Sunday, 19 November 2017

Batman, Volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles Review (Tom King, Mikel Janin)

The Joker’s lost his sense of humour and he’d kill to get it back - specifically Batman but also anyone standing in his way. Like The Riddler, whose ego won’t allow anyone else to take down Batman but him. And so the two go head to head in all-out war on the Gotham streets, roping in every villain in town in Batman, Volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles.

I’ve been surprisingly enjoying Tom King’s Batman run a lot though I’ve also been waiting to see how long it’ll be before he writes his first less-than-gravy Batman book - and here it is with The War of Jokes and Riddles which is mediocre at best. The story was full of too many plotholes for me to really get into. 

First of all, the framing device is Bruce telling Selina this story of his past in the present - why? Because he wants her to know this terrible thing he did before she marries him. Except we have to wait until the next book to find out what that thing is, which is very unsatisfying. 

Secondly, WHY is this set in the past? And not just the past, but the very earliest days of Batman’s career. Bruce dates the story at one point saying “And I was a year away from kicking a tree”, referencing that famous panel from Year One. But everything from Batman’s outfit, his fame, the setup, the villains, feel far too established to be this early on in the Batman mythos. A few years into Batman’s career maybe but even one year down the line from his first appearance doesn’t seem at all convincing. I don’t know why this couldn’t have been set in the present - setting it this far back in the past just throws up too many questions! 

And, besides Joker and Riddler’s flimsy motivations for going to war against each other in the first place, why do nearly all of Batman’s rogues (again, accumulated far too many for such a supposedly short stretch of time!) all get involved - why not just sit back and watch Joker and Riddler kill each other? There’s no motivation for any of them to pick a particular side, let alone go to war in the first place! 

Then there’s Kite Man. I kinda like that he’s been this bizarre running joke throughout Tom King’s Batman series but here he gets the full secret origin treatment with such a weirdly serious tone too! Did Tom King lose a bet or something? I mean, why else do we get this many pages devoted to this one-note character? It wouldn’t be bad if Kite Man were interesting but he’s as rubbish as he’s ever been and his origin was tedious to read. 

Things get way out of hand in Gotham before the Feds step in which is another stupid detail and Riddler’s question mark scar was a bit naff too. 

But there was stuff I liked here. It’s interesting to see a mirthless, grimacing Joker for a change and King writes him really well. Same goes for Riddler - in fact, King might’ve written the best version of Riddler ever in this book! Many of the riddles are clever and funny. The nine-course dinner scene, though pointless, was cool. Mikel Janin’s art has never looked better either. The book is visually spectacular and Janin draws Batman, Joker and Riddler as superbly as King writes them. Janin definitely elevates King’s patchy script up from a crap book to a middling one. 

I didn’t hate The War of Jokes and Riddles but it’s very flawed. If you’ve been enjoying King’s Batman as much as I have, don’t expect the same high level of quality with this weak fourth volume.

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