Overview: In Batman #139, Batman is a lone crimefighter once more and hot on the trail of the Joker.
Title: Batman #139
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artists: Jorge Jimenez & Jorge Corona
Colorists: Tomeu Morey & Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey
Variant Cover: Frank Cho, Sabine Rich, Gabriele Dell’otto, Dustin Nguyen & Otto Schmidt
Release Date: November 7, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Late at night in Gotham City, police officers document a recent attack near an alleyway. A woman reports an assault after leaving the Iceberg Lounge. When the officer tries to piece together a timeline, noting that a nearby apartment resident heard the victim scream at 12:20 AM, the victim says that she screamed when she saw him — the Batman. The opening page jumps back and forth between the present scene and flashbacks to the attack. Rain pelts the officer and the victim, who is sitting on the edge of an ambulance. Jorge Jimenez’s clean lines are obscured by a haze of wet from colorist Tomeu Morey, and the two set a mood mired in a brooding crime thriller ambiance. After the haphazard, messy events of Batman / Catwoman: The Gotham War, It’s a slow return to form for the main Batman title.
Elsewhere, a man named “Lenny” enters his apartment. He’s older, has a mustache, and a buzzed haircut. An elderly woman by the name of Ms. Milligan passes by, checking on Lenny to make sure he’s staying off the drugs, a scourge she’s very much afraid of. Lenny makes smalltalk, enters his apartment, and tears off his mustache.
Lenny is Bruce Wayne, and it’s been weeks since he broke off from the Bat-Family at the end of Batman / Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1. Since then, he’s taken on an anonymous identity, ditching the Bruce Wayne facade, so he can purely focus on crime-fighting as the Batman.
As “Lenny” tinkers, he talks to himself — or rather, the Batman of Zur En Arrh. A police report notes a code 7-20, which Batman knows means the Joker. Batman stops what he’s doing, then announces that he’s going to stop the Joker — all three of them? The editor’s note tells us this issue ties into Justice League #50, which came out all the way back in May 2016. This was then followed up by a three-part miniseries, Batman: Three Jokers, by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok.
While the mood and setup to the new status quo of Batman is absolutely stellar from a tonal and art direction, this inclusion of Batman: Three Jokers throws me for a loop. While it’s nice to see callbacks to other Batman tales, this feels so sudden and tethered to other books so soon after back-to-back events of Knight Terrors and The Gotham War. This also isn’t to mention that recently The Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing, which saw two Jokers causing havoc, just ended. We haven’t had time to properly breathe this new status quo in, to reacquaint ourselves with this new, buzzed-haircut, emotionless Batman.
At the scene of the crime, a couple of scaredy-cat, goofus-looking cops stand before a man with baby suspended from a wall — deceased. A red “N” is painted across the wall, and bats are nailed behind the man. Batman enters through the window. Dark reds, heavy shadows, and rains create a gasp-inducing visual that will appeal to fans who like their Batman drenched in darkness. It’s beautiful, and after that strange derailment with the Three Jokers reference, the art team does the heavy lifting of bringing readers back into a stunning, moody-as-all-heck thriller.
Batman investigates the scene, noting that the victim is the heir to Playeast Toys. He deduces that the bats and symbols represent a map of the global, highlighting areas Batman has been. If this is the work of the Joker, he knows where Batman was mentored. After some quick thinking, he notices that one of the symbols marks Paris, where Batman trained with “The Gray Shadow” (Lucie Chesson), who was tracked to America two weeks ago. As Batman ponders what Joker may know or not know, he pulls the baby off the victim. It’s a doll with the words “Gramma” written in green on its eyelids.
Batman heads to the matriarch of the Playeast Toy company’s mansion. There, he’s attacked by dolls. One of the dolls is a person, a man named Floyd Shannon who was a former henchman-turned-thief by Catwoman. Floyd fell back in with the Joker, only to die in the arms of Batman.
Paintings on the wall are of Batman’s other mentors, as seen in Batman: The Knight. Batman is then led through a maze of references to his origins, all orchestrated and put together by the Joker. The visuals are great, but the theme and obsession with Batman’s origins are a bit tired, especially since Joker last did something similar with the Monarch Theatre in Joker War (by James Tynion and Jorge Jimenez).
Batman, ultimately, is led to the Joker, who sits on a throne dressed in white (a reference to The Dark Knight Returns). Joker’s done something to Batman, and he finds himself losing control as the Batman of Zur En Arrh takes over. We’re led to believe that this is what the Joker wanted, to fight Batman’s most vengeful form.
In the backup by Chip Zdarsky and Jorge Corona, Vandal Savage is alive and well in Gotham City. He finds that the meteor fragments give him the power he needs while he’s in Gotham, but the moment he leaves, he grows weaker. Therefore, he cannot leave. Savage beats up some lowly thugs, then goes back to Wayne Manor to shower and dress up like a king who would conquer Gotham.
The backup is just part one of an ongoing backup storyline featuring Vandal Savage, who was last seen falling into a pit created by a giant meteor in Batman / Catwoman: The Gotham War. The art is quite the tonal shift from the main story. Corona’s style is exaggerated and fun, and paired with Colorist Ivan Plascencia, seems to give this story a George of the Jungle vibe. After such a dreary, gloomy main story, it’s a strange offering, like a delightful small treat after a heavy meal. It’s not bad; it’s not good — it just is. Depending on how readers feel about Vandal Savage after the last major event, mileage may vary.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.