The “Joker War” continues to march forward as we left Batman going through a vision quest of sorts thanks to the antidote Harley Quinn gave him after he was exposed to Joker and Punchline’s new Toxin. With this latest development it looks like we will have Bruce Wayne finally face his current trouble with getting over Alfred Pennyworth’s death. This vision quest could be a major step forward for Bruce Wayne. The question is if that will be enough to overcome the fact that Joker has completely taken over Gotham City. Then there is everything going on what role characters like Harley Quinn, Catwoman and the rest of the Batman Family will serve with as “Joker War” moves into its final stages. Let’s find out if we get some answers with Batman #98.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: At Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, Riddler and Scarecrow have a tension filled chess match. Things break down in the chess match to the point that Riddler and Scarecrow start fighting physically.
Penguin checks up on Catwoman, who is still lost in thought about her giving Joker the funds he needed to take over the city. She then wonders where Batman is.
Lost in his dreams Bruce Wayne is in the Batcave crafting his new batarangs. Alfred Pennyworth mentions to Bruce that the more weapons he develops the more compartments he’ll need in his utility belt. Bruce says he is planning to make his entire Batman suit into a utility belt.
Alfred then tells Bruce that his mind is still looking for a sense of optimism. Bruce is surprised to be suddenly wearing his entire Batman gear. Alfred reveals that Harley Quinn’s potion is purging his system of the Joker Toxin, which has given him a chance to see the big picture Bruce has been blind to.
In reality, Harley Quinn waits for Batman to recover from the potion she gave him inside Eden. Hoping Poison Ivy could hear her through the plans, Harley Quinn asks if she has done the right thing. Punchline suddenly shows up with the intention of burning Eden to the ground.
Back in Bruce’s dreams, after some talk about tea Alfred asks Bruce how bad things are. Bruce breaks down as he goes over how Joker took everything from him and is using the Wayne fortune to fund the chaos he has created in Gotham City. Alfred goes over how Joker is someone who loves pulling everyone’s strings by mocking love and family in order to put everyone in danger. He goes on to say that while Joker believes that there is no difference between taking one life or a million lives Bruce does know that difference.
Back in reality Punchline uses her flamethrower to set the plants in Eden on fire. Harley Quinn quickly takes out a gun and destroys Punchline’s flamethrower. Now without firearms Harley Quinn and Punchline get ready to fight and charge at each other.
As they fight Punchline calls Harley Quinn out for buying into her own hype as Joker’s former lover. She goes on to talk about how she knows all about Harley Quinn’s history with Joker. Punchline calls Harley Quinn a means to an end for Joker. She then reveals her own history and how when she heard Joker speak. Punchline goes on to say that while it took her a while she eventually proved to Joker that she should be the one standing by his side when he kills Batman.
Harley Quinn admits that when she was with Joker she thought he had a heart but all he was is a manipulator and he is doing the same thing to Punchline. Punchline doesn’t believe it. Harley Quinn is able to channel her rage to gain the advantage in the fight.
Punchline is able to knock Harley Quinn back. Punchline then decides to kill Batman herself.
Back in Bruce’s dream, Alfred talks about how while Batman is a child’s dream of learning every possible way to save everyone it is a powerful and beautiful dream Bruce must hold onto. Alfred admits that the dream is one that can crush people and has done that to Bruce multiple times, with his death being the closest to feeling completely done.
Alfred goes on to say that rather than accept Alfred’s death Bruce has pushed Damian Wayne, Dick Grayson, Selina Kyle, and everyone in his life way to focus on trying to transform Gotham City into what he thought Alfred wanted. Bruce says he failed. Alfred slaps Bruce and yells that Bruce is Batman and he must accept what he can control. He goes on to say that Bruce needs to accept that while he couldn’t save Alfred he can save himself because every life he saves is a victory against death and Joker.
Bruce admits he doesn’t think he can’t do it alone. Alfred says he doesn’t have to has he can find his family and love to take back the city. Bruce still doesn’t think he can’t do it without Alfred. Alfred reveals that this entire talks is all Bruce’s doing as he is telling himself what he needs to do. Alfred smiles and tells Bruce to wake up.
Batman wakes up and sees Harley Quinn and Punchline fighting. Batman immediately jumps in and takes Punchline out.
Batman talks with Harley Quinn and takes out his Bat-Tery device that links him to the Batcomputer. He reveals that he is going to call the Batman Family because they will need everyone.
Back at the Iceberg Lounge, Catwoman announces that she is leaving. Penguin reminds her that it is impossible. Catwoman says that she is leaving and Penguin and Riddler are coming with her. Penguin asks why she believes they’ll do that. Catwoman says because she can make them billionaires. End of issue.
The Good: After reading Batman #98 a few times I’m left having both enjoyed the story within this comic book and feeling like there is a big chunk of the story not being explored. It’s not to different to the feeling that I had while reading “City Of Bane.” But to James Tynion’s credit there is no point in Batman #98 where you feel that the story is spinning its wheels. Everything that happens here is about progressing the direction of the “Joker War” to ensure the final chapters of this event are what fans want.
The whole dream sequence in Bruce Wayne’s head was a great example of what Tynion does so well. In the beginning it felt like we were going down another rabbit hole of how Bruce can find greater strength in the darkness. All of his dialogue showed that Bruce felt comfortable living in that head space.
Having that set-up helped emphasize why it was important that the person Bruce manifested in his dream was Alfred Pennyworth. There is no person in Batman’s supporting cast that has been more important than Alfred. And we have seen how throughout “Their Dark Designs” that Bruce was burying himself in work to create this ideal Gotham City so he did not have to think what not having Alfred around truly meant.
This is where long-term storytelling was at its best in this sub-plot that Tynion has been developing over the course of his run. For Bruce to be able to fight as the Batman we all know him to be he needed to have a chance to fully accept that Alfred is gone. The loss of a family member, especially one you have a parental bond with, is hard for anyone to ever forget. But Bruce at least needed allow himself to this event not be something he just buried by focusing on being Batman and fixing Gotham City.
Which all made the reality check that the Alfred manifestation provided by forcing Bruce to accept that this whole dream is Bruce’s own subconscious trying to speak to him directly be even more effective. Even Bruce knew that there was no one else that could deliver the message about how he had to stop pushing everyone away and accept that he has a family in Damian Wayne, Selina Kyle, Dick Grayson and the rest of the Batman Family that all have his back. Having this come from Alfred’s voice made all of this a powerful moment that opened the door for Bruce Wayne and Batman to both evolve as they move forward.
Taking all of this inner development Bruce went through and having him announce to Harley Quinn that he is assembling the family was an fantastic moment. This felt like the moment Bruce finally got his mojo back as Batman after all he was put through at the hands of Bane and Flashpoint Batman. Adding the touch of Batman unveiling his new portable Batcomputer was the chef kiss to make this moment the badass moment you expect from the character.
Balancing out the dialogue heavy scenes within Bruce’s dream with the Harley Quinn vs Punchline rematch. Having this fight go down was a nice change of pace that made gave an injection of energy to the story. How Tynion timed the cuts between Bruce’s dream and Harley Quinn vs Punchline were all well done. We were given enough of each scene as moved back and forth at a pace that helped keep you invested in what was going on.
Adding in the personal level of how Harley Quinn and Punchline experience with the Joker is at different stages made the investment in the fight even larger. Getting this personal opened things up for Tynion to develop both characters at the same time. With Punchline we get to learn more about what is driving her right now and how she feels that she is doing more for Joker than Harley Quinn ever did. Getting into what her mental headspace is creates a greater understanding of who she is while still leaving the door open to develop her more in the future.
Through this fight Harley Quinn got some off her best character development since DC Comics made her one of their character pillars. Tynion showed how Harley Quinn has actually gone through a lot of growth since breaking away from Joker. She is no longer someone that is blinded by her love for Joker. She is now in a place in her life where she sees how toxic of a relationship she had with Joker. Her being so open about that time in her life and how she has grown to be an individual was all well done.
That made the entire back-and-forth Harley Quinn had with Punchline have a deeper tone to it. While Harley Quinn was obviously pissed over what Punchline did to her she knows what it means to be enthralled by the Joker. To her credit Harley Quinn was trying to help Punchline by openly talking about her own experience. Punchline fighting back by saying that her relationship with Joker is different than the one Harley Quin had with him made you sympathize with both characters more. You get the sense that there is more stories to tell between Harley Quinn and Punchline beyond “Joker War,” which is great set-up for the future of both characters.
Jorge Jimenez artwork just keeps getting better and better with each chapter of “Joker War” that he draws. Just like his work on Justice League, Jimenez brings a larger than life feel to this story. Even though Batman #98 only takes place within Bruce’s dreams and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn’s Eden you never lose the scope of the story. There was an intensity to both scenes that made the story keep up the momentum from previous issues. Batman reappearing with the words “Batman” written across his cape was an excellent way to show that the character is back.
The Bad: Much like “City Of Bane” before it Batman #98 suffers from losing sight of the big event “Joker War” is supposed to be. Even though Tynion opened up “Joker War” by showing us how Joker accomplished everything he did Gotham City itself feels empty. There is no sense of how Gotham City itself is reacting to what is going on. Not showing even one or two panels of how regular people are completely terrified by what has happened to there city is a major missed opportunity to keep the scope of this story present in every issue.
Also, as badass as it was to see Batman tell Harley Quinn that he is assembly the Batman Family it was not a home run moment. Reading that scene over again the way Batman said it came across as if he was activating the entire Batman Family from cryostasis. It all came across as the Batman Family as having been ignoring everything that was happening in Gotham City even though Batman was known to be missing for at least three days. Unless you are reading all the tie-ins you there is no reason given for us not to have seen Batgirl, Robin, Red Hood, or Batwoman around trying to save people.
Which in turn made the scenes in the Iceberg Lounge much weaker. After being MIA for the last few issues revisiting Catwoman in this issue made her seem like she couldn’t do anything without Batman. While it is understandable that she took her role in helping Joker steal all of Bruce’s money its odd that when we finally catch back up with her that she is just sitting around doing nothing but waiting for Batman to appear.
It made the moment she finally decided to do something not come across as well as it should have. The timing just felt off since she did not spring to action because she had an idea to take down Joker but rather because she got Batman’s call. Having more scenes in the Iceberg Lounge in prior chapters would’ve helped this scene’s execution be much better because of how we just have not seen Catwoman until now.
Overall: Batman #98 is the middle chapter that was needed to set the stage for the final chapters of “Joker War.” To James Tynion’s credit he does an excellent job providing great progression for Batman, Harley Quinn, and Punchline’s character arcs. Unfortunately the drawback with that was losing the big event scope “Joker War” should have. Luckily Batman #98 had Jorge Jimenez to keep the big event energy going with his phenomenal artwork. Now with the stage set for big things to happen as we get closer to the end I’m still excited for what will happen next in “Joker War.”
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