SYNOPSIS: “THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” part four! War is hell. Unless it’s in Gotham City, where it’s so much worse. The clash between The Joker and the Riddler continues to escalate, with the rest of the city’s villains picking sides and joining in. In the midst of the battle, Batman must try to save whoever he can while knowing he will forever be haunted by those he can’t.
After a surprisingly personal (and deeply affecting) detour into Kite Man's origin in issue #27, "The War of Jokes and Riddles" rages anew in the pages of BATMAN #28. And why is it so good? Because no matter how big the story gets, writer Tom King knows how to highlight the humanity of the battle's combatants and victims, and how the bloodshed affects Batman's heart.
The issue begins with a return to the framing device of Bruce Wayne telling Selina Kyle the tale of this grisly chapter in Gotham's history. (And the fact that they're together at all, and in bed, no less, seems like an awfully big hint to how she answered his question in issue #24, right?) There's an awesome conversation between Batman and Gordon about how Gotham has fallen before, and it's up to them to catch it and raise it back up. Both The Riddler and The Joker have requested an audience with Gordon, and their differing means of contacting him are not only quintessentially Riddler and Joker but also deeply disturbing.
When Bruce gets to a part of the story that involves Catwoman, King writes that chunk of the past/present conversation with breezy romance and heartfelt humor before yanking the rug out from under us with a brutal gut-punch: Deathstroke and Deadshot are locked in a five-day showdown that begins with wits, devolves into weapons, and couldn't care less how many innocent civilians die in the process.
Many have made a big deal about Batman's role in the conflict's resolution, but I love it. Read the ending again. Consider how deeply hurt Batman has been throughout this arc by the senseless bloodshed, and remember how he always makes it personal by citing the names and reciting the lives of the fallen. He absolutely would have (and absolutely could have) finished it this way, and the devastating dialogue he has with Gordon on the final page is just one more reason why this story is working so well for me. It's real. And it hurts. I'm still nauseous from the final few lines.
And a big part of why this continues to work so well is artist Mikel Janín, whose handsome lines are brought harshly and heroically to life by June Chung's gorgeous colors. There's an incredible two-page montage of Batman rescuing civilians from rubble and flame as Deadshot and Deathstroke battle on, and (as many have pointed out) a pair of panels that would make an awesome poster for all the Deadshot/Deathstroke fans out there.
"The War of Jokes and Riddles" could easily have been a silly villain free-for-all. But Tom King's dedication to keeping it grounded in Batman's human reaction has been the key to making this one great. I'm thrilled to be enjoying this much, and I hope you are, too. - 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.