BATMAN #29 By Tom King and Mikel Janin
King's story is as unusual as it is enthralling in this issue. Taking place over the course of one dinner, this issue does a fantastic job analyzing the mindsets of two of Batman's greatest villains: the Joker and the Riddler.
89 %
Clever and Entertaining

BATMAN #29 is an intriguing and very distinct chapter in DC Rebirth’s new series on the Dark Knight. Written by Tom King, this comic shares a lot of similarities with some of his previous works. Like King’s 12-issue THE VISION run, this issue is more interested in examining characters through quiet and pedestrian interactions rather than in sprawling action or dramatic scenes.

BATMAN #29 pg. 9. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

In BATMAN #25, “The War of Jokes and Riddles” kicked off. On each side of this conflict were two villains who believed it was their right to kill Batman. These villains, the Joker and the Riddler, could not cope with someone else killing their arch-nemesis. So they went to war with each other to ensure that the other could not kill Batman and to prove that they were the rightful one to deliver the execution. BATMAN #29 focuses on a dinner between Bruce Wayne, Joker, Riddler, and the two villains’ allies. With this fourth part of “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” King does a fantastic job at analyzing the major players in this conflict while keeping Batman as the center of his focus.

Who Deserves To Kill The Bat?

The hostilities between Joker and Riddler have roped in nearly all of Gotham’s major super villains. The battles between these criminals have split the city in half and left those in the middle vulnerable to violence. In the last issue, Deathstroke and Deadshot had a legendary battle which left sixty-two people dead. Deeply troubled by the number of casualties, Bruce has decided that the only way to end the war is to side with one faction and ensure its victory.

READ: Check out the epic battle between Deathstroke and Deadshot in BATMAN #28

To determine which side he should align himself with, Bruce invites both parties to dinner at Wayne Manor. Each side takes several hostages to ensure Bruce is not setting them up. He asks the two leaders to explain why they deserve to kill Batman and the other does not. Bruce promises a million dollars in funding to the person who convinces him. Riddler explains that he would kill the Batman in a calculated manner that proves his own intellectual superiority over the Dark Knight. Joker, on the other hand, would murder Batman in an up-close and personal way that would prove that Batman’s existence had been a joke.

BATMAN #29 pg. 15. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

As for their rebuttals on why the other villain should not get the chance to kill the Caped Crusader, Riddler explains that Joker’s madness is simply a “façade,” a front of insanity but without any understanding of what insanity is. Joker replies that he should be the one to kill Batman over Riddler because of “one thing. One reason. Why should I kill the Batman? Isn’t it obvious? I’m the Joker. He’s the Riddler. and in the end, who cares about the Riddler?”

Read: Curious about Joker’s role in DARK KNIGHTS: METALS? Catch up here!

This arc has repeatedly questioned what the difference is between a riddle and a joke. BATMAN #29 makes it clear that jokes play off of emotions whereas riddles play off of logic. However, King also makes us question the difference between these two supervillains. If they both want Batman dead and they both agree he’s a problem why does it matter how he dies? Is the key difference between a joke and a riddle the contents of the teaser or the person who is telling it?

Unconventional Storytelling

When “The War of Jokes and Riddles” arc was announced, I, like I’m sure a lot of fans, expected an intense, action-heavy story where we get to see some of Batman’s greatest villains face off. This is how DC marketed the storyline. However, it turns out the battles are not the highlight of King’s story. Even in the last issue which displayed a costly firefight between Deadshot and Deathstroke, the comic paid less attention to the actual physical combat between the mercenaries and spent more time on the collateral damage the clash left behind.

While it is surprising to have a “war” arc without a lot of action, there is a reason for this odd narrative choice. It’s important to remember that this is not a story taking place in the present DC universe but a few years in the past. In the current day, Bruce is lying in a bed with Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman telling her about the events that unfolded in this war. Bruce is the narrator throughout this arc. But as all humans are, he cannot be trusted to be a completely reliable storyteller. All Bruce can do is tell this story to the best of his ability. He’s not going to be able to remember all of the battles that Mister Freeze waged against Penguin. Like a man telling his old war stories, he tells Selina the moments that emotionally impacted him.

Read: Disappointed by a lack of Deathstroke? Check him out in his action packed comic!

BATMAN #29 is a major chapter for Bruce in this war. That’s why it’s the little things that receive some of the most detail. Every single meal course receives its own introduction and panel. Besides breaking up this issue beautifully into chapters, the focus on the food shows the reader how Bruce is analyzing every little piece of minutiae during the meal so that he can come to his final decision.

Art in BATMAN #29

Mikel Janin is one of a few artists who has worked on Tom King’s BATMAN. For the most part, he does a great job displaying the visuals that coincide with King’s writing in this issue. My favorite panels are when Janin draws in black and white. These drawings and the way Janin inks evoke a mythic and film noir vibe for Batman. The hero appears more as a force of nature in these images than a man. It’s always cool to see Batman as a shadowy legend.

BATMAN #29 pg. 11. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

In contrast, I am not a fan of the depiction of some classic Batman villains. It’s really peculiar to see Joker have combed back curly hair and for Riddler to have a muscular body. Janin might have drawn the characters this way because this story does take place during the New 52 timeline. Many villains were depicted in strange and disparate ways during this reboot (see Joker). Furthermore, King is trying to show different sides of these classic villains. However, just because this change has a reason, doesn’t mean the reason is a good one. It’s still difficult for me to reconcile my own idea of what the Riddler and the Joker should look like with their appearance in Janin’s artwork.

Final Thoughts

BATMAN #29 is an excellent example of where Tom King’s writing excels. As his new MISTER MIRACLE series suggests, his true strength is writing fascinating intellectual stories and clever dialogue. The “War of Jokes and Riddles” part 4 is a perfect comic for just that.

READ: Here’s our review for the first issue in Tom King’s new exciting comic, MISTER MIRACLE!

Don’t read it expecting a swashbuckling epic or kick-ass fight sequences cause there aren’t any in here. However, if you want to ponder the philosophies of different characters in the strangest dinner you’ve ever seen, this is the comic for you.

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