Review: Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


We know James Tynion can write a good Batman; we’ve seen him do it in his dynamic Detective Comics and also in the entertaining start to his Batman run, “Their Dark Designs.” But Tynion’s supposed event comic Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War over-promises and under-delivers, failing to live up to more than a few “Joker War”-type stories that preceded it.

I wouldn’t fault Joker War for being more psychological and less action-packed than I expected — it’s got a fairly good mix of both — but there’s not a lot here that feels new, different, or special, whether repeating beats we’ve already seen from other writers or from Tynion himself. Joker War is not the gauntlet thrown that even the story itself seems to think it is, but I’m hopeful that now that Tynion has the pieces where he wants them, there’s good stuff on the way more in the mold of Dark Designs.

[Review contains spoilers]

Under the auspices of Joker War, we are meant to understand that, with the help of Bruce Wayne’s stolen fortune, the Joker has thoroughly decimated Gotham City’s infrastructure to the point where things will never be the same — chaos, Bat-planes raining fire from the sky, violent vigilantes popping up to take Batman’s place. This, I can get behind — all too often we do find Gotham becoming a cheery place where Bruce Wayne’s cutting ribbons and Jim Gordon’s got a cadre of trusty cops behind him, and a “No Man’s Land”-style razing doesn’t hurt anything, putting some of the challenge back into being Batman. If I understand correctly that one of Tynion’s goals is to expand the landscape of Batman characters — Punchline, Clownhunter, Underbroker, Ghostmaker, and so on — this seems a fine platform on which to do it.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Part of the problem, however, is that most of that “war” happens off camera, in which we’re told Gotham City has all gone to hell but we don’t actually see it. Instead, we follow Batman, largely away from the action, as he’s knocked unconscious and revived by Harley Quinn not once, but twice, not to mention the dream sequences, such that Batman doesn’t actually seriously join this book until the fifth of six chapters. Problematically, there was just an epic “Gotham overrun by a super-villain” story not two trades ago, Tom King’s Batman: City of Bane, in which we did get a visceral sense of on-the-ground life in Gotham-gone-bad; compared, for instance, to what Bane’s minions did to Harvey Bullock, that the interim commissioner gets in one small tiff with the mayor is a merely a papercut.

Equally, at the late point in which the story gets moving, we see Batman summon his Bat-family and apologize for having pushed them all away out of grief over Alfred’s death in City of Bane. Again, we’re being told what we never saw; there was nary a mention of the family in Batman Vol. 1: Their Dark Designs nor even has Batman refused to summon the Bat-family in Tynion’s story previously, and yet when he finally does so it’s meant to be a revelation. I’m a fan of a crowd scene as much as anyone, and Tynion gets in his applause moments with Dick “Ric” Grayson suiting back up as Nightwing, Batgirl Barbara Gordon filling in as Oracle, and Orphan nee Batgirl Cassandra Cain wearing the ears again, so it seems. But Batman pushing his family away and bringing them back is a trope, one we’ve seen plenty times before, and this light version of it works no better than the light version of Gotham under siege.

And finally, let’s acknowledge that a Joker story is a difficult thing to tell these days. If it’s not the Joker killing a Robin, stealing a nuclear bomb, and shooting a Batgirl, then it’s the Joker stealing all of Gotham’s babies and murdering Jim Gordon’s wife, not to mention the time it looked like he’d cut all the Bat-family’s faces off, and then he severed Alfred’s hand and Batman had to about die to stop him. So Tynion enters a crowded field, and unfortunately what he comes up with hardly makes a Joker “war” — lure Batman to the Monarch theater to fight some corpses (zombified well by artist Jorge Jimenez), lure him to Axis Chemicals to fight Alfred’s corpse (really) and a suited-up Joker, line up a chemical attack that the Bat-family easily disarms. There’s some suggestion in the end that all of this was really prelude to some other Joker scheme down the line, but given how this story went, that sentiment is frustrating rather than enticing.

Harley Quinn plays a strikingly outsized role in Joker War; one is given to think that it’s a good thing Harley’s around, as Batman doesn’t have much capacity to save himself here. This continues through to the end, where Harley’s directing Batman’s actions to the point that it seems for a moment she boxes him in to letting the Joker die. I like Harley, and I like her in her own title, and I liked her joining a team of Batman’s otherwise-classic villains in Dark Designs. But having her in the background of a Bat-family reunion feels like perhaps more Harley than we need, and further that Harley seems to know better than the title character here is too much (not to mention another Harley/Punchline fight, not terribly different than the one in the last volume, which is far less entertaining than either Tynion or someone in DC marketing thinks it is).



I should say that it’s not as though there’s anything terribly awry in James Tynion’s Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War, and were it the first of its kind rather than one in a series, it might be judged differently. Further, given that “Joker War” is a crossover, it’s entirely possible that some of the context that Joker War needs is found in one of its tie-in books. But on its own merits, Joker War is not much of a war, more of a skirmish, from a writer who I know can do better and from whom I wouldn’t be surprised to see better next time around.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 6 )

  1. I was equally surprised that Batman just kind of takes a time-out for 3 or 4 issues in the middle of this to hang out with Harley. Those issues feel like the side-story to a big event rather than main event itself.

    1. I know, right? It's a weird story. I'm curious to read the Detective Comics volume to see how much that adds to it, but it'd be equally weird to see Peter Tomasi filling in the gaps missing from someone else's event story.

  2. I agree that they shouldn't have done this story so soon after City of Bane. It just felt exhausting to see Gotham turn into a dystopia run by a super-villain for the second time in less than a year.

    However, having read the Future State books and the latest issues of Batman and Detective Comics, I can appreciate that this arc was a launching pad for a lot of important stuff, especially the anti-vigilante sentiment that's taking over Gotham.

    1. That's what I'm hoping — the set-up was forced, but Tynion will be on good ground once he's got his status quo in place.

      Also, I don't believe his run was originally supposed to go past #100, so maybe that's why it feels like both Dark Designs and Joker War ended on "it'll be OK" notes, as if to hand the reins to the next team ... again, maybe things will be different with the next volume.

    2. Yeah, I've heard that rumor too -- that Tynion's Batman was going to be a, for all intents, fill-in run until the 5G Relaunch. Then COVID-19 and DiDio's ouster happened and everything at DC got upended.

      Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. But I agree that now that Tynion's resolved the status quo King gifted him with, and with the setup laid down in Future State, this hopefully should get more interesting.

  3. Totally agree with your review and the comments. I thought the artwork was fantastic, but the story was disjointed and Batman was almost a side player in the whole thing. The trope about not accepting the Bat family was also sprung on the reader with no real build up. Again, it was almost like a let's hit these story beats kind of thing....Oracle returns...check....Nightwing returns....check......Batgirls return.....check.....Joker is blatant about knowing Bruce's identity...check. The climax was expository...and sort of anticlimactic. It's always great to see Batman torn down to bare basics....being the underdog.....and then rising up. We've seen that from Morrison, Snyder, King, and now Tynion. I've read it twice now, and still have mixed feelings about this story....I think the first story arc was so much's hoping the next one after this plays back to Tynion's strength's as a writer.


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