My favorite installment of “The War of Jokes & Riddles” saga so far hasn’t been the one where the Joker shot the Riddler point-blank in the gut; or the one where Deadshot and Deathstroke fought for five days straight; or the one where the Joker, Riddler and their respective gangs of super-criminals sat down for a seven-course meal with Bruce Wayne.
Not that they weren’t good. They were. It’s just, the best issue so far in “The War” has been all about d-list Batman villain turned recurring underdog, Kite Man. And in Batman #30: we’re getting more Kite Man. Hell yeah?
In my review of Batman #27, I said that writer Tom King had given us “Kite Man’s Killing Joke. A definitive Kite-Man opus.” What a tough act to follow that’ll be, I thought. If King were reading my mind at that exact moment, he’d have said, “I’m just getting started, son.”
Here he drifts us (last kiting analogy, I promise) through a series of (what else?) Kite Man trouncings. The sequences are a lot of fun, for us anyways; maybe not so much for KM, through whose lens we scope Batman’s resounding victories, encounters oftentimes consisting of only a few panels of abrupt, forceful action. They’re reminiscent of the docks scene in Batman Begins where we track Batman tearing through Falcone’s thugs; one-by-one they’re picked off by a Batman that appears out of nowhere, a force of nature that suddenly appears from the shadows to drag you kicking and screaming back to the void. That same vibe is evoked here, only with a slightly more comical bent thanks to Kite Man. We know the inevitable outcome of these encounters and so do Kite Man and his teammates: “I’ve fought/Batman. He hit me/In the face. Do you/Know how much/That hurts?” fellow D-list Batman villains Tweedledee and Tweedleedum relate to Kite Man in alternating tandem regarding their upcoming reconnaissance mission. Later when Kite Man flies a well-known Batman villain into battle, the sequence is disrupted hilariously by a single Batarang. The biggest bombshell revealed through these scenes however, is that Batman has chosen a side in “The War of Jokes & Riddles.” And it’s a clear-cut turning point.
The scenes also present an interesting dichotomy; while Kite Man becomes the Batman equivalent of a Crash Test Tummy over and over again you’ll feel for him more than anyone else in this story. Especially since all the action sequences are punctuated by a poignant flashback conversation between Kite Man and his son (who we learn the Riddler killed in Batman #27).
“Mommy was talking on the phone, I don’t know to who. And she said… Well, Mommy said you’re a joke,” is where the conversation begins.
“Your mother didn’t mean that like it sounded. It’s fine,” KM responds, the narration boxes superimposed on an image of him unconscious in a Gotham City lake after his latest drubbing.
“It sounded like you’re a joke. Is mommy a liar?”
“I mean, she didn’t– she’s not a liar, no. Okay, sometimes I am, I guess. I play with kites too much. And your mom… she does a lot of stuff for you. So maybe she’s right.”
“You are a joke, daddy?”
“Yeah, fine. I’m a joke.”
The egregious self-deprecation is enough to break your heart. I mean, damn — at one point, Kite Man even compares himself to Sisyphus from Greek myth. But by issue’s end, King diverts this pathos into something of a rallying cry. Like Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, who said “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you,” you’ll come to appreciate KM’s unyielding persistence and redirection of negative energy — despite the insurmountable odds stacked against him.
But the odds are still stacked. And even though the ending offers a glimmer of hope, King still owes us one more issue featuring Kite Man with a little more opportunity for redemption. That being said, a lot takes place in this issue and the war sees a decisive winner; at least, that’s what it definitely seems like.
The pencils from Clay Mann are solid as always, bolstered more strikingly than ever by colorist Jordie Bellaire. From the luster of Kite Man’s magenta-colored visor to the ice-blue palette of a ruptured water main drenching a dejected, hair-matted, glasses-fogged Ventriloquist to the Joker making a rousing speech in a glistening, sequined blazer on the stage of his deserted Laugh Factory hideout — there are plenty of beautiful pages within.
Is It Good?
Batman #30 is filled with action, humor, heartache, pathos and poignancy — all through the viewpoint of a character six months ago we’d all have scoffed at Tom King for even thinking of enlivening. But he does it. And adds what will surely go down as another classic to his Batman run. #KiteMansKillingJoke