SYNOPSIS: THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” part five! It’s tough to beat the two biggest puzzlemakers in the world at their own game, and Batman’s gambits have only pulled him deeper into the moral quagmire where the Riddler and The Joker do their dirty work. All of Gotham City hangs in the balance as Batman faces the ultimate conundrum: are brainteasers better than belly laughs?
"The War of Jokes and Riddles" adds another knockout chapter with writer Tom King's BATMAN #31, which I finally read after soaking in its awesome covers by Mikel Janín and Tim Sale. (They're both incredible, but Sale will always be my sentimental favorite.) We begin with The Joker tormenting a hostage in a Gotham City high-rise, and it's a pretty hard scene to take. The villain's usual style doesn't make him any less vile, but a Joker who's forgotten how to laugh is particularly nasty. Nothing's even a joke to this guy anymore, no matter how many people he kills to try to make it so.
As Batman and The Riddler bicker outside about how best to breach The Joker's lair, Batman's agent scales the skyscraper on a reconnaissance mission. You'll guess the climber based on how Riddler asks who it is, but that doesn't make Janín's next-page reveal any less breathtaking. It's a nice way to segue back into the Bruce/Selina present-day scenes that have been a bit infrequent with all the interludes of late, and regardless of the time period we see them in, the heat between them is outrageous, both in the words and in the art.
For all the misery heaped on Kite-Man these past few weeks, he plays a pivotal (and often fist-pumping) role here, and it's more than earned. (He also got a great laugh out of me by asking a certain question of one of Edward Nygma's henchmen.) Janín renders the moment in widescreen glory, culminating in a big showdown in a tight space. Batman's method of narrowing the meeting down to the necessary personnel is unique and specific in a way that's really satisfying, setting the stage for the reveal of whatever shameful action Bruce has been dancing around for several issues in his present-day scenes with Selina.
Furthermore, we get a little more insight into how she answered the question he popped in issue #24. All along, I've thought she clearly said "yes." I still think she did, though that's not quite as clear to me as it once was. Either way, it won't be long until we find out.
King's writing is superb. Batman's clearly done with all of this, but he's biting his tongue to play the game. The Riddler crams brain-teasers into every conversation; The Joker's always looking for a joke. And the art remains impeccable! June Chung's rich colors bring a realistic and sophisticated sheen to Janín's handsome pencils and inks, and The Joker's snarls in particular have never looked more terrifying.
I'm not sure that something with this much nastiness could be called "fun," but this issue (like its predecessors) is just so nimble and assured in the ways in which it entertains. (There's kind of a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE vibe to a lot of the proceedings.)
Payoffs are proper, stages get set, and the answers to many of our big questions are loaded, locked, and ready to rock across the pages of issue #32 (in just two weeks)! This remains one of the finest Batman stories I've read in years, and I can't recommend it highly enough. - John Bierly
John Bierly still can't believe he gets to write for BOF.
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