BATMAN #25 by Tom King, Mikel Janin, and June Chung
King's Riddler sizzles, his Joker fizzles, and his storytelling showcases an epic in the making.
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An Intriguing Enigma
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“The War of Jokes and Riddles” is already something of an enigma. The story, set in the past, tells of a time when the Joker and the Riddler rose up and turned Gotham into their own personal war zone, with Batman caught in the middle. It’s a fascinating concept, though its placement at this juncture in Tom King’s storyline is curious. Certainly, BATMAN #25 needed a landmark event to capture the importance of the one-year anniversary of DC’s Rebirth. Yet why this particular storyline and why set so far in Gotham’s past? These are Riddler-caliber questions that don’t yet have answers.

As far as the two lead villains go, Tom King gives us an impeccable Riddler, but his take on Joker feels remarkably off. Still, the plot unfolds with impressive pacing and an epic scale. Once the Joker figures out his punchline, this eight-part series could evolve into exactly the epic DC wants it to be.

BATMAN #25 page 13. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Batman narrates the story, detailing Riddler’s murderous escape from Arkham and Joker’s bloody rampage through Gotham. Riddler is pure Riddler, using his wit and word puzzles to subjugate the guards who get in his way. The Joker, however, is in the midst of an identity crisis. Joker searches for a new sidekick by testing their comedy routines. Yet he murders every single comedian, unsatisfied with their jokes. With Batman always thwarting him, it appears that Joker doesn’t have any jokes left. The Riddler enters the picture here, proposing a partnership with the Clown Prince of Crime to help him get his mojo back. Since it’s the Joker, Riddler’s plan, of course, goes awry. We’re left with two sides and two very bitter enemies ready to tear Gotham apart.

There’s a very interesting dynamic in BATMAN #25, which boils down to the fact that the Riddler is smiling and the Joker isn’t. You can even see that on the variant cover art for the book. The two characters are spiritually similar in their reliance on mind games but diametrically opposed in their execution. Order vs. Chaos, as the preview tag reads. It’s therefore odd that the first decision King makes is to take away the Joker’s sense of humor.

On the one hand, I like that this comic gives Riddler the upper hand against the Joker. It would have been all too easy to have Joker dominate these pages with his insanity. Instead, King presents Riddler at the height of his power and influence, while he writes Joker as a mere shadow of his former self. This dynamic immediately throws the reader off balance, suggesting that anything can happen. We should expect the unexpected with this series.

READ: Another epic Batman event has begun! Check out our review of Scott Snyder’s DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1!

On the other hand, Joker is so down in this issue it feels fundamentally out of character. He murders a whole lot of people, but he does it with a simple handgun. No laughing gas, no Bang! flags, just bullets to the face. He doesn’t smile once throughout the issue. The Riddler explains why, offering this insight into the Joker’s predicament, “You need to laugh, or else who are you? And you can’t laugh as long he’s out there. To laugh again, you need to kill him.”

Umm… NO. NO NO NO NO NO!!!

This description is so utterly and completely wrong. Joker doesn’t need to kill Batman to laugh again. The only reason he laughs is BECAUSE of Batman. The only thing that would make him STOP laughing is if Batman DIES. I cannot believe how wrong King got this. The Joker & Batman relationship is the exact opposite of what King describes here. It’s the perfect example of an issue I’ve continually pointed out about King’s writing. He consistently forces his characters to adhere to the machinations of his plot. King makes his characters say or do odd things when it’s convenient for his narrative, and this is the most egregious example yet.

BATMAN #25 page 23. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Joker’s relationship with Batman has been so carefully developed and crafted over the years by a handful of different writers. The interpretations of the Joker often differ. Yet one thing that has remained constant is that the Joker does NOT want to kill Batman, the Joker NEEDS Batman. Scott Snyder solidified this in the New 52 BATMAN with his brilliant depiction of the Joker (seen just last week in DARK DAYS: THE FORGE). Since Rebirth is still in continuity with Snyder’s Joker, his take in BATMAN #25 makes no sense whatsoever.

In some ways, I’m unsurprised that this happened. King’s writing style is neat and structured, with everything adhering nicely. The Joker’s very essence is the exact opposite of the way King like to write. He innately upsets the balance of the established order, throwing everything out of whack. Most writers who’ve tackled the Joker have learned to write around him. Instead of bending his style to suit the Joker, King bent the Joker to suit his style. Some readers might be okay with this. I, as a purest and longtime Joker enthusiast, am fundamentally opposed to it.

READ: BATMAN #23 featured a team-up with classic monster Swamp-Thing! Take a look at our review here! 

With that out of the way, everything about BATMAN #25 that’s NOT the Joker works quite well. The Riddler, again, is an unusually intimidating presence. The power and veracity of his mind comes out through several well-crafted scenes, most particularly when Riddler forces the Arkham guards to stand down simply by repeating the names of their children. Chilling in his simple tactics, Riddler uses his knowledge of their families to make his escape without ever raising his fists. Classic Riddler. It’s ironic that Riddler and Joker are such opposites. King’s particular talent enables him to write Riddler much more naturally than Joker. King loves to write in puzzles and philosophical questions. Edward Nygma fits him like a glove.

The narrative structure also works quite nicely, with Batman’s narration filling in the gaps and helping to explain how he was two steps behind the Riddler throughout the story — an admission that’s quite unusual for the World’s Greatest Detective. We also get a tantalizing glimpse into the future, learning that Bruce Wayne is telling this story to none other than Selina Kyle. With this eight-part story taking place in the past, I was afraid we wouldn’t learn Selina’s answer to Bruce’s marriage proposal until BATMAN #33. Thankfully, King uses his narrative bookend to give us our answer here in BATMAN #25.

BATMAN #25 page 15. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Mikel Janin’s artwork juices up the narrative with vivid imagery. I really dig his facial expressions, particularly in creating a dichotomy between Riddler’s self-satisfied glee and Joker’s frowning mug. Joker’s lack of smiles is significantly off-putting, and though I disagree with the character’s emotional state as a narrative choice, Janin’s rendition delivers the desired effect.

June Chung’s colors assist Janin’s pencils in creating a tapestry of different moods. The confrontation between Joker and Riddler inside a vast penthouse office is particularly effective. The dark shadows contrast with the colors of each villains’ outfits, causing an impression that there’s no one left in the world except for these two. The colors become more vivid after Riddler is shot, his bright red blood seeping onto the floor. When Riddler manages to survive Joker’s bullet, all that’s left behind in the room is that bright red stain, indicating any attempt at peace has passed. The War of Jokes and Riddles has begun.

Overall, BATMAN #25 is an epic start for “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” In that war, Tom King defines the Riddler far better as a player, and I have major issues with his depiction of the Joker. Still, there’s plenty to be excited about. As future issues delve further into both characters, perhaps the Joker will get his mojo back, and we’ll finally get to see the Joker we know and love. In the meantime, most of the events of BATMAN #25 are quite intriguing, particularly Bruce’s final statement to Selina, in which he hints that the events of this war caused Batman to do something unspeakable, something that changed him forever. There’s enough great material here to make this a worthy one year anniversary special for BATMAN, leaving us with plenty to speculate about the great war to come.

One Comment

  1. Miguel Angel Garcia

    June 25, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Do you think as we get more issues we will see a joker that is more in line with what we know?


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