Desperate to end the bloodshed between the Joker and the Riddler, Bruce Wayne (NOT Batman) makes a dangerous play. He invites the two warring villains and their allies to Wayne Manor to sit down over a full-on seven-course meal. His plan, it seems, is to hopefully end their fighting. But as is everything with Batman, nothing is what it seems. And something much more than a meal just might be being served.
“The War Of Jokes and Riddles” Part 4
Written by: Tom King
Art by: Mikel Janin
Inks by: Hugo Petrus & Mikel Janin
Colors by: June Chung
Lettered by: Clayton Cowles
‘The War of Jokes and Riddles’ has been a very deliberately paced story; full of odd time jumps, interludes, and narration. So it’s fitting thematically and narratively that we are probably at what is the half-way mark and we have a literal sit down dinner that brings all the major players together. It’s a daring, striking and surreal trick that pays off immensely. It makes for one of the weirdest (on an almost Grant Morrison level) Batman issues of Tom King’s, and really anyone’s, run. And I mean that as a compliment.
Tom King continues to write the hell out of this title. And with this storyline, he has really crafted something unique. The arc itself has been experimental in execution, but on top of that, each chapter carries that experiment further in different directions. This ‘dinner issue’ (as I have chosen to call it) is one of the most surreal and tense comics I have read from a mainstream publisher. It could have easily fallen apart and into silliness, but King’s pacing keeps it tens. His use of grid panel lay outs is excellent here. Using each course of the meal as a ‘chapter’ within a chapter also adds to the already bubbling tension.
His characterization of Joker, Riddler and Bruce Wayne is also fantastic. The Joker here is a creature of true menace and insanity. We’re used to seeing Joker as a cackling madman (which is great of course) but there is an undeniable frightening quality to a Joker who doesn’t smile or laugh, and who can coldly discuss how he would simply choke Batman as he sits over a dinner plate (his fantasy of this is the only time we actually see Joker smiling, which hits hard). Riddler too is unique, coming off as a cold, methodical serial killer who just knows he probably is the smartest guy in the room (perhaps not this dining room, but still…). And then there is Bruce Wayne. As readers we know he is Batman, but to the everyone else he is a desperate citizen of a city in peril. But this actually IS a young, desperate Batman, so we are seeing an aspect of Bruce rarely seen but always welcome; human, emotional and unmasked. This is a multi-layered story arc, and this chapter is a microcosm of that.
Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus and June Chung have crafted a gorgeous book with drawings of food that border on ‘food porn’. The art is elegant and fancy, befitting the scene and theme. Everything is clean, crisp and has an element of stillness. Janin is also one of the best at capturing ‘acting’ in his characters, giving them subtle expressions that don’t rely on exaggeration to get emotions across. His Joker has become my favorite, second only to Brian Bolland’s in The Killing Joke (which seems to be an influence here). The coloring and inks add weight to the pencils, creating an intimate atmosphere that feels like you’re sitting at this incredibly awkward and scary dinner. Some of these panels are worthy of being prints. That’s how good this book looks. Plus we get to see almost all of Batman’s rogues’ gallery again drawn by this team, which is always a treat.
The lettering also deserves a mention, as each person’s dialog, including Batman’s narration, is rendered in distinct styles that create true voices.
This is absolutely my favorite issue of ‘The War of Jokes and Riddles’ so far. It’s a surreal sequence that feels almost Lynchian in its bizarreness and mood, working almost like the strangest short Batman film you will ever see. Like the great issue with Swamp Thing, this is one that will be remembered and collected whenever ‘Best of Batman’ stories are compiled. So sit down and devour it now.