Batman: The War Of Jokes And Riddles Review By Deffinition
Tom King’s run has been brilliant so far. Whilst I don’t feel like it has truly managed to match the levels set by his predecessor, Scott Snyder, I still think that the creator has really managed to carve out his own niche and his books thus far have provided a traditional look at the character that focus heavily on a personal narrative.
Back with his fourth storyline, the writer finally gets the chance to take The Joker for a spin. We’ve seen from past incarnations that The Clown Prince Of Chaos can often make or break a creator and it will be interesting to see how King handles this war between Batman’s biggest rival and The Riddler.
As with all of my reviews, there will be several spoilers so it may be worth skipping to the score and checking this review out at a later date if you want to go into the book with fresh eyes.
With that out the way, let’s dive into Batman: The War Of Jokes And Riddles!
The Joker is unable to laugh. Finding nothing funny, The Clown Prince Of Crime is on a killing spree in order to get his sense of humour back. Murdering people who fail to make him laugh, the wannabe Comedian has left a trail of bodies throughout Gotham and this catches the eye of Batman and The Riddler.
Confronting him in his hideout, The Riddler informs the Clown that with Batman constantly stopping them, everything has become so predictable. He is unable to solve the mystery of who Batman is, which strips him of the knowledge he desperately craves and Joker is unable to laugh because everything has become so routine.
They must work together in order to both achieve their goals. They must join forces to kill The Batman!
Seeming like a good plan, it comes as a shock when The Riddler is brutally attacked by The Joker and this begins their rivalry that spans the entire book.
It’s an interesting premise and one that definitely feels fresh and reinvigorating in a comic book universe where everything has become a rehash. I absolutely adored the aesthetic of a frowning Joker and it’s arguably one of the iconic incarnations of the character thus far. It’s an excellent way to introduce their battle and readers will be hooked instantly because of it.
No Man’s Land
As both sides recruit their soldiers, Gotham becomes a war zone. Watching the two antagonists hand pick their team from Batman’s rogue’s gallery is breathtaking and Mikel Janin really gets a chance to shine as he depicts the battles taking place in the Metropolis. Janin is slowly becoming one of my favourite comic book artists and it’s impossible to fault any of the work he has produced here. Every panel feels grounded and there is a touch of realism to his composition that really adds gravitas to the work. When it feels like you are looking at a photograph it becomes easier to suspend your sense of disbelief and this makes the book infinitely more immersive.
One of the story’s most interesting aspects is its revitalisation of Kite Man. Regarded by many as a Goofball character that was a trademark of a bygone era, King does a brilliant job of updating him for modern audiences. There are shadows of the way that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale reinvented Calendar Man or how Snyder made Crazy Quilt acceptable and King should be commended for taking a risk on something most would probably roll their eyes at.
There were a couple of times I welled up at the villain’s backstory and his arc of redemption is by far the story’s most interesting. There is a real human side to the character and by the end of the graphic novel, he elevates to be the star of the show.
‘Bring me the Batman and the War ends’
One of my biggest problems with the graphic novel comes at the midpoint when Bruce Wayne decides to host a dinner party with The Riddler and The Joker. It’s an absurd scenario that doesn’t really feel true to the character for me and the fact that Bruce lets them leave at the end of it borders on ridiculous.
Whilst it isn’t badly written, drawn or paced, Batman would never entertain such an idea and it really took me out of the book seeing Bruce sitting there as they threw knives at one another during the entrees. Batman is a crime fighter and this poor characterisation makes our protagonist seem like a complete idiot and someone who is happy to let villainy flourish. It’s head-scratchingly bad and this is by far the biggest misstep in King’s run thus far.
‘What’s the difference between a joke and a riddle?’
The finale of the book is packed with twists and turns and it takes Batman to a level that I never expected. It’s breathtaking to see his darkest moment and I think fans will lap up this slight fall from grace.
It’s the perfect finale for the storyline and there are small touches such as a double spread page of some of the victims of the war thus far that really elevate the harsh reality of the storyline.
It really throws a curveball that, unlike the dinner party, feels earned and a true reflection of the psychological toll that constantly fighting criminals would have on a crime fighter.
It’s an epic conclusion that sends the book off on a dark note and whilst as a whole the graphic novel failed to match King’s prior work, this is by far the most memorable conclusion.
The supplementary chapters add a lot of bang for your buck and whilst not essential reading they definitely provide a quality epilogue that most will enjoy. One centres around Alfred training Bat Hound: Ace and Dog lovers will lap it up. Another around a moment of respite in Gotham’s nightlife, a Harley Quinn Christmas story and a night in Arkham.
All have their own little nuances and add a wealth of texture to the Rebirth Universe that I found enjoyable throughout.
The War Of Jokes and Riddles is a flawed but enjoyable ride. It suffers slightly due to King’s inability to write all out action and because of this a lot of the key moments that could have really hammered home just how brutal the battles are, become muted. However, there is still a lot to enjoy here and it reinvents most of its key characters in new and refreshing ways.
It’s rare that we have two villains facing off against one another with Batman in the crosshairs and this aesthetic is executed exceedingly well. This may not rank up there with some of Batman’s best but it comes really close and that’s why it gets a…