SYNOPSIS: “THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” part two! The Riddler and The Joker escalate their bloody feud, and the villains of Gotham City are forced to choose sides or be caught in the crossfire! It’s up to Batman to push himself to the limit and keep innocent citizens out of harm’s way.
Tom King continues "The War of Jokes and Riddles" with a second installment that encapsulates everything he's done right with this book since the beginning.
It's the end of Bruce Wayne's first year in the cape and cowl, and The Riddler and The Joker are at war. Edward Nygma relishes the fight, while the Clown Prince of Crime still can't remember how to smile or laugh after being foiled so many times by Batman.
But just because The Joker's sullen, it doesn't mean he isn't surly. Issue #26 presents some of the nastiest crimes the villain has ever committed, and they're made even more senseless and hollow by his utter indifference to the depravity. He's in the game, but he can't relish it. Yet.
The Riddler, meanwhile, is having the time of his life, recruiting a fellow redheaded rogue in a magnificently illustrated walk in the park that refuses to be interrupted by a Falcone hit squad's efforts to take Eddie out. Mikel Janín's handsome pencils and inks come alive under June Chung's vibrant colors as The Roman's boys (sent by their boss under duress from The Joker) learn the hard way what happens when pistols meet powers.
From innocent suburban victims to bad guys who get killed by badder guys, Bruce Wayne's narration paints every lost life with a few skillful words that tell us everything we need to know about the fallen, and everything we need to know about how deeply the deaths affect Batman. We already know from last issue that Batman did something extreme to end the war, and King is already easing us into accepting whatever it is by so deftly showing us Bruce's emotional state. (And I love Janín's first-year Batman. Gray belt, big black symbol. Looks fantastic. He and Chung does a good Gordon, too.)
There's a really cool nod to Jack Napier's back-alley facelift from BATMAN '89, with King capably referencing many iterations of The Caped Crusader as Batman tells the tale. Other art highlights include an action beat featuring Batman with an ax and a magnificent eight-panel portrait series of The Joker trying to smile. Even when his mouth is in the right shape, his eyes just aren't feeling it, and there isn't enough praise on the planet for how perfectly Janín portrays it.
(And I still maintain that the book's framing device is a subtle but sure answer to the big question that just sent issue #24 back to its fourth printing.)
For years, I said to myself, "Woe is the writer who follows Scott Snyder." But Tom King has nothing to worry about. And thanks to his fabulous storytelling, neither do we. - John Bierly
John Bierly still can't believe he gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.