Punchline has been a break out character for DC Comics. Since being introduced in the lead-up to “Joker War” the character immediately became popular with fans. Punchline’s involvement in the actual “Joker War” event solidified her as a character that fans can’t get enough of. And now as we head into 2021 there are a lot of questions as to where Punchline direction will lead her as Joker has disappeared into the shadows. Her capture at the end of “Joker War” puts her in a position of taking the brunt of the punishment Joker would get for how much chaos was caused by the pair. Will that be the case? Let’s find out with Punchline #1.
Writers: James Tynion IV and Sam Johns
Artist: Mirka Andolfo
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Years ago, Alexis Kaye (before she becomes Punchline) goes on a field trip with her class to a news station. The news station ends up getting attacked by Joker and his gang. Joker grabs Alexis and forces her to do an announcement for him that will be broadcast across Gotham City. Before the cameras roll Batman appears and stops Joker.
In the present, Alexis relays this story to the judge overseeing her case as why she worked with Joker. The judge tells Alexis of all the crimes she is being charged with as she is accountable for everything that happened while she was with Joker. Alexis says she is well aware of this and proclaims that she believes she is innocent, much to the shock of everyone in the courtroom, which includes Dr. Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row.
Dr. Thompkins testifies that she believes Alexis may suffer from some undiagnosed personality disorder that has been made worse by some PTSD trauma. The judge asks if that means Alexis can provide a full and reliable testimony. Dr. Thompkins believes Alexis can.
Later, Harper asks Leslie what she thinks of what just happened. Leslie isn’t sure but they may need a Bat on call just in case.
Alexis is shown be escorted out of the courthouse. As she gets into the GCPD transfer vehicle the drive asks if he can do anything for Punchline, while showing her his Joker Gang tattoo. Alexis says that it is time to go live.
Alexis confessional video is then uploaded onto the Internet. One of the people who view the video is Cullen Row, who is caught watching the video by his sister. Cullen asks Harper what Alexis was like. Harper says she isn’t sure but knows that Alexis should be held responsible for her actions. Harper then changes as she needs to start her night shift job.
Later that night Cullen settles in for a night of gaming when he gets a private message from someone named Bluff. The Bluff person provides Cullen with videos and blogs that Alexis wrote that were about tracking Joker down but were previously taken down.
Cullen listens to the first episode features Alexis talking about all the stories she has heard about the Joker and how she felt she failed to finish the job Joker gave her when told to read the message to the news cameras. After going through more news stories about him Alexis was driven to know more about Joker.
Cullen gets to episode eleven where Alexis details how she has been tracking all of Joker’s movements including his escapes from Arkham Asylum in great detail. She is then shown taking a boat to the old Arkham Asylum in search of Joker’s confessional tapes.
Cullen then gets to episode fourteen where Alexis talks all about how the Joker Fish because Joker’s signature. Skipping to episode fifty-one Alexis details her journey to Amusement Mile where she fully takes in the meaning of the jokes that Joker told. As she sees some rats over blood Alexis transformation into Punchline becomes complete as she kills one of the rats.
Later, Cullen ends up playing the last podcase that Alexis recorded to Harper during dinner. Harper calls out Cullen for spending to much time dedicated to learning about a bad person. Cullen asks his sister if she thinks this makes him a bad person. Harper says that is not what she meant.
Cullen brings up how he has learned who Alexis really is and believes that she is just being blamed for hanging out with Joker since Harper can’t talk about what makes her guilty. Harper tries to calm her brother down but Cullen says that Batman could’ve stopped Joker a long time ago and Gotham City is horrible because he didn’t. Cullen then heads off to his room pissed.
Harper calls Leslie and says that if she needs her help she’ll be there. Leslie thanks her for the offer but who she will need watching over the courthouse is Bluebird.
In his room, Cullen gets a message from Bluff asking to meet up tomorrow.
Cullen then listens to Alexis’ final podcast which she taped after finally becoming Punchline. Punchline talks about how she felt as a victim of Joker that day at the news station and how came to believe that event happened for a reason. As Joker toxin is shown to be passed out at an office complex Punchline talks about how you don’t understand a joke until you get the punchline. As Punchline spreads her own version of Joker’s toxin across Gotham City she proclaims that she wants to hear what makes the end of a joke so funny.
Punchline is then show poising an entire restaurant filled with guests. As she is repeatedly stabs one of the guests she is eventually stopped by Joker. Joker whispers in Punchline’s ear that he can help make her toxin better. Punchline grabs Joker and says they can help each other be better. She then kisses Joker.
The next day Bluebird calls Leslie to let her know that she may have to walk to the courthouse.
Outside the courthouse a massive crowd of Punchline supporters loudly proclaim their message for the judge to “Free Punchline.” Cullen is shown meeting up with Bluff, who hands Cullen a clown mask.
Leslie’s driver stops the car and tells her that is the closest he can get her to the courthouse entrance. Leslie suddenly gets a call from Punchline. Punchline thanks Leslie for saying she was mentally fit as that allowed her to avoid going to Arkham Asylum and helped her create the movement that is going on. Leslie admits she fears what Punchline’s message going uncheck will mean for society. Punchline says they should find out.
Punchline goes on to tell Leslie that she believes there is more power in finding more followers than what Joker was doing to make one person laugh. While Leslie says it won’t work Punchline reveals it already has.
Punchline is then escorted to the court room by cops. Punchline smiles at watching all her followers yelling for her to be freed.
Cullen is shown joining in along with Bluff by putting on the clown mask.
As that happens Bluebird spots her brother doing this while watching from a nearby rooftop. End of issue.
The Good: Over the course of his run on Batman, James Tynion has been dropping details about who Punchline is and her way of thinking. Now alongside Sam Johns we see all those details about the character expanded on with Punchline #1 as we get a full dedication to her origin story. In the process not only do we learn what makes her tick but also see how Punchline will very much be involved in the future of Gotham City moving forward.
The most impressive thing that Tynion and Johns are able to accomplish with Punchline #1 is how they blend the real world with where Gotham City is post-Joker War. There is a lot of real-world manipulation of what people believe to be true in the way Punchline is able to get her message to the Internet so others can consume. Whether what she was saying was the truth or not does not matter. Much like Joker, everything Punchline says is through her vision of how things are, and we are left questioning if what we learned was the reality of her origin story.
Going all in with the podcasts that Alexis Kaye recorded as she began her transformation into Punchline did make the entire process even more compelling. Whether we as the reader believe Alexis story the way that Tynion and Johns told it made you understand why Cullen and so many others would quickly become her followers. Alexis wasn’t speaking to people who see things in the prism of right and wrong. She was using her own experience to paint a picture of how she felt in Joker choosing her to relay a message as a sign that she can be proactive about her direction in life. Learning more about Joker and talking about what she learned provided a justification of why she became Punchline.
All of that worked because of how Tynion and Johns wrote each of Punchline’s podcast recording. There was a sense of honesty that speaks to how others can view her in a light where she is the victim in all that is going on. As we see with how Cullen reacted when talking to Harper about Punchline its clear that message spoke to so many who became her follower. Having someone who has an established history in the Batman books like Cullen be the conduit for why there are so many Punchline followers worked well to get this story across.
It also made great use of the current state of Gotham City. As we have seen with Batman #101, Batgirl #50, and Nightwing #75, Gotham City is not in a good place at the moment. Whether its fair or not the people of Gotham City feel like the government, police, other city officials and Batman Family failed them and allowed Joker to burn their city to the ground. With this unrest at an all-time high it is understandable that so many in Gotham City would latch onto Punchline’s story as another example of how those in power failed them.
This is all great set-up for where Tynion and Johns end up positioning Punchline as we head into the new year. Because as we see with her conversation with Dr. Leslie Thompkins at the end of this issue, Punchline is looking to take Joker’s vision to a completely new level. It is not enough to continue to the eternal war with Batman. Punchline sees how there is the opening created by her and Joker to build a lasting legacy with an army of followers who will be ready to act on any of there command. All that firmly establishes Punchline as one of the most dangerous villains as we head into 2021.
Which all adds to the real impact of “Joker War” being what happens in the aftermath. Gotham City is no longer the same place that the Batman Family swore to protect. Everything is different as there is an anger and fear that is different from before. That creates a lot questions as to the roles that the Batman Family have in helping Gotham City not only recover but possibly become better.
This is something that we see signs of the Batman Family all being aware of with how Dr. Leslie Thompkins talks with Harper Row. While Harper decided a while back to try to live a normal life that just isn’t possible anymore. As Dr. Thompkins says, right now the city needs Harper to be Bluebird. Tynion and Johns do a good job provided motivation for that being the case as Harper saw her brother join in on Punchline’s movement. This motivation sets up Harper to have a bigger arc moving forward as she has more of a personal stake to her return to being Bluebird full-time.
Mirka Andolfo art style was the right fit for the type of story we get in Punchline #1. Andolfo’s art style keeps that anime-esque style that Jorge Jimenez brought into Batman during “Joker War.” And given how expressive of a character Punchline is that art style fits the character extremely well. Andolfo’s gets us into what Alexis Kaye is thinking as her transformation into Punchline progresses during the podcast. All of that comes together to make the two-face nature of Punchline as she goes from gleefully wicked in her conversation with Dr. Thompkins to her appreciative act for her followers all flow together from panel to panel.
The Bad: The one thing that would’ve made Punchline #1 a better book is if we would’ve at least gotten some cameo appearances from the Batman Family members. Especially since characters like Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing had such personal battles with Punchline during “Joker War” it would’ve added to the story if we got a panel or two of their reaction to what was going on. Harley Quinn being absent was a bigger deal since she is someone who could’ve really taken the story to another level given her history with Joker. Having that other perspective, even if it was for a panel or two, would’ve helped further set up how Punchline is viewed by the other Batman characters after all she has done.
Overall: James Tynion, Sam Johns, and Mirka Andolfo deliver on all the potential that Punchline #1 had and more. The story not only provides us with the full origin of Punchline but also showcasing how she is a villain as dangers as Joker. In addition, this one-shot further sets the stage for where the Batman franchise will be when March 2021 rolls around. For Batman fans this is definitely a must-buy as we get more into where Gotham City is in the post-Joker War world.
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