joker relates his version of the original meeting he, Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler had with the Designer years ago (it’s Joker’s version of the story Catwoman told Batman in Batman #91). Joker reveals that when the Designer, who he calls “The Devil,” asked him what he wanted Joker says it was to be what the Designer wanted, to be the one in control. Joker ends his story by saying he killed the Designer.
The bartender, who is very scared as Joker’s men hold the other bar patrons hostage, asks Joker why he told him that story. Joker says it is so the bartender got the context of what is happening tonight since his co-worker didn’t. We then see the previous bartender dead behind the bar.
Joker then gets on the phone with Punchline and tells her that he wants to bring down the house on “his” head.
Elsewhere Deathstroke destroys as many Batspawn drones as he can while on top of a delivery truck.
Lucius Fox reveals that Harley Quinn has burnt through most non-lethal ammo trying to catch Deathstroke. Batman tells Lucius to call the Batspawns back as he will deal with Deathstroke personally.
As the Batspawn drones are recalled Batman arrives at Deathstroke’s location. Deathstroke does not wait for Batman to get out of the Batjet, driving his sword through the window. With Deathstroke on the Batjet, Batman flies all over the place in an attempt to force Deathstroke to fight in a less controlled way.
Over at a bunker Catwoman tells Harley Quinn to come with her. Harley wonders if Batman told Catwoman his big secret. Catwoman reveals she already knows it. Harley jokes that she always thought Batman and Catwoman’s relationship was an always mask on type thing.
Catwoman quickly gets mad and says they need to be watching the assassins that they captured. When they go to their stored location Catwoman is shocked that Merlyn, Cheshire, Mr. Teeth and Gunsmith are gone.
The Designer suddenly comes on the screens and reveals he took the captured assassins off the board. The Designer reveals he just needed the assassins to keep Batman busy so that his grand plan can go into full effect. Catwoman says Batman already knows her part in all this. The Designer says that is what he wanted as it plays into his designs.
Suddenly a number of GCPD officers, who look to be infected by some sort of mind-controlling toxin, rush at Catwoman and Harley Quinn.
Somewhere in the sky, Batman puts the Batjet on auto-pilot so he can fight Deathstroke on top of it. Deathstroke wonders if Batman plans to throw him off the high height they are on. Batman says that is not his plan. Instead he wants Deathstroke to look below them, at Gotham City with nine million residents who are scared and he is trying to give them some kind of peace after going through Bane’s takeover.
Deathstroke says he doesn’t care but Batman thinks otherwise. Deathstroke then asks who fault Batman thinks it is. Batman admits it is his because no matter he has done the villains he fights keep coming back with bigger guns. Deathstroke tells Batman that it is the Dark Knight’s fault for forcing them to escalate things. Batman says he is trying to change and Deathstroke and the others need to let him try to save the people. Deathstroke replies with a simple “No.”
Batman tackles Deathstroke off the Batjet to cause them to both fall towards the ground. As they fall Deathstroke calls Batman crazy. Batman asks Deathstroke to just tell him what the Designer is planning.
Back at the bunker while Harley Quinn fights off the mind-controlled GCPD officers Catwoman activates the self-destruct protocol Riddler always installs in his bases. The Designer compliments Catwoman on her play as she and Harley Quinn escape the bunker before it blows up.
Outside Catwoman tells Harley Quinn they need to keep moving to where the Designer is going next. She goes on to reveal that she previously told the Designer how to steal more money than anyone could think of. Catwoman ends by saying they are now going to steal that first.
Elsewhere Batman uses his grapple gun to slow down his and Deathstroke’s descent to the fall to the ground does not kill them.
After they recover the Designer appears on all the giant screens in Gotham City. The Designer tells Deathstroke his part in his design is now over and his contract is officially terminated.
Suddenly more mind-controlled GCPD officers appear and begin attacking Batman and Deathstroke. As they fight The Designer asks Batman if he is up for another game or if he is too tired. Batman tells the Designer to come face him.
Suddenly the Riddler appears behind and says that he still needs to play his game with a big grin on his face. End of issue.
The Good: With each chapter of “Their Dark Designs” the story James Tynion is telling is getting more refined and better told. A big benefit to this storyline is The Designer finally being directly involved in this introductory storyline. Now that he is being shown the actions Batman, Catwoman and all other characters involved has become more meaningful.
That is really something that Batman #91 opened my eyes for what was missing from “Their Dark Designs.” As a new character that we are supposed to believe as a major threat to Gotham City but that is tough given Batman’s extensive Rogues Gallery. The Designer needed to actually be shown as someone who we should believe Batman and others need to be worried about. People like Catwoman and Riddler just talking about how big of a threat The Designer is did nothing for the character. But thanks to Batman #91, and the previous issue that told his origin story, we are getting a better sense why the Designer is a villain that can challenge Batman.
What makes the Designer stand out thus far is that he is more of an old school villain with his approach. The entire aura that the Designer gives off is someone that simply wants to have the most power possible. Even though he has designed this complex plan at his core the Designer is just seeking power. That is very different from the majority of Batman villains who usually only seek specific things like defeating Batman or getting revenge on someone.
Adding to the intrigue with the Designer is how composed the villain is. Even when things happen that aren’t part of his plans, like Catwoman activating the self-destruct system in Riddler’s bunker, the Designer did not suddenly panic. Instead he applauded Catwoman for her actions that he did not calculate. These are little character moments that give greater credibility to why the Designer is so confident later on when he is talking to Batman and Deathstroke.
Speaking of the ending, Tynion did a very good job having the twist of Riddler and Designer teaming up being a surprise. The set-up for this twist was nicely handled as now we can see that the recording of the Riddler and Designer’s confrontation in Batman #90 was all a ploy by both villains. This spoke to how multi-layered the Designer’s plan is as Batman has been so busy with the top level part of the Designer’s plans, like fighting Deathstroke, that Riddler’s appearance was unexpected.
At the same time, Tynion is very careful to make sure that Batman is not being sacrificed in order to make the Designer look good. Even though Batman is behind the eight ball when it comes to the Designer’s plot you never lose the feeling he can’t win. We’ve seen plenty of times before that Batman is able to overcome threats even when he is backed up into a corner. Tynion plays into that part of Batman well so as a reader you can be confident that at least he can stop the Designer.
In the process of doing this Tynion is able to get over what his version of Batman’s mission statement is. Tynion’s Batman may be the most self-aware of what his presence has not only meant to Gotham City but the greater DC Universe. Batman admitting that he understands how villains have picked up their game because he continues to defeat him is a big step forward for the character. It shows that Batman is evolving from the solo hero that he has long given the perception of being. Now Batman is seeing the bigger picture of how he can truly protect everyone isn’t just about being a symbol. This all plays into the greater narrative Tynion is driving with how he is trying to build a better Gotham City not only as Batman but through the city’s infrastructure as Bruce Wayne.
The battle with Deathstroke was also made good use of the fact that while Slade is a contract assassin we’ve seen him be portrayed more as an anti-hero in the current continuity. While Slade denies it there are some heroic tendencies in his character. Tynion uses that to show us how as Deathstroke we see Slade listening to what Batman is saying rather than just straight up attacking him. Even though Deathstroke had words that combated what Batman said he was at least open to the conversation.
This set-up the later team-up that both of them were forced into as the Designer terminated Deathstroke’s contract. This makes Batman and Deathstroke unlikely allies, which is a good change of pace after watching them fight multiple times already in “Their Dark Designs.” It puts into question if they can work together long enough to take down the Designer for what he has done to them respectively. Because if they can Batman and Deathstroke can make an almost unstoppable pair.
The other pairing that turned out to be a lot of fun in contrast was Catwoman and Harley Quinn. These two play off each so well with Catwoman playing the straight person to Harley Quinn’s more off the wall character. Catwoman’s reaction to Harley Quinn’s thoughts on what she believed her relationship with Batman to be was nice injection of comedy in an otherwise dark story.
At the same time, Tynion plays into the fact that there is some underlying trust between Catwoman and Harley Quinn. We see that with how Catwoman is able to activate the self-destruct protocol in Riddler’s while Harley Quinn fights off the mind controlled GCPD officers. We then see the trust again with Catwoman asking Harley Quinn to come with her in the heist she is going to try to execute in order to defeat the Designer. Both these choices are great examples of how Tynion shows the growing trust they have with each other.
As all this is going on, the Joker side of the story continues to be one of the most fascinating parts of Tynion’s narrative for the Batman series. Keeping Joker at arms length is a smart way to not only build anticipation for the upcoming Joker War but also the character’s involvement in “Their Dark Designs.” The story Joker told at the bar was another showcase of how he is someone that is a complete wild card who can never follow others. Joker is looking to be his own force of chaos as the lead devil, which is clearly why the original plot with the Designer fell apart years ago.
Normally I’m not a fan of art by committee but Rafael Albuquerque, Jorge Jimenez, Carlo Pagulayan, and Danny Miki made it work extremely well in Batman #91. It helped that each artist was able to make adjustments to their styles to make sure there was a consistent look for the entire issue. Tomeu Morey deserves as much credit, as his coloring was a big factor in the consistent look Batman #91 had.
Splitting up the art duties with the different stories going on at the same time with Batman, Deathstroke, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Joker, and Designer helped in that consistency as well. Each artist used their respective parts of Batman #91 to play to their strengths in drawing each character and the setting they were in.
The Bad: Nothing.
Overall: “Their Dark Designs” is a story that has gotten better with each passing chapter. The Designer now being a fully realized villain has helped tremendously in the improvement of “Their Dark Designs.” Because of that James Tynion begins paying off the character development for everyone involved in this story, making Batman #91 the best chapter of this storyline thus far.
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