James Tynion’s first story arc on Batman got off to a so-so start. The execution of the story for the first two-thirds wasn’t as on point as it should have been. That said the last few issues of “Their Dark Designs” have helped elevate the overall impact of this story. What particularly worked well with Batman #93 was how Tynion revealed that “Their Dark Designs” directly connects with what we should expect with the upcoming “Joker War” event that will so take over the Batman Family comics. With Joker revealing to Batman how he stole all of Bruce Wayne’s money what will come next? Let’s find out with Batman #94.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artists: Guillem March and Rafael Albuquerque
Colorist: David Baron
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: Years ago, during his training oversees, Bruce Wayne thinks about how Alfred considers Gotham City as his “Little Gotham” as it is a city that can build a perfect Gotham from it. Bruce thought otherwise as he was more comfortable in darker designs.
Bruce suddenly spots someone entering their apartment complex that he has been looking for. Bruce calls out to the guy but is told to get out as he does not care what Bruce wants. Bruce still follows the guy into his apartment and identifies him as Cassander Wycliffe Baker, the former greatest detective in the world before he disappeared.
Cassander reveals that he disappeared not because it was his choice but because he suffered a humiliating defeat, implying it was to the original Designer. Bruce says he does not care and wants Cassander to train him to become a detective. Cassander quickly figures out Bruce is from Gotham City and knows everything about him, much to Bruce’s shock. Cassander then is able to tell all the training that Bruce has been through based on how he is dressed, scars, and talks.
Cassander then opens a door to a room filled with designs of what Bruce was previously drawning. Cassander then states that he will teach Bruce the most important lesson he can learn: how to lose.
In the present, Batman crawls to sit on a chair after Deathstroke left his sword through one of Batman’s legs. As he does so he reflects on how his training with Cassander showed him how to leap forward after discovering how his view of a design for Gotham City was distorted.
Lucius Fox rushes into the room and quickly removes Deathstroke’s sword from Batman’s leg. Lucius reminds Batman all he can do is stop the bleeding since he is not a surgeon. Batman tells Lucius that Joker has his fortune. Lucius reveals he already knows.
Lucius then turns on the news to show that Bruce Wayne is now a wanted man for embezzling millions. Lucius goes on to say that Joker already had things ready for the news to report on it and Wayne Enterprise is the next target. Lucius says he will need to focus on being the CEO of Wayne Enterprise and won’t be able to help Bruce with his mission as Batman as that is not what he can do as Bruce needs or Alfred did before.
Bruce wonders where Selina is. Lucius says that Selina was taken to being Gotham Mercy Hospital by his daughter, Tamara Fox, after being shot. Bruce wants to talk to Selina but Lucius is worried Bruce is going to pass out any minute now. Bruce does not care and demands to talk to Selina.
Lucius gives Bruce a phone and he calls Selina to check in on her, with them calling each other “Bat” and “Cat.” Selina admits she played right into Joker’s plans. Bruce says it is not her fault as he tried to become a version of himself that Alfred wanted but was not true to himself and Joker saw all the faults in that. Selina tries to say that it is okay but Bruce knows it is not which makes Selina tear up. Bruce says that he will understand if Selina wants to leave.
Tamara tells Bruce that Selina has passed out. Bruce asks Tamara to put the phone to Selina’s ear. Bruce tells Selina that he will be fighting back, they will face whatever comes next together, and he will see her soon.
After hanging up the phone Batman breaks the glass window in front of him out of anger. Lucius tries to calm Batman down but Batman just tells Lucius to get Leslie Thompkins to prepare a private suite at the free clinic as he is going to move Selina there. Lucius doesn’t think that is a good idea. Batman says he needs to get to Selina before Joker does and warns Lucius to get out of the city before Joker gets to him too.
As Batman swings through the city Bruce remembers Cassander’s lessons about losing and how he told Bruce that he will fall before Gotham City would. Bruce doesn’t believe that.
Elsewhere at an airfield, the assassins Joker hired get on a jet to leave Gotham City. Cheshire tells Deathstroke people don’t like being used as bait. Deathstroke says he doesn’t care as he got paid well. He then reveals that he just wants to take a moment to look at the nine million people living in Gotham City one last time.
At Gotham Mercy Hospital Batman discovers that Selina is already gone. Tamara says he does not know what happened as she just disappeared. Batman tells Tamara to go home and to not open the door.
Joker’s gang suddenly appear and immediately surround Batman. Batman demands to know where Catwoman is. Joker, from one of his gang members’ phone, tells Batman he does not know and jokes that she probably got sick of Batman. Joker then offers to buy Punchline the diamond district so she can kill everyone there, which is an idea Punchline likes.
Joker then shows Batman that Punchline has captured Lucius and will be stealing all of his toys from Wayne Enterprise. Joker then further pushes Batman’s buttons by talking about how Batman has no one that can help him now.
Joker then declares that his design for a new Gotham City will now begin. Joker’s gang then opens fire on Batman. Batman jumps out of the window to escape from all the gunfire.
Elsewhere Selina wakes up and is greeted by Penguin, who asks her about the Designer. Selina says the Designer is dead and Joker played them all. Penguin says that Selina giving him that info bought her entry into his private lounge.
It is then shown that Penguin has recruited other Batman villains, like Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and Killer Croc, to team up. Selina wants to leave but Penguin says they are all on full lockdown as Joker will be attacking soon so he is planning for them to all sit out the bloody summer that is coming.
Elsewhere Batman gets to the highest point he can find as it heavily rains in Gotham City with lightning in the background. Batman reflects on how he tried to be what Alfred wanted by building a utopia out of Gotham City but that he realizes it is not the real him as he already had a design for Gotham City beforehand. Batman then asks Alfred for a signal.
Just then the lightning storm forms a Bat-signal behind Batman. Batman then tells Alfred he will become a better Bat. End of issue.
The Good: Batman #94 added a much-needed piece to the puzzle of “Their Dark Designs” that completed what this story was about. There is a moment early on in Batman #94 that you hear it click into place. Filling that missing part of this story improves, though it does not fix, a lot of the areas where “Their Dark Designs” previously faltered.
The missing puzzle piece that James Tynion IV was able to find with Batman #94 was connecting this story to Bruce Wayne’s training to become Batman. It’s been so well-established that Bruce went around the world to train with some of the world’s best minds and fighters that we just don’t question what kind of training he went through. It’s a forgone conclusion that Bruce did all this training to build who he is as Batman. But in making these years of Bruce’s life something we just believe is obvious there is a major missed opportunity to explore how that training defined who he currently is as Batman and a person.
That is exactly where Tynion steps in to explore how some of the final training Bruce goes through with someone who could possibly be the DC Universe’s version of Sherlock Holmes so fascinating. Through Cassander Wycliffe Baker we see how the obsession to be the world’s greatest detective could lead to a person’s downfall. Tynion perfectly captures a person who was at the height of his powers as Cassander Wycliffe Baker clearly was viewed as the world’s greatest detective. That is well put over with how Tynion has the character talks and acts when Baker is talking to Bruce.
It was a nice reality check for the young Bruce as he was able to look at what complete obsession can lead to. While it did not deter him from going down a similar route, seeing how Baker turned out after his embarrassing defeat at the hands of the original Designer was something Bruce needed. Especially as Bruce was looking to have Baker training him to become the world’s best detective there was more reason for this possibly being the best experience he can go through. Because through training under Baker’s tutelage, Bruce was able to not only learn to be a detective but also what it can look like when you are dropped from the top pedestal.
That helped frame everything going on in the present inside Bruce’s mind after being defeated by Joker in such a way he just about lost everything. Losing his entire fortune to Joker was already a major loss but he is also now in a position that he has no one to turn to. The Batman Family is more fractured than its ever been, Alfred Pennyworth is dead, and Selina Kyle is locked up with the rest of his rogues’ gallery. Bruce is on an island alone with no resources except all the skills he obtained to become Batman. Showing Bruce accepting this as he pleads with Alfred’s spirit to send him a sign that his choice to go back being true to his character worked to establish where Batman will be at the start of “Joker War.”
Positioning Batman in this way made Joker come across as an even bigger threat. You realize that Joker knew exactly where Batman was at this point in his life. Joker knew that Batman was not being himself and was trying to do things that were out of character. In discovering those holes while figuring out who Batman was we saw Joker take advantage of all these openings Bruce created within himself.
Tynion did a fantastic using all this to further push Joker as a villain that just loves to terrorize Batman. There is no wasted opportunity from the Joker to push every button he can when talking to Batman. It is all part of the game he is playing to break Batman. Characterizing Joker in this way makes you wonder even more what the villain’s endgame with “Joker War” will really be. There is an even greater sense of unknown when it comes to what Joker is up to now.
Through making Joker such an unpredictable force Tynion is able to continue to slowly develop Punchline as a fascinating new character. Tynion is not overexposing Punchline. He is showing us just enough of Punchline’s character to understand why she has been paired with Joker and where she is mentally. The anticipation for what Punchline’s role in “Joker War” is there, which should work well as we will be seeing her interact with other characters like Harley Quinn and Nightwing.
Separating Selina Kyle from Bruce is a good choice heading into “Joker War.” Tynion does reaffirm how Bruce and Selina are still united, as we see them go back to calling each other “Bat” and “Cat.”. That small touch was not only a nice way to honor all the work Tom King did with the characters during his run but also reaffirm they are still together. Which will likely play a key role as Bruce and Selina tackle the war Joker is bringing to Gotham City from different areas in the city, at least to start “Joker War.”
Having Selina with the other Batman villains made where she is even more interesting. While we’ve seen Selina be a much more heroic person as Catwoman over the last few years there is still a part of her that is connected with Gotham City’s villains. We see that with how Penguin quickly recruits her to be part of his crew of villains that will try to be in lockdown mode during “Joker War.” Given all of Joker’s resources, there is no telling what Tynion intends to do with this sub-plot for the other Gotham City villains. They could very be wild cards during “Joker War.” We really don’t know and that is honestly exciting.
With all that said, Lucius Fox may have very well been the standout character in Batman #94. Tynion has done a great job putting over how Lucius is different to how Alfred Pennyworth approached helping Bruce. While they are close Lucius and Bruce do not have the same parental connection that Bruce and Alfred had. They have more of a business relationship that has developed into a close friendship.
Which makes how Lucius makes it clear to Bruce that he can’t help in the way Alfred did a better character moment. Lucius reminds Bruce that his skills are completely different. While he is willing to help Bruce how he can it does not mean Lucius will fill-in every role Alfred had in his life. And it was great that Lucius reminded that with everything going the best thing for him to do is focus on the business side of Wayne Enterprise.
Lucius bringing up Wayne Enterprise and how Bruce lost his fortune set-up another major sub-plot going into “Joker War” as the media will now be targeting Bruce’s finances. Joker provided the blood in the water that the media and government will now pounce on for Bruce. This could in turn be the biggest blow Joker could strike to Batman as now Bruce and Lucius have to work overtime in covering up how Bruce’s fortune was used to build his Batman operation. How that factors into “Joker War” will be very interesting to see play out.
For the most part, Guillem March and Rafael Albuquerque did a good job meshing their respective styles together so there wasn’t a moment you stopped when realizing there were two artists working on Batman #94. March and Albuquerque made enough slight adjustments to their overall styles so they did not clash with how they split up the art duties for this issue. Which is a good thing given how much raw emotion is shown throughout Batman #94.
That is particularly the case with Batman as we saw how Bruce could barely hold back his rage. There was a sense he could lash out at any moment, which he did when breaking one of the windows in Wayne Manor with his fist. It was a powerful moment that was an emotion felt by other characters we see throughout Batman #94.
The Bad: The one area Batman #94 did not work the way it could have was with the scene at Gotham Airfield involving Deathstroke, Cheshire, and the other assassins. Tynion dropped the ball when it came to characterizing these elite DC Universe assassins that it was hard to care that they were leaving. Even Deathstroke saying his goodbye to all the people about to be placed in the middle of Joker’s plot was hollow. And not hollow in the way that it is because he is a bad guy. It was hollow because Deathstroke wasn’t given much of a chance to show why they should be considered as dangerous as others treat them to be during “Their Dark Designs.”
Overall: James Tynion, Guillem March, and Rafael Albuquerque saved the best for last as Batman #94 provided “Their Dark Designs” with the best issue of this entire story arc. This finale was more about positioning Batman, Joker, Catwoman, and other characters for where they will begin “Joker War” at. Which was fine given the reveal of who the Designer that Batman has been battling this entire story arc turned out to be. Now it is on to whatever surprises are to come with “Joker War.”
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