Batman’s got a dirty little secret. Okay, a dirty, big secret — one that the official DC synopsis for Batman #25 describes as “his greatest failure.” Damn. I’m sure Jason Todd might take umbrage with that, but color me intrigued. And before Batman marries Catwoman (he proposed to Selina at the end of last issue), he needs to get said secret off his chest.
Thus begins “The War of Jokes and Riddles” story arc in Batman #25, courtesy of writer Tom King and artist Mikel Janin. Is it good?
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin
Publisher: DC Comics
Riddle me this: What is the Joker without laughter?
That’s the conundrum the Riddler seeks to solve as the Joker begins a killing spree across Gotham. Though erratic murder is nothing new for the agent of chaos, King lends an unusual sense of intrigue to the slaughter as the Joker’s intentions are obfuscated by a distinct lack of his trademark sense of humor. That’s right, the Clown Prince of Crime doesn’t laugh once during this issue, nor does he crack even a hint of a smile — and it’s this peculiarity (combined with an equally disorienting introduction) that makes Batman #25 so intriguing from the jump.
Joker’s sudden mood change serves as the impetus for the Riddler’s engagement, who starts the issue incarcerated; we learn through Batman’s retrospective narration that the GCPD has been using the Riddler to help solve enigmatic (pun) crimes, which he’s been compliant with until they present him with the Joker’s latest case; something about the Joker’s actions pique his interest and through the Riddler’s eventual prison break King gives us not only a display of the character’s customary mental acuity but one of surprisingly commensurate physical brutality as well.
This all culminates in a bad-ass showdown between the Joker and the Riddler that in true King fashion, answers a few questions — and generates a whole lot more. King’s love for Batman’s rogues gallery has been evident throughout his run and now that he’s been given access to the heavy hitters, he hasn’t disappointed — his characterization for both the Joker and the Riddler is top-notch and he’s only scratched the surface.
Mikel Janin’s artwork is rock solid as always. There’s never a dull page with him on art duty, thanks to his clever panel composition, immersive backgrounds and richly detailed characters with impressive physiognomy. His Joker, although sporting a perpetual frown instead of his usual rictus grin, is reminiscent of Brian Bolland’s from The Killing Joke — tall, gaunt and terrifying. June Chung’s colors also add rich atmosphere to scenes such as the opening, where dark shadows cast the perfect air of ominousness on a usually cheerful comedy stage or later when a building on a quiet, sunny day is suddenly engulfed with searing orange-red flames.
Is It Good?
Batman #25 is a fine first installment to the “War of Jokes and Riddles” arc. The stage has been set for a battle of epic proportions between two of Batman’s deadliest foes — and even though we’ve seen so little, the conflict between them promises to be every bit as powerful a the desperate measures Batman will be forced to take. Recommended.