Synopsis (spoilers ahead): In a bright, utopian Gotham City of the future, an unsuspecting boy walks into the flight path of a high-speed chase. His cell phone buzzes, and as he pulls it out of his pocket, the boy is greeted with a Bat-signal with a message warning him to step back. On the streets in front of him, Mr. Freeze’s van whizzes by, closely followed by Batman on the Bat-bike.
Batman is wearing the luminous prototype suit seen in Batman #95. He calls Mr. Freeze over a comm signal, informing Freeze that all outgoing signals are jammed. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze’s van screeches to a halt. Out climbs Freeze with his two “sons,” Icepop and Sno-Cone.
“My heirs were sired in a darker, colder Gotham. We remember the endless nights, the crime and horror,” Mr. Freeze says. “We will tear down this false utopia and replace it with something far more chilling.”
Mr. Freeze and his family encapsulate Batman in ice. Remotely, Alfred Pennyworth activates Batman’s heat array, freeing him to take down all three of the rogues.
Back at the Batcave, Alfred notes that this was the first time that Batman had to go out in a month. An unmasked, much older Bruce Wayne troubleshoots ways to get help for the “adopted” children of Mr. Freeze, as well as how to better lock away Mr. Freeze’s old technology. As Bruce figures out how to put a stop to this recidivism, Alfred expresses his worry that Bruce and Selina were going to miss their Tokyo trip.
Bruce notes that the city is in good hands. As Alfred and Bruce head back upstairs to Wayne Manor, Alfred notes that Tim Drake and Conner Kent have arrived, and they have a proposal. As Bruce jokes that it’s most likely an expensive proposal, Alfred’s neck snaps and head contorts. His face morphs into The Joker’s face. Batman screams as the Joker laughs maniacally.
Back in the present, Batman awakes in a dingy apartment room. Harley is there, and she tells Batman that she thought he was dead. She also tells Batman that he’s been out for three days. In that time, Joker has tightened his grip on Gotham. All of Gotham’s gangs have joined him, as he’s paying them well and doling out weapons. The cops have been useless, and people are taking things into their own hands.
Across Gotham, one of Joker’s henchmen walks into the basement of an apartment complex where a family is hiding. Before he can step too far into the basement, a masked vigilante named Clownhunter lodges a spiked board of wood into the back of the henchman’s head.
At Harley’s hideout, Harley examines Batman’s eyes with a flashlight, noting that he’s still dosed on that special chemical cocktail from Punchline. Batman demands to know where Joker is, and Harley fills him in on everything that’s been going down in Gotham.
Punchline is running the gangs from Tricorner Yards. The Underbroker has a team of lawyers working at the city hall, ensuring that the cops and officials are neutralized. Joker bought up all of the ad time on Gotham broadcasts and online, and he’s just showing the same advertisement over and over.
In the ad, a man with the mark of Zorro carved onto his face reads a pitch for the movie. The Gotham cut of The Mark of Zorro is playing at the Monarch Theater, back-to-back, and Joker is paying everyone who sees it opening night $10,000 just to attend. As the man reads the end of the pitch, noting that it’s going to get a wide release in two days, he’s shot to death.
After hearing the name of the theater, Batman starts to have a flashback to when his parents were murdered. In this flashback, his parents’ heads contort and their necks snap just like Alfred’s did in his dream earlier. Harley rushes to the rescue and shakes Batman out of his vision.
Batman pushes Harley out of the way, just as the voice of Alfred returns to him, telling Batman that Harley has a tranquilizer. Harley tries to tranquilize Batman, but he neutralizes her. As Batman leaps through the window out into Park Row, Harley warns him that he needs to get it together or everyone will die.
Batman ascends to the rooftops of Park Row, bantering with Alfred. He tells Alfred that he knows that Alfred is not real. Alfred pushes back, saying that he promised to always be there to help.
Batman sees some goons of Joker’s and dispatches them before heading off to the Monarch Theater. Inside the theater’s main entrance and hallway, Batman notes that it looks exactly like it did when he was a kid. He’s not sure if it’s him hallucinating or the work of the Joker’s, but it’s getting under Batman’s skin.
Inside the theater proper, Batman notes that it’s filled with bodies that have been dead for a long time. The stench is overwhelming. Before he can do anything about it, Joker appears on the screen. Joker informs Batman that these corpses are family, that they’re the victims Batman couldn’t save over the years. He then tells Batman that he’s injected them with a formula he borrowed from The Designer.
In the final scene, this Jokerized zombie army comes to life, ready to tear Batman apart.
Analysis: This is a silly issue, and it’s quite jarring with how goofy it comes across. The utopian dreamscape opener, with its introduction of Sno-Cone and Icepop, Mr. Freeze’s “sons,” is like something out of a Joel Schumacher Batman film. It’s bright, colorful, and ludicrous, striking a far different tone than anything writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jimenez have crafted thus far into their Batman run. The fact that it’s a dream saves it from diminishing the rest of the issue, but the tonal shift is a bit of a hard pill to swallow.
Even harder to swallow is this idea that in the future, Victor Fries returns to his villainous ways after his turn in Detective Comics #1016. Last we saw Victor, he was frozen in the cryonics wing of Arkham after unsuccessfully trying to turn his wife away from her chilling crime spree. Nora Fries, in turn, had assumed the mantle of Mrs. Freeze, threatening to return and wreak havoc once more. While status quo changes don’t last forever, this Freeze arc was created by Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke just under a year ago. The fact that this golden opportunity to tether the two Batman titles together in a shared continuity was overlooked is disappointing.
Once we’re past the dream sequence, this issue starts to pick up a bit. It’s been three days since the City of Joker Joker War event began, and Gotham is a hellscape. This is what Harley Quinn tells Batman, in between bouts of her getting slapped, tossed aside, and thrown to the floor by Batman. It seems like the aim of this sequence was to be funny, but the paneling doesn’t work well here.
Once Batman awakens, Harley’s checks his eyes to make sure that he’s okay. In the next panel, he’s slapping Harley away while simultaneously asking where Joker is. In the panel after that, Harley is standing upright and unphased as she delivers the details on what’s been going on. One could argue that Batman was slapping away the flashlight, but Harley clearly gets knocked into a wall, emphasized with “SLAM” in giant letters. Why is Batman beating her for making sure that he’s okay? Why does Harley act like that didn’t just happen in the panel directly after? Mysteries abound.
In between the Harley and Batman scene, we do get an introduction to the much-hyped Clownhunter character, and on this, both Tynion and Jimenez deliver the goods. Clownhunter appears for one whole page, but there’s something emphatic and distressing about his attitude and garb. He’s a man who’s clearly in some sort of daze, killing clowns in a ripped up desk job outfit with knee and elbow pads, a bike helmet, and a nifty mask. He’s like a punkier Shaun from Shaun of the Dead, and the way Jimenez draws Clownhunter, the character instantly comes across as an unsung champion of the everyman. One hopes that Clownhunter becomes our lens into this torn-apart Gotham from the perspective of the common citizen.
All in all, this issue is a continuation of the setup we were witness to in the last issue. This time around, however, the exposition was split between the state of Gotham three days into the Joker War and what Joker is really up to. Clearly, Joker knows everything, down to the tiniest detail, about Bruce. One assumes that he learned the rest of what he didn’t know after acquiring Wayne Manor and gaining access to the Batcave. Still, this idea leans heavily into this “God mode” characterization where Joker knows and can do just about anything. It’s a lack of limitation, particularly in Joker stories as of late (like Endgame), that makes the character kind of boring. Here’s a villain who owns everything, has access to limitless toys and expendable soldiers, knows everything about Batman, and can craft an army of zombies on a whim, and it’s… really not that exciting.
Joker War isn’t bad so far. It’s just not earning the hype factor DC has been demanding of us thus far. It’s too big and impersonal, too stuffed with toys plucked from the Batman toy box to really leave much of an impression. Ultimately, this is probably why Clownhunter resonates so well. He feels so very human in a sandbox where gods can throw virtually anything at each other with no tangible effect.
Final Thoughts: Part Two of Joker War proves that you CAN pull too many toys out of the Batman toy box. One hopes that this arc picks up soon, or it is curtains for Joker.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic digitally and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue through Comixology.