Synopsis (spoilers ahead): At the clocktower in Burnside, Batgirl activates the clocktower computer and steps into the familiar role of Oracle once more. She shuts down any Bat vehicles currently in operation and opens up a broadcast to the citizens of Gotham City. As the Bat-Family fights on, Oracle levels with the citizens of Gotham and issues a lockdown, promising that the Bat-Family will win back the city block by block.
On the streets, a GCPD officer runs up to Bullock, issuing new directives from City Hall mandating that the police shut Oracle down. Commissioner Bullock refuses, throwing his badge on the ground and asking his fellow GCPD officers if they want to be cops in a crooked city or if they want to do what’s right.
At Ace Chemicals, Batman dodges Joker’s attacks and carries Alfred’s Jokerized zombie corpse to safety. Joker, in his own updated version of the Batsuit, pursues Batman relentlessly, using Batman’s old tech against the vigilante. Joker stabs Batman in the back and appears to get the upper hand, taunting the hero with the idea that the two should switch roles for a while. Batman presses a gadget on his belt that shuts off the lights, and he uses this momentary disruption to smash the Batman mask off of Joker’s face. Joker responds by blowing the chemical factory sky high.
Across the city, Punchline expresses frustration at Joker diverting from his own plan by blowing up Ace Chemicals early. As she demands an update from her clowns, the Underbroker arrives to inform her that their partnership has ended. The money is gone. Underbroker leaves, and before Punchline can properly react, Nightwing engages her in a duel. Clowns arrive to assist Punchline. In turn, the Bat-Family arrives, and both sides clash.
At Ace Chemicals, Oracle hacks through Joker’s signal blocker to inform Batman that Punchline will be apprehended in minutes and that Joker’s clown army is aware that the war is over and are giving up across the city. She tells Batman to take down the Joker. Then, this will all be over.
Batman picks himself up from the rubble, and he has Alfred’s corpse in tow. Batman shouts out to Joker that the war is over, that his family is winning. Joker stabs Batman in the back once more, telling the hero that the war has been over for a while. Joker’s robbed Batman of his bright, shiny future with his bright, shiny new Batsuit weaponized against him. Joker’s bred distrust and discord in Gotham City and brought forth its ugly, violent face once more.
Joker strips off the Batsuit, and the two fight once more. “Nobody has faith in anything anymore,” the clown prince of crime gloats. He gains the upper hand on Batman, taunting the hero with how he’s stripped the Dark Knight of everything. Right as Joker is about to carve Batman’s face with a batarang, Harley Quinn shoots Joker through the eye.
Harley tells Joker that Batman needs to make the decision on Joker’s life. She straps Joker with a bomb and ties him up. Then, she plants one on her own body and runs off, telling Batman that the bombs will both explode within seconds. Batman tells Joker that with the suit the clown prince of crime was wearing, Joker had access to a gadget that would disarm the bomb strapped to him. Joker tells Batman that Batman’s going to need to do the disarming, thus damning Harley to a grisly fate. Mr. J notes that Batman wouldn’t leave him to die, as well as leave Alfred’s body behind to roast in the flames.
Batman leaves, and Joker shouts, seemingly terrified, mere seconds before an explosion goes off.
One week later, Harley Quinn wakes up in a hospital bed. Batman’s in the room with her, and she expresses surprise at being alive. Immediately after, she asks if Joker is dead. Batman tells her that Joker used the gadget in the Batsuit to disarm the bomb.
The two talk about how the city has changed so much and Harley notes that while Gotham is ugly, the people out there are trying their best. She notes how Batman keeps them alive, which is “pretty neat.”
Batman tells Harley that he had to bury his father again and that going forward is going to be hard. He commits himself to being a better man and a better Batman.
In an epilogue, the Ghost-Maker expresses disappointment in how Bruce Wayne has made a mess of Gotham City. “Our teachers would be ashamed of you,” Ghost-Maker says. “The truce is over.”
Backup Story #1 – “Intervention” by writer James Tynion IV and artist Carlo Pagulayan
Clownhunter, out of his vigilante outfit, enters his apartment only to find Batman waiting for him. At first, Clownhunter heaves sarcasm at Batman. Batman responds by saying that he knows Clownhunter’s real name. It’s Bao Pham. Batman also knows that Bao’s parents were killed by Joker five years ago.
Batman asks Bao why he killed those clowns, and Bao tells Batman that he finally stopped believing that a guy in a bat costume would save this city. Bao then mentions that he received a call from the GCPD telling him that his parents had been dug up and their bodies were found at a burning theater. Batarangs were also found at the scene.
The two talk some more, with Bao throwing more barbs Batman’s way. Batman tells Clownhunter that in another life he’d come here to frighten Bao. For now, Batman offers a card for Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ clinic and tells Clownhunter to get help. This, Batman says, will be Clownhunter’s only warning.
After Batman leaves, Clownhunter expresses that help would be nice… once he’s finished.
Backup Story #2 – “Dead Ringer” by writer James Tynion IV and artist Guillem March
At a bar in the Robbinsville area of Gotham City, a hooded Joker sits next to a bar patron with a stack of newspapers in hand. Joker mentions that he had an accident a few weeks back, which took him out of commission. He’s catching up on the news.
The bar patron and Joker change the topic to Punchline, who has been all over the news. The patron tells Joker that Punchline is under house arrest. Then, he shows Joker a video she put out. In the video, Punchline reveals her real name, Alexis Kaye. She tells viewers that she was under the influence of a “bad man” and is, like everyone else, a victim of the Joker. In her lengthy speech, she paints a portrait of a college student taken advantage of. She says that she didn’t kill anyone and that she only wants to own up to her responsibility in the Joker War.
Joker comments on how “good” Punchline is at this act. At first, the bar patron thinks Joker is just making a joke. When he questions whether or not this “comedian” is actually the Joker, Mr. J exhales chemicals in the man’s face.
“You are,” Joker says. “Well, your body will be. They’ll find it down by one of the docks in a day or two, all bloated, with the skin bleached just right.”
Joker notes how he’s going to take a vacation for a bit while the cops figure out if the body is really the Joker or not. Then, he’ll return for his big goodbye.
Analysis: The road arriving at this finale was messy and exposition-heavy at times as writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jimenez worked to move all of their crucial pieces into place, but this conclusion to the Joker War is well worth the wait. The layers and ideas that Tynion has been toying with in resetting Batman and reassembling the Bat-Family have paid off. The result is an action-packed finale that delivers on both an exciting conclusion and joyful reunions.
Most of the focus in this issue is between Batman and Joker and rightfully so. However, we start right out of the gate with the return of Oracle, which is clearly intended to tug at the heartstrings of longtime Batman fans. This is followed by a speech from Commissioner Bullock that attempts to rally the GCPD to stand up for what’s right, and even more importantly, Dick Grayson entering the fray in his Nightwing costume. It feels like forever since readers have seen Nightwing, and Dick’s return brings the light-hearted and energetic spirit of his that fans know and love.
Nightwing’s encounter with Punchline is definitely a high point, and it’s the perfect counterweight to the Batman/Joker drama that comes later. Though brief, Jimenez uses the space allotted to create a series of fun panels that play against each other. In one of the first panels in this scene, we have a dismayed and disillusioned Punchline cut out from the rest of the action in the panels behind her. On the next page, Nightwing stands cool and collected, a looming hero with a smirk on his face cut out in stark contrast to Punchline on the page prior. The resulting fight, though only a couple of panels long, feels frenetic and satisfying in a “these villains are finally getting their comeuppance” sort of way. In this manner, it satisfies that craving for a heroic victory and sets the stage for the main event.
The biggest part of this finale is the battle between Batman and Joker. It’s cruel, violent, and grows increasingly more crooked as the fight goes on. In the early pages of the fight, the panels are straight, symmetrical lines. Joker taunts Batman, and Batman responds in turn by using his wits to throw Joker off balance and land a heavy punch, all the while carrying a reanimated, Jokerized Alfred in tow. It’s tense, but whenever Batman loses his footing, he quickly regains the upper hand and reasserts his power in a series of inspiring and heroic images.
In the second half of the fight, however, Batman succumbs to another blade to the back, and the paneling quite literally curves. Panels are stacked intentionally haphazardly as Joker leans into how Gotham City is sick of Batman and how Mr. J has destroyed Batman’s dreams for a bright, peaceful future with Catwoman. These moments are the most intense in the issue, and they create a spectacle so powerful that one might even wonder if Batman’s going to lose (again). This is a credit to Jimenez, who slowly uses these off-kilter panels to put Joker in a position of power over Batman. One particularly grotesque panel is when the Joker is about to stab Batman in the face with a batarang. The glee on Joker’s face, with the stream of blood slicing across the panel, is the kind of nightmare fuel that perfectly embodies everything readers love and hate about the character. Much of this, of course, is accomplished with the amazing coloring work of Tomeu Morey, who has consistently given us a Gotham City that is both vibrant and beautiful and equally dirty and grimy.
Harley Quinn’s entrance at this moment brings this battle to its final beats where Batman is once again forced to make a choice between saving Joker or saving someone else. We’ve been here before, but what’s different about this moment is that Batman makes the deliberate decision to not only abandon Joker to his own devices (he knows that Joker will free himself) but to abandon the Jokerized corpse of Alfred. The decision is understated in this scene, but it is the most impactful variable at play. This is Batman arguably letting go of Alfred, finally. It’s a powerful moment that’s touched upon again when Batman later mentions to Harley that he had to bury his “father” again.
This isn’t a clean-cut, perfect issue. There are some moments that don’t land or don’t make sense, such as the brief Commissioner Bullock page (what’s the point?), or the quarter-page cameo of Catwoman (why?), but overall, this finale tries its hardest to remind us of why we love Batman. And it succeeds.
In the epilogue, we’re given a Ghost-Maker tease that suggests that this new foe is an old acquaintance of Bruce Wayne. In the first backup story, Batman confronts Clownhunter. This interaction firmly sets Batman and Clownhunter as opposing sides while also doubling down on one of the themes Tynion and Jimenez have been toying within this arc. Clownhunter is a character born out of unrest and chaos. He’s a young vigilante disillusioned with the system. As Joker said in his taunts to Batman, people have lost faith. Clownhunter is the embodiment of that loss of faith, the manifestation of Joker’s words. Putting Batman at odds with Clownhunter, in the giving of his warning in this backup, is setting up a way for Tynion to convince us, once more, as to why we should follow Batman’s way and not Clownhunter’s.
In the second backup, Tynion and artist Guillem March treat us to a great tease for what’s in store for Punchline. She’s portraying herself as a victim of the Joker, which flies in the face of what we saw in her origin in the Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular, as well as what Joker tells us in the bar in this story. This change in attitude finally adds that duality that Punchline has been teased but mostly absent since her debut. It’s the final piece that sets her apart as her own character, rather than just another hench with a name working for the Joker. It’s interesting, to say the least, and one wonders if Alexis is a character obsessed with media exposure and fame as an outlet. We shall learn more in Punchline #1.
Final Thoughts: The Joker War delivers on a grand finale that sees the return of the Bat-Family, Oracle, Nightwing (in costume), and an intense battle between Batman and the Joker. It’s the finale we were promised, and it sets up so much more.
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.