I am on a huge Batman kick right now. It's actually what got me back into blogging. Everything Batman. Movies, games and of course comics. I visited my local shop and was pleasantly surprised to learn about a comic book sale. They had dropped prices for just about everything for "tax refund day." It was then and there I decided to jump back in to the stream. I bought as many "Batman: Rebirth" issues as I could afford. (Rebirth is the most up-to-date run of Batman for those of you that didn't know). So here I am delving into the newest Batman, I started with the hardcover binding of Batman 25-32 which is called "The War of Jokes and Riddles."
After seemingly cranking through it in less than a week. (After just finishing Hush I wanted to see nothing but Bat/Cat Romance), I was fairly pleased with the current run and was glad that I dropped $50 on all the remaining issues...and I'm glad I started a pull list.
It seems like Batman is in good hands, with the art looking fresh, crisp and on point. The stories capture the Batman tone, with a perfect blend of detective work, complex emotions tragedy and loony villainy. "The War of Jokes and Riddles" captured all of these (with one glaring flaw, more on that later).
Batman has just proposed to Catwoman. We open our story to a flashback. Batman has been in Gotham for about a year into his crusade. Things are starting to settle in place with one exception. The Joker has lost his laugh. Mista J has been wandering around town "experimenting with humor" trying to laugh again...at the expense of Gotham civilians. Meanwhile, the Riddler recognizes that the Joker will eventually come to the conclusion that killing Batman is the solution. Riddler confronts Joker and calls dibs on Batman. Joker shoots him and war ensues. The entirety of the Rogues Gallery are recruited in an all-out war to kill each other... or face retribution from 2 serial killers. Gotham Citizens, during this war, are caught in the crosshairs, as the maniacs have no regard for their life.
Batman tells this story to Catwoman, hinting at some conclusion to this war that drastically impacts his character and reveals to Selina why she should carefully reconsider his marriage proposal.
I felt that the story was more different than anything we've ever seen before. I thoroughly disagree with the story itself (see op-ed below), but I enjoyed how the story was told (if that makes sense). The art was great and the characterizations on point.
The story throws canon through an absolute loop. Batman tells an extreme story where hundreds...and I mean hundreds of Gotham civilians are killed. The reason for the sheer number of deaths all tie to the finale of the arc in the final confrontation between the Bat, Riddler and the Joker and justifies why a certain event takes place.
The telling of this story was well done in terms of tone and the writing team tasked with handling Batman: Rebirth seem to have it figured out. However, I thoroughly disagree with the plot of this story, its larger than life scenario is way outside the realms of a typical Batman story and thus has missed the mark. In an attempts to create shock value and character development, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. Is the Batman mythos ruined? Probably not, fan will likely set this story aside as a oddity in their collection and carry on reading Batman: Rebirth.
-Critical Spoilers - Click to Expand -
In the end, it's revealed that Riddler orchestrated the War in order to solve the riddle: How to make the Joker laugh. It was all an elaborate gambit at the expense of Gotham.
Batman is enraged and tells Riddler he could kill him any time he wanted. Riddler says he won't. Due to the weight of numerous deaths, Batman takes up a knife and moves in to deliberately kill Ridder...and the Joker stops his blade with his bare hands. Which he thinks is hilarious. In the end, The Joker is responsible for preserving Batman's value of life and prevented an irreversible mistake. Bruce tells Selina that he's is who is because of a lunatic. Selina doesn't care and she says yes to his proposal.
I felt that the ending was interesting and adds a new layer to the Joker/Batman dynamic. I think a lot of people were upset with this ending especially because it doesn't seem to fit the Batman mythology. This layer screws with tons and TONS of canon. See op-ed below.
Op-Ed: War of Jokes and Riddles
The writers of Batman: Rebirth have devalued the preciousness of innocent life and trampled on canon.
Regardless of the ending, I don't think the sheer volume of deaths is justified. We're talking about HUNDREDs of people dying in the arc alone. I don't think the writers stopped to consider the implications. Or maybe they did. If they did, I disagree with their decision.
By killing scores of people SO EARLY in Batman's career, you bring on questions for later. If hundreds of people died in the first year alone, why hasn't the government taken significant action? Or why haven't other heroes acted? More, importantly, the deaths following The War are far less dramatic as a result. Oh Joker shot a family? That's nothing compared to what he did a few years ago.
This also messes with canon. The body count makes Batman's restraint to kill homicidal maniacs a harder pill to swallow, despite the intentions of the climax. I don’t think the resolution of this arc was worth the rewrite of the entirety of Batman’s history. Now when I go back and re-read every Batman story, considering what Joker did to Batman will always weigh on my mind. I'm sure there will be stories that if you re-read now, will make no sense due to the conclusion of War of Jokes and Riddles.
Circling back, I need to reiterate that the writers have carelessly devalued people’s lives in Gotham. By killing so many nameless people, deaths in comics are less of a tragedy and more of a happenstance. It feels like now, the writers aim for ridiculous body counts as a means of shock value, when actually the opposite occurs.
In Batman: Venom, Batman’s grief over the loss of ONE LIFE is so severe that he takes personality altering super drugs, despite the ramifications. Because of the canon-altering ending of “War of Jokes and Riddles,” this story and many others are turned into headscratchers. At what point, what number of deaths do Batman/The Justice System take a different approach? The Joker/Riddler have committed murder close to genocide levels and we’re supposed to accept the stories that follow after War of Jokes and Riddles?
In conclusion, the careless rewrite of Batman history for the sake of “shock value” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The extremes of War of Jokes and Riddles are far too extreme for a story about Batman’s early career and doesn’t sit quite right. The writer’s intention of explaining Batman’s character and resolve unravels large amounts of Batman’s mythos. Other may argue that the ending solidifies the Batman mythos and his character, but I disagree.
Do you agree? Share your thoughts below.
Till next time!