I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been keeping up with the current Batman titles (and haven’t since Tom King’s run on the title ended last year), but with all of the hype over “The Joker War” storyline, I thought it may be a good time to return.
Luckily, the story begins with a flashback to the early days of the Batman/Joker conflict which established the cat and mouse game that has existed between these characters for the better part of 80 years. Writer James Tynion IV captures the essence of the conflict on these opening three pages, and the result is a promising start.
From there, new readers are quickly brought up to speed (with a car chase scene of course) when we learn that Bruce Wayne has been outed for financing Batman, and it appears that he has lost most of his resources and Wayne Enterprises to the Joker. The financial sabotage of Bruce Wayne is a unique story thread since Joker is the last villain you would be expect to attack Batman through the stock market, but it also does drift a bit from the characterization of the Joker as an agent of chaos.
The more interesting, apropos part of The Joker’s scheme involves a further tip of the hat to Batman’s origin with connections to a fateful theatrical presentation, which will certainly pique the interests of long-time fans.
As far as his fellow conspirators, Joker is accompanied by the new break-out villain Punchline, and her battle with the Bat is the highlight of the comic in terms of artist Jorge Jimenez’ work. Jimenez’ take on many of the characters echoes recent work by Greg Capullo (with a hint of Todd McFarlane as well), but the fight scenes is where his work shines, and is the most creative. One half-page shot of Batman’s realization that he may be “out-of-sorts’ (which also hearkened back to some Neal Adams facial expressions) is juxtaposed with a gleeful Punchline watching the plan unfold on the opposite side of the page, as the bottom half of the page becomes the next scene; a splash page that allows for the story to progress as well.
The fight scene with Punchline is also where the Dark Knight gets a full glimpse of the bright baby-blue Batsuit, and he seems mighty surprised by it (the same way many fans were). It does seem a bit shoe-horned into the story (especially because it is revealed so early), but being the first issue of the new story arc, we’ll have to reserve judgment for now.
Less impressive is the appearance of The Underbroker, who resembles many villains from Batman’s past. The new henchman is basically another bad guy in a pinstriped suit with a mask, and while additions to Batman’s rogue’s gallery are welcomed. While the same can be said of Punchline (a not to subtle knock-off of Harley Quinn), visually the character stands out, and other than the clown-style touches on her face, you would never confuse the two. The Underbroker does not seem like a character that will be able to carve out a spot, unless more is in store for him later in the series.
As far as opening salvos go, Batman #95 is a bit underwhelming, which is strange for a comic with so much action. Perhaps the problem has more to do with pacing than anything else, as the story would be better served with a little more set-up and exposition. With a number of cross-overs and four more chapters on the way, these issues may be resolved, but they did seem out-of-place for a quick off of a major event in the lives of Batman and The Joker.