James Tynion did not waste any time in making sure that “Joker War” started in the biggest way possible. In the fallout from “Their Dark Designs” Batman has already been put behind the eight ball as Joker and Punchline have completely taken over. On top of Joker stealing all of Bruce Wayne’s fortune he is now buying up all of Gotham City without a problem. If that wasn’t enough Joker has already shown no one in the Batman Family is safe as he has gone after Catwoman, Nightwing, and Batgirl during his reign of terror. How will Batman answer to all of this? Let’s find out with Batman #96.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Nighty Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Sometime in the future, Gotham City prospers with giant skyscrapers all over the city. The citizens suddenly get a message saying Batman is coming.
Mr. Freeze’s vehicle zooms down the streets with Batman (in the bright chrome Batsuit shown in Batman #95) racing after him. Mr. Freeze eventually stops his car. Mr. Freeze then gets out of the car with his kids and they attempt to freeze Batman. Batman is able to use the tech in his suit to quickly defeat Mr. Freeze and his kids.
Later, at the Batcave, Bruce Wayne meets up with Alfred Pennyworth and they both reflect on all that they have built with the new Gotham City and what the rest of the Batman Family have done. As they talk Alfred’s neck suddenly snaps much to Bruce’s horror. Alfred then begins to laugh like the Joker.
In the present Batman is snapped out of his nightmare by Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn reveals that she was able to find Batman near the explosion after patching herself up from Punchline’s attack. She goes on to say that Batman has been out for three days.
Harley Quinn goes on to talk about how Joker and his gang have used all of Batman’s equipment and vehicles to take over Gotham City.
Elsewhere as some of Joker’s gang corner a family someone named the Clownhunter shows up and kills the gang members with his baseball bat that has a Batarang tied to the end of it.
Back at Harley’s hideout, Harley tries to check on Batman but is swatted away by him. Harley Quinn reveals that there is a rumor going around that Punchline is running Triconer Yards and just bought Ace Chemical where he plans to develop a new Joker Toxin. She goes on to state that the Underbroker and his associates have paralyzed the city’s infrastructure and not allowing the cops to do anything.
Harley Quinn then mentions that Joker has bought up all the ad time in Gotham to run the same ad on repeat. Harley Quinn shows Batman the ad where Joker has someone reading a promo hyping up the playing of The Mark of Zorro movie and then killing the guy.
Hearing The Monarch causes Batman to remember the night his parents died. Harley Quinn does her best to shake Batman out of his trance.
Batman does eventually get out of it but once again acts aggressively with Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn tries to calm Batman down in order to stop him from doing something reckless. Batman does not care and pushes Harley Quinn to the side. He then leaves the hideout and heads underground.
Sometime later Batman is able to sneak into a part of Gotham City that is near The Monarch. As he makes his way to the theater Batman begins to think he is talking to Alfred.
Noticing some of Joker’s gang nearby Batman immediately takes them out and swings to The Monarch.
Eventually, Batman gets inside The Monarch and heads to were Joker is having his showing of The Mark of Zorro. Once inside the theater Batman is shocked to find everyone there has been infected by Joker’s Toxin and appear to all be dead.
Joker appears on screen and reveals everyone in the theater is every man, woman, and child he has killed during his career and dug them up for his big show. Joker says that all these dead people have a reason to hate Batman.
A green smoke suddenly starts coming out of the corpses’ mouths. They then all suddenly stand up like zombies and begin approaching Batman as Joker laughs on screen. End of issue.
The Good: Even when Batman is told to slow things down and take in everything that has already taken place in “Joker War” he just pushes forward. That is exactly how Batman #96 as a comic book feels as a whole. Characters are forced to move forward even when they are not ready to and it paints an even dire picture for how things will be developed in “Joker War,” which is a positive thing for this story.
Having a sense of dread at the turn of every page helps Batman #96 solidify the fact that Joker has truly pushed Batman to the edge. And it is not the normal edge that Batman has fought numerous times. This time around Joker has broken Batman completely. From mentally to financially, this is Batman that has had everything taken away from him except the Batsuit he is currently wearing. Adding in the fact that we don’t know how long Punchline’s unique Joker Toxin will still affect Batman adds the level of concern that is felt by the reader.
All of this helps to elevate the sense of danger that James Tynion has had Joker create across Gotham City. This whole takeover that Joker has been able to execute feels completely different from everything that has been done before. Even though Joker does not even appear until the very end of Batman #96 you sense his presence throughout. It almost gets to the point you do feel that he could appear at any moment to launch another attack like he did at the end of Batman #95.
That makes his appearance at the very end of Batman #96 have an even more terrifying tone to it. The fact that Joker spent time digging up the corpses of all the people he has killed over the years is so unbelievable that you do believe it. With the lengths he has gone to destroy Batman completely this time around this is totally in Joker’s wheelhouse.
This development to conclude Batman #96 further pushes the fact that Joker has developed a toxin that is on a completely different level. This new Joker Toxin doesn’t simply make the person infected by it be driven insane and then dying. It literally turns them into zombies that are under Joker’s control. This development adds a whole new threat level to what Joker can do. Especially when you factor in how Punchline also her own version of the Joker Toxin has there is now a different sense of fear that comes whenever you see the green smoke now.
It all makes the position that Batman is come across as even direr. The opening scene with Bruce’s dream of the future that quickly turned into a nightmare did a good job in setting up the fact that he is not in a good place. Bruce was already going through a tough time as he is clearly not over Alfred’s death. Being doused with Punchline’s special Joker Toxin has just made things worse as everything that has been throwing him off his game mentally is now further elevated. The fact that Batman still thinks he is talking to Alfred when he goes after Joker in the second half of Batman #96 creates greater concern for the character.
Also, while clearly not a permanent costume, it will be interesting to see what Tynion is aiming towards pushing the chrome Batman costume. The way it was used in Batman #96 there were some Batman Beyond vibes. That may be a clue that Tynion is putting Bruce and the others on a path to create a version of Neo Gotham City that we see in the Batman Beyond future. And given how this event goes it would be interesting if both “Joker War” and the chrome Batman suit is what inspires Bruce to create the Batman Beyond costume that maybe combats things like the new Joker Toxin.
Through the concern for Batman, Tynion takes the opportunity to show how “Joker War” has forced Harley Quinn to take a completely different approach to handling things. Clearly the clash with Punchline and the physical scar that it left on her has made Harley Quinn much more focused. She clearly understands that she can’t simply joke her way through things. Having that shift in her approach to handling the status quo Joker has created makes Harley Quinn’s own arc something to watch. She may very well be Batman’s most important ally given that Catwoman, Nightwing, and Batgirl are out of commission at the moment.
The first appearance of Clownhunter was nicely handled for how quick it was. Tynion made sure to make the appearance as impactful as possible and leaving readers wanting more. There is going to be a lot to learn about Clownhunter, which can be down in brief appearances throughout “Joker War.” Jorge Jimenez’s design for the character is what really sells wanting to know more about him.
Speaking of, Jimenez’s artwork in Batman #96 is even better than it was in the previous issue. The designs from the chrome Batman costume especially looked much better in this issue. It helps that we got to see it in motion as it really stood out in the future world that was created in Bruce’s dream. Jimenez also did an excellent job getting over how chaotic things are at Gotham City in the moment. And more importantly, Jimenez helps elevate where Tynion has Bruce’s current state of mind in the way the characters act throughout this issue once he is snapped out of his dream turned nightmare. That really helped make the ending with all the corpses rising up to surround Batman while Joker laugh is as effective as possible in concluding this issue.
The Bad: Given the fact that Batman was out for three days it was disappointing that Tynion didn’t at least give an update on where the rest of the Batman Family is at. He could’ve easily done that during Harley Quinn’s monologue by briefly mentioning what Batgirl and Robin are doing to combat Joker’s gang. Not having anything any reference to the Batman Family members is a weird omission that could’ve actually helped to add to how dire things are in Gotham City. As the story moves forward I hope that we do see the other Batman Family members other than Catwoman and Harley Quinn get involved in this story in some way.
Overall: Batman #96 is a tone-setter for “Joker War.” After the explosive reveals in the first part of this event James Tynion takes the time to develop the new state of Gotham City as it has fallen under Joker’s new world order. Through that Tynion and Jorge Jimenez creates a lot of questions for how “Joker War” will turn out. Which is exactly what you want to peak your interest for the remaining chapters in an event.
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