Not only did Batman join forces with the Riddler to turn the tide of the “War of Jokes & Riddles” in the last issue of Batman — but, lucky us, we got to see it all through Kite-Man’s eyes — in what was another impassioned, stirring addition to the Ballad of Kite-Man.
Batman #31 sees Batman and the Riddler’s squad looking to deliver the coup de grace to the remaining Joker forces: namely, the Joker himself. One-sided as that may seem, this is the Joker we’re talking about. And considering we still have one more issue to go before “The War” is over, something tells me the Clown Prince of Crime is in the running to pull off a Pyrrhic victory…
The issue begins with the Joker holed up in the Gotham tower where the whole war started. All Batman and the Riddler et al. have to do is storm the gates and take him by force, right? Not quite.
“Traps on the roof, the elevators, the stairwells,” Batman cautions the Riddler as they scout from an opposing rooftop. “Can’t go up. Can’t come from up to go down.”
The Riddler answers with the following query:
I’m a big fan of the Riddler’s stint as a private investigator during Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics and the Scott Snyder New 52 one-shot, so the vibe here as he and Batman cogitate and mind-grapple is similarly gratifying. Writer Tom King keeps the two allies-by-necessity’s dialogue appropriately complex but crisp enough to the point it never irks.
Mikel Janin’s pencils/inks and June Chung’s colors impress as well. Like I said in my review of Batman #25, Janin’s Joker, although sporting a menacing glower instead of his trademark rictus grin, is “reminiscent of Brian Bolland’s from The Killing Joke,” — a tall, gaunt, terrifying fiend. Chung’s colors give life to his disheveled, acid-green hair; his ruby-painted lips; his emerald green eyes teeming with enmity; his pale face pervaded with malefic rugosities.
The Riddler too is a striking figure. As if to fill the void left by Joker’s lack of crazed euphoria, he’s always seen sporting the exact sort of smug smirk you’d expect an asshole of his extremely intelligent caliber to have. Only he’s no longer a poster child for physical frailty or some spider-limbed Jim Carrey with Marfan Syndrome. As has been the case since the arc’s inception he carries the look of some sinewy Irish mobster/Michael Fassbender conflation and it makes his markedly improved physical prowess in this issue all the more believable when he tangles with the Joker one-on-one.
Which of course, keeping in mind King’s efforts to make this “the Riddler’s version of The Killing Joke,” means Joker doesn’t walk away from this issue in commensurately formidable form. Although it’s unfair to judge entirely until we see what King does with the character in the final issue next time around, the Joker hasn’t been much more in this arc than a more frustrated and banal version of what we’re used to — still murderous, but lacking the usual air of capriciousness and bizarre awareness that makes him seem that much more dangerous. Of course, contrasted with the Riddler, who has claimed to have “figured the Joker out” in previous issues, this is surely part of King’s purpose; although it still seems strange to see the Joker relegated to telling stale jokes and getting his ass handed to him without any recompense or end game in sight.
Did I mention Kite Man coasts his way into this issue in a significant way, though? Because he does. And it reinforces everything we’ve seen Tom King do to bolster the guy’s standing in Batman’s rogues gallery and then some.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but this is yet another excellent installment in “The War of Jokes & Riddles,” one whose final page ends on such a gripping note that you’ll be fiending for the same Bat-time, same Bat-maestro in very short order. And best of all? We get to see if Catwoman says “yes” to Batman’s marriage proposal next time around in the wake of Batman’s startling revelation.