Batman #28 By Tom King and Mikel Janin
Tom King's latest chapter pits Deadshot against Deathstroke, raising the stakes considerably and filling the story with suspense -- despite an inconsistent narrative.
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Blood Bath in Gotham
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“The War of Jokes and Riddles” continues with BATMAN #28. The whole tale has been a bit of a disjointed affair. It has continually shifted emphasis between Batman, the villains, and even Kite-Man. Instead of picking up with Part 2 of the Kite-Man interlude, BATMAN #28 resumes the main story. This is a bit jarring considering last issue’s cliffhanger. Still, odd narrative choices aside, Tom King’s fourth entry in the war epic kicks up the suspense a few notches. Gotham is now a full-blown blood bath. With Batman caught in the middle, he’s put in an unusually desperate situation. The choices Batman makes here are surprising and pose grave questions about his future.

Courtesy of DC comics

BATMAN #28: Armistice

BATMAN #28 opens with Commissioner Gordon preparing for separate meetings with Joker and Riddler. The villains have now split Gotham down the middle. Joker has claimed the west side and Riddler the east side. Joker and Riddler independently tell Gordon to bring them the Batman. When he fails to do so, they dispatch Deadshot and Deathstroke to take Batman out. Instead of Batman, they engage in a five day battle with each other – and the people of Gotham are caught in their crossfire.

By the time Batman catches up with them, over 100 people have already been killed. This pushes Batman to his limit, causing him to unleash a powerful rage. The consequences of this rage may be more damaging to Bruce’s own psyche than anything we’ve seen before. At the very end of the comic, we learn that Deadshot nearly died from his wounds. Judging from the narration, it’s a fact that still haunts Bruce to the present day.

Of the whole comic, the opening pages are by far my favorite. BATMAN #28 displays Gordon’s journeys to his Riddler and Joker meetings in alternating panels. They’re presented in an extremely off-putting way. In one set of panels, we see a group of green-clad goons escorting Gordon through the streets, the Commissioner clad in an orange jumpsuit. In the other set, we see Gordon stripped to his underwear, walking through the streets alone in the opposite direction. The reader has no idea what’s happening until the brilliant two-page spread where he finally comes face to face with Joker and Riddler, respectively. Tom King’s teasing Gordon narrative works wonderfully with Mikel Janin’s pencils. Together they create a highly effective introduction that’s both dynamic and visually off-putting.

BATMAN #28: The Five-Day Battle

After the intro, the Deathstroke/Deadshot confrontation takes precedence for the bulk of the comic – and for good reason. Bruce’s guilt from nearly killing Deadshot may just be the reason for his narrating the story to Selina Kyle. Incidentally, Bruce’s narration also prevents this part of the story from being as effective as it could have been. He skips over days at a time, counting off the numerous casualties incurred. But it all takes place on a mere two pages. This means we don’t really get the opportunity to feel the weight of this battle or its many losses.

READ: Discover the origin of Gotham City’s own Kite-Man in our review of BATMAN #27!

It’s a bit odd that King decided to set this story in the past instead of the present-day. There have been pros and cons to this approach, both of which are ironically present in this issue. The aforementioned opening with Gordon could have only been achieved with the past setting. The present-day narration is crucial in throwing off the reader, as it adds an aura of suspense to the alternating Gordon panels from the past. The narration keeps us wondering what we’re about to see, up until that great double-page reveal.

At the same time, the battle between Deathstroke and Deadshot is sapped of a significant portion of its power. The past narration allows King to skip over most of the battle completely, compressing it into half a comic book. This technique could have worked fine with a different plot point. But in this case, I believe King’s decision was misguided. After all, the result of the five-day battle is Batman nearly killing someone. That’s reason enough to portray this battle in real time, giving it more vivid energy and proper dramatic weight.

Courtesy of DC comics

BATMAN #28: The Dearth of Jokes and Riddles

It’s odd how little Joker and Riddler feature in this particular issue. While not really a major flaw, it does show how disjointed the overall plot has been. The first two issues focused on Joker and Riddler almost exclusively. The third issue then focused on a completely random character, with the villains sidelined. The fourth issue focuses on Batman, Deadshot, and Deathstroke. Meanwhile, Joker and Riddler only appear on one page each.

Given how much time appears to pass between each issue, the shifting character focus plays out very oddly. The only through line is Batman’s narrative. This narrative is obviously crucial and, hopefully, will help tie everything together. But considering how important this story is supposed to be, the crux of the narrative should have been made clear by now. In issue #1, Bruce implied to Selina that this would be an important story: Perhaps the most important story he would ever tell her. The arc is half way done, so it’s a bit irksome that we still don’t really know why it’s being told.

The constant perspective changes do allow a vast array of characters to have their time in the sun. King shows us the great war from many different angles. Riddler and Joker themselves remain an intriguing shadowy presence, with their threats felt even though they’re not physically shown. Given how intriguing their characterization has been, I simply feel we should be seeing more of them – even Joker. Tom King’s depressed clown has been tough to get used to. Still, he’s inarguably a variation of the character unlike any we’ve previously seen.

BATMAN #28: Beautiful Blood Bath

Mikel Janin’s artwork shines once again. The odd narrative progression of BATMAN #28 finds its saving grace in Janin’s art. He gives the diametrically opposed Gordon meetings their visual authority. He also helps visually navigate the roughly compressed five-day battle, showing the visual highlights in all their destructive glory. Most effective is the two-page spread that depicts Deadshot and Deathstroke in the most brutal moments of their extended conflict. The two are everywhere – pointing their sniper rifles, slashing their swords, and firing their pistols. Janin depicts throngs of terrified people in the midst of the various isolated Deathstroke/Deadshot fights. This demonstrates the very widespread danger of this seemingly personal encounter.

READ: Joker and Riddler began to gather their armies together in BATMAN #26 – read our review here!

BATMAN #28 is rife with intrigue, chaos, and suspense. It accelerates the “War of Jokes and Riddles” arc with its bloodiest conflict yet. King’s scale of storytelling is impressive, and the eight-part saga is proving to be every bit the epic he promised. Still, by this fourth issue, it’s become clear that the narrative is curving in unexpected and possibly misguided ways.

The constant use of Batman’s narration leaves something to be desired in giving the dramatic conflicts their fullest possible weight. The absence of Joker and Riddler is disappointing, though their presence looms in the background. Finally, Janin’s artwork ties the various threads of BATMAN #28 together. He gives the issue the boost it needs to become an overall satisfying chapter in the “War” saga. The issue’s end leaves Batman psychologically damaged and Gotham on the brink of destruction. King now has all the ingredients he needs to give the second half of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” an even greater sense of purpose.

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