Bonjour, mes amis. Êtes-vous prêt à dîner avec Batman, le Joker et le Riddler?
Writer Tom King is on his Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast game in Batman #29 — inviting us to a nine-course French dinner with Joker on one side of the table, Riddler on the other and Bruce Wayne and Alfred stuck in the middle. Bon appetit.
Need more preliminary info? Check out our exclusive preview of Batman #29:
A nine course meal with all your worst enemies in one place? Seems counterintuitive, but let Bruce Wayne explain: “In my youth, my mother used to say, ‘When all is lost, have dinner,'” he narrates, still relating in retrospect the harrowing events of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” to Catwoman.
After the events of last issue, which saw Deadshot and Deathstroke rampage through Gotham in a five day sniper-duel-turned-melee-bloodbath, sixty-two innocents killed in the crossfire, “all is lost” might even be an understatement.
Throughout King’s entire run, we’ve barely seen Batman bat an eyelash under pressure — not when commandeering failing 747s; not when javelin tossing 9’2″, 971 pound Solomon Grundy; not when taking a beating that would have tenderized Rocky Balboa from Venom-enraged Bane or self-chiropractic jerking his own broken vertebrae back into place — but the conclusion of Batman #28 saw just that: Batman “losing it” when he finally caught up with the two mercenaries and put a stop to their rampage by beating Deadshot into a coma.
But back to the breaking of bread. Yes, instead of brooding on the rising death toll taking place in Gotham — Bruce decides to take his mother’s advice and keep his enemies very close. “‘Not [just] eating,'” he says, continuing with Martha’s instruction. “‘The art of eating. The art of sitting at a table and taking time to understand your food. To understand the company with whom you’ve chosen to to share this food.” Batman #29 is all about understanding (or attempting to understand) Batman’s company: the Joker and the Riddler. It’s both character study and a deconstruction, and an amusing one at that. But much like other dinner-centric narratives — My Dinner with Andre comes to mind — you’ll get out of the dinner what you put into it. Much like Andre, Batman #29 is sure to be divisive — either you’ll fall asleep within the first ten minutes or you’ll be enraptured. The topics at hand are different than Andre‘s of course. Here we get discourse on what it’s like to watch a man in his final moments after having his head severed from his body; what each villain will do to Batman once they defeat him; evaluations of what each respective villain truly represents.
I said in my review of Batman #27 that King wants this story arc to aggrandize Riddler into a marquee status Batman villain and we’re given our biggest tastes of that thus far; in the mental grappling that takes place between the Riddler and the Joker from opposite ends of the table, it’s the Riddler that seems to be the more self-assured and unfazed. (Which will surely affect which side Batman chooses to take next installment.) “You see, I solve puzzles. And what’s a bigger puzzle than the Joker? So I solved him,” the Riddler says at one point during Course Sixieme, the Salad Course. “Under that facade of yours, you’re just a plain, normal man.” Damn. The last time Joker got burned that bad he was tumbling over railings at Ace Chemicals.
For an issue that takes place entirely at a dinner table, artist Mikel Janin and colorist June Chung still manage to slay on art. There are some beautiful sequences, most notably the black and white flashbacks that punctuate certain highlights of conversation: an image of the Joker crouched over a decapitated man’s head, rictus grin etched upon his face; or a double-page spread with a focal point of Batman leaping into the night, cape billowing behind him, flanked on either side by portraits of the Joker and Riddler envisioning backdrop of their various defeats at the Dark Knight’s hands.
If you’re looking for action, this issue isn’t going to be your cup of cafe (served in the neuvieme, or ninth course, for those of you keeping track at home). But if you want something different from your expectations — which surely weren’t My Dinner with Andre Batman-style — give this issue a try. There are sure to be some fans irate over this issue for again skipping over actual battle scenes between each respective faction; fans who nitpick how it’s possible that both the Joker and Riddler’s forces could sit in the same room without gunning each other into Gotham Cemetary (or for that matter, walk down the same set of steps at the end of the night); but I laud King for his compellingly peculiar approach because we’ve seen all that other stuff before. And besides that, we’re still only halfway through the arc — there’s plenty of time for all-out war in the grand finale.
Is It Good?
“‘If you do it right–‘ And by right she meant proper, prepared, practiced — ‘If you do it right, it can save you.'” Though unconventional and more leisurely paced than some might expect for a war — King and Janin come prepared and correct with Batman #29 and deliver another strong installment in the “War of Jokes and Riddles.”