After “Their Dark Designs” turned out to be a prelude to “Joker War” James Tynion has found his footing with his run on Batman. Everything about “Joker War” has been different from what we’ve seen. With Joker now having a new focus of not only destroying everything Batman has built but also the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman has kicked things up a notch. There is a whole new sense of danger when it comes to everything about “Joker War.” That includes Batman being severely poisoned thanks to Punchline’s new, unexpected Joker Toxin that has caused him to be even more off his game. Can the Dark Knight survive the plans Joker and Punchline have for Gotham City? Let’s find out with Batman #97.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
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: Over at the Tricorner Yards Punchline works with Underbroker to secure the shipment of chemicals that she and Joker need to create an updated version of the Joker Toxin.
One of the members of Joker’s Gang brings up concern over the Clownhunter getting in their way while delivering the chemicals to Ace Chemicals. Punchline questions this and the clown mentions that Clownhunter has killed twelve members of Joker’s Gang in the Narrows yesterday.
Punchline gets pissed off hearing the clown’s fears and says to go around the Narrows because they better fear the guy who is going to kill Batman more than some teenager.
Over at the Monarch Theater Batman struggles against the zombified corpses of the people Joker has killed over the years. During the fight Batman keeps hearing Alfred’s voice in his head.
As Batman fights the horde Joker continuously taunts Batman about how he isn’t able to do anything to stop him and that the city will turn against him since Batman couldn’t stop Joker. After a while Batman gets pissed at hearing Joker’s voice and thinking he is just fighting an army of Jokers so he decides to cause an explosion inside the theater. The force of the explosion blows back the Joker zombies.
With this opening Batman decides to cover his eyes with a blindfold so he can fight using only his other senses. This helps clear Batman’s mind enough to defeat a number of Joker zombies with ease. As he fights Batman eventually gets to the center of the theater. In that central position Batman an EMP device to destroy the nanites Joker used to zombify all the corpses.
Batman then exits the theater but isn’t able to get far before passing out. Lucky for him Harley Quinn finds him as soon as he passed out.
Elsewhere Punchline meets up with Joker to talk about how Batman is still alive. Joker isn’t worried, mentioning that this is how it normally goes whenever he fights Batman.
Punchline then brings up the fact that Clownhunter continues to get in their way and he recently blew up one of the trucks carrying the chemicals they need for the Joker Toxin. This doesn’t concern Joker too much either and tells Punchline to send some of their heavy hitters to take Clownhunter out.
Joker then says that it is also time for them to take out Harley Quinn, much to Punchline’s joy.
Elsewhere, Batman wakes up in a place he does not know. Harley Quinn reveals that they are in a place inside Gotham City that is called “Eden.” Harley Quinn explains that Poison Ivy created Eden as a place for her to recover, especially during the time she was working under Joker.
Harley Quinn then gives Batman a potion made out of some flowers in Eden to drink that’ll flush the chemicals from Punchline’s Joker Toxin out of his system. When Batman drinks it he immediately starts tripping out. Harley Quinn says what Batman is feeling is normal and he’ll be over it as soon as the chemicals are fully out of his system. She then takes off to deal with the Joker.
Batman suddenly hallucinates that he is inside a cave where Alfred Pennyworth is at. Alfred tells Batman it is time for them to talk. End of issue.
The Good: There is absolutely no wasting time as Batman #97 goes full speed ahead with “Joker War.” James Tynion and Jorge Jimenez make sure the focus is on all of the chaos going down in Gotham City. That chaos creates greater investment in being part of the ride of how Batman and his allies have any hope of saving the day this time around.
Throughout Batman #97 there is a sense that Gotham City has fully fallen under Joker’s control. And not in the way during “City of Bane” when Batman was actually taken out of the city so Bane could take over. This time Batman is fully present inside the city and he has no way of stopping Joker from taking control of Gotham City. That change up for “Joker War” creates a greater sense of danger for the chaos currently going down in Gotham City.
Gotham City being completely under his control makes the absolute confidence that Joker has this time around in his plan even more interesting. Seeing how Joker is never thrown off his game, even when Batman escapes Monarch Theater or learning about Clownhunter’s actions towards his gang. Right now Joker not only feels like he is in control of everything that is happening but has the resources to make it happen.
With all of that Tynion is able to continue to make a star out of Punchline. Punchline is the MVP right now for “Joker War” as she is driving a lot of the story with all the things she is doing to make sure Joker’s plan is executed. Every time she is on screen Punchline comes across as the most dangerous person on screen. She is even able to match Joker’s presence when they are together. Which adds to how well Punchline is complementing Joker in this story, making them both even more dangerous in the process.
This all creates a greater sense of concern for Batman. Because unlike all of his other battles with Joker, Batman has no resources at the moment. And to Joker’s credit, Batman isn’t being given a minute to figure out how to combat everything Joker is throwing at him. So his detective abilities have been taken away from him because of that fact.
Adding in the fact that Batman is still suffering from Punchline’s special version of the Joker Toxin made the Dark Knight’s situation even more interesting. Because through that sub-plot Tynion is able to continue the thread of Bruce Wayne not being over Alfred Pennyworth’s death. Punchline’s Joker Toxin has brought that fact to the forefront as Bruce’s hallucinating that he is hearing Alfred’s voice made the ending be even more impactful. Bruce obviously needs to get passed Alfred’s death in order to defeat Joker. So this “meeting” with Alfred can turn the fact that Punchline poisoned him into the best thing to happen to Bruce in the long run.
At the same time, Tynion does a good job making sure we know that Batman is still a force to be reckon with even when poisoned. We see that with how Batman was able to figure out that since the poison was clouding his judgement he needed to close off one of his senses. He did exactly that by blindfolding himself and using his training to fight in an efficient manner that allowed him to get out of the situation Joker put him in. Batman turning things around in this way gives that flicker of hope that is needed that once Bruce is back to normal, at least normal for him, he can defeat Joker.
Through Batman’s situation Tynion is able to further elevate Harley Quinn in “Joker War.” Given Harley’s past association with Joker she is actually the most important ally Batman can have in “Joker War.” She is able to figure out what Joker’s moves are given their past, which allows her to know how Joker plans to trap Batman. Through that knowledge we get to see how resourceful she is as she is able to come up with a drink that helps Batman flush Punchline’s Joker Toxin out of his system.
This all helps to build Harley Quinn as having her own arc in “Joker War.” Batman #97 specifically sets that up with Joker now letting Punchline loose with a plan to directly go after Harley Quinn. This creates greater anticipation for how Harley Quinn makes it out of “Joker War.” Because while Harley knows Joker very well, the same is goes for Joker in this case. How Harley and Joker have their own chess match in the middle of Batman dealing with the Clown Prince of Crime’s latest plot will be very interesting to see.
Batman #97 also does a good job in continuing to slowly build up Clownhunter. Much like his appearance in the last issue, Tynion makes sure to efficiently tell Clownhunter’s story through a short appearance. That allows the focus of Clownhunter’s arc be on how he is a wild card in “Joker War” without feeling like he is taking the spotlight from Batman, Harley Quinn, Joker, or Punchline. This all adds a aura around the character that gets you invested in what role he serves when all is said and done.
Jorge Jimenez’s artwork for “Joker War” keeps getting better with each passing issue. Jimenez has gotten into a groove of how to best draw Batman’s world in a way that is grounded in a gritty style while still making “Joker War” feel like a big event. There is a sense of chaos with everything you see go on in Gotham City throughout Batman #97. Jimenez adds to that sense of chaos with how he is able to give each character we see in Batman #97 have their own mannerism. Every character from Batman to Punchline looks and acts in a way that comes across as unique to who they are. That goes to Jimenez talents to draw these characters in this way and Tomeu Morey coloring that further enhances those drawings.
The Bad: The one problem that “Joker War” is running into is the same problem that “City of Bane” had. And that is the fact Gotham City now feels like an empty city that is only populated by Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn, Punchline, Clownhunter, and Joker’s Gang. There is an emptiness to Gotham City right now because of this.
Given how Joker’s plan is impacting all of Gotham City it would add to the story to see people running and hiding out of fear. That is something that could be added in scenes like in the panel where Clownhunter blows up a chemical truck we could have seen people running out of their apartments in the background. It’s little things like that which help a story be given greater importance because Batman and his allies aren’t only fighting to stop Joker and Punchline. They are fighting to save Gotham City and the people that live there.
It’s also odd that we are three issues into “Joker War” and Catwoman and the other Gotham City villains are nowhere to be found. In Batman #94, which acted as a the prelude to “Joker War,” Tynion established a sub-plot of Penguin and other villains hiding out after learning about Joker’s plan, which Catwoman was forced to join. Since Tynion established with Batman #96 that several days in which Joker’s takeover plan kicked off we should at least have gotten a hint at what they are doing. Especially with Catwoman’s deeper bond with Batman it is odd that she is completely MIA at the moment.
Overall: There is no time to rest for either the reader or all the players involved in “Joker War,” as shown with Batman #97. James Tynion and Jorge Jimenez have built a story that is getting even more chaotic with each page that you turn. The chaos creates concern for how Batman and his allies can even hope to overcome Joker’s latest plot. That all builds greater anticipation for what happens next as a reader following along.
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