BATMAN #31 By Tom King and Mikel Janín
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
BATMAN #31 clears the debris from previous issues and zeroes-in on the final showdown between Joker and Riddler.
86 %
Fast-Paced Storytelling
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BATMAN #31 is the penultimate chapter of “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” It’s been a long and winding road up to this point, with many odd excursions along the way. Tom King’s script for the arc has been largely nonlinear, with single issues jumping back and forth in time, sometimes skipping over huge segments of the plot. This has been a fascinating narrative tool some of the time, frustratingly off-putting at other times. Thankfully, BATMAN #31 dispenses with the nonlinear structure entirely, trading it for a fairly straightforward mission to storm the Joker’s (metaphorical) castle. It results in an exciting second-to-last chapter that thoroughly rewards fans of Kite Man while also setting the stage for a Street Fighter-style showdown between Batman, the Joker, and the Riddler.

BATMAN #31
BATMAN #31 page 4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN #31 opens with the Joker pretending he’s going to let a victim go, and then (unsurprisingly) stabbing him to death. The Joker is walled inside his penthouse suite, while the newly allied Batman and Riddler are standing outside, amassing their army. Batman wants to go in alone, but the wily Riddler has a Kite Man up his sleeve. Using the tortured quasi-villain’s gear, Batman, the Riddler, and their whole army fly into the Joker’s penthouse. From there the confrontation heats up, as Riddler betrays Batman, Kite Man betrays Riddler, and the men left standing are ready to open a can of whoop-ass on each other.

My thoughts on the Joker and the Riddler are more or less the same as they were at the beginning of this arc. Tom King’s Joker really rubs me the wrong way. He never smiles, he sounds nothing like himself, and he constantly falls victim to the Riddler’s clearly superior intellect and ferocity. This makes the Joker look completely pathetic, which is definitely King’s point. Yet this is so against everything the Joker is supposed to be. On the flip-side, a lame Joker makes King’s Riddler more awesome than ever. Edward Nygma has hit a wonderful stride throughout this arc. His menace, wit, and strength are something special to behold. Indeed, Riddler has never been more interesting or intimidating than in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” — especially since Batman joined his side.

READ: Catch up on “The War of Jokes and Riddles” with the ComicsVerse review of BATMAN #30!

That plot development, along with several others, is what truly makes this storyline shine. While the characters are hit and miss, the narrative has continually outdone itself. The two-part ballad of Kite Man pays off in BATMAN #31 when the self-styled flying antihero finally takes his revenge on the Riddler for murdering his son. It’s not the most exciting retribution in the world, considering it ends with Riddler punching him in the face. Yet there’s an excellent table-turning moment where Riddler’s army is ready to kill Batman, and Kite Man flips a switch on the gear he gave the villains. Activating their jet-propelled parachutes, each of Riddler’s cronies are launched through the windows and out of the playing field, effectively throwing the advantage back to Batman.

It’s good to see that Batman and Kite Man were in on this plot together. Last issue, Batman just stood behind Riddler like a useless statue while Nygma taunted Kite Man about murdering his little boy. I thought to myself: “Batman, you can’t stand for this!” Indeed, he couldn’t.

BATMAN #31
BATMAN #31 page 12. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Tom King definitely gets points for always making the dialogue between Joker and Riddler interesting. Usually, the Riddler taunts the Joker with some basic riddle or knock-knock joke that he probably made up on the spot. The Joker, with his new-found inferiority complex, becomes insanely enraged when he can’t figure out basic answers to questions like “Cows go?” The Riddler smirks in a rather Joker-esque manner, and the Joker throws himself at the Riddler in an ill-timed murderous rage. Batman intervenes, and they all go back to hating each other. Rinse and repeat. Again, not a fan of the Joker’s attitude throughout these scenes. Yet the fun of watching Nygma drive the Joker nuts makes up for the out-of-character oddities. Riddler is now telling jokes better than the Joker, and that’s a HUGE no-no for the Clown Prince of Crime.

The issue ends in a tantalizing place, with Batman narrating to Selina about the events set to unfold. He claims this final battle between the Dark Knight and his two archnemeses will reveal to Selina who Batman really is — and determine whether or not she’ll marry him. That’s quite a stacked plate of promises. I really hope King can deliver. He’s effectively promising us a completely new way of looking at Batman. Either King will succeed at this, or he won’t. If he doesn’t, it will bring into question the entire purpose of this arc (other than watching Riddler be awesome).

READ: In the present day, Batman has a different war to worry about. Follow Batman’s team in Gotham with our review of DETECTIVE COMICS #964!

The Artwork of BATMAN #31

Mikel Janín’s artwork is its usual panel-happy self. Indeed, Janín makes expert use of paneling, starting with numerous small passages that highlight the contrasting moods of Batman, Joker, and Riddler. So from there Janín easily jumps into big passages that deliver epic, sweeping action. The two-page spread of Batman and Riddler leading their squadron of kite-flying villains is an off-putting visual treasure.

On the flip-side, smaller panels that depict a Joker and Riddler exchange are equally effective in their cinematic evocations. Panel one: Riddler smirks. Panel two: Joker glances to the side. Panel Three: bloody knife sits next to loaded gun. The intent is clear. Joker is debating which of these two weapons to use against his infuriating opponent. Turns out the answer is neither, as Joker doesn’t reach for either of them. Yet much like the great shot-reverse-shots of modern cinema, this communication between panels gets across Joker’s intent completely. So the exchange creates a meaningful relationship between standard comic book panels, actively bringing them to life.

BATMAN #31
BATMAN #31 page 15. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN #31: Final Verdict

Overall, BATMAN #31 succeeds in grounding the action in one time and place. It delivers a fast-paced, suspenseful storyline that places each character in a key position for the final battle. I don’t know yet whether or not I’d declare “The War of Jokes and Riddles” a success. The pacing of each issue has been completely scattershot thanks to all the time jumping. BATMAN #31 re-roots the action satisfactorily, but we’ll have to see if BATMAN #32 can stick the landing. One take-away I do have is that Tom King cannot write the Joker to save his life. He sure can write the Riddler though, and I hope he continues to do so throughout his BATMAN run.

Oh, and the answer to that knock-knock joke the Joker (of all people) couldn’t answer? It was “Moo.” Cows go moo. In the hands of anyone else, I’d consider this totally banal. But in the hands of the Riddler, it’s a depraved muscle flex, showing utter superiority. The Riddler dominated the Joker, and he continues to dominate these pages. We’ll see who comes out on top next issue.

2 Comments

  1. batmanjones

    September 21, 2017 at 1:45 am

    And the pacing and bouncing around and narrative ‘skips’ are a good example of Brecht’s “street scene” theory of acting and storytelling. We’re not being told the story from an omniscient point of view. We’re being told the parts that are important for Batman to tell Catwoman. Nobody tells a whole story from start to finish. Nobody even remembers any story exactly the same way. When people criticize King for ‘leaving so much of the action off-camera’ or for his Joker being out of character, when he’s clearly depressed and all depressed people are ‘out of character’ I have to wonder if people understand what King is even going for here. To me it is the smartest, most delicious story DC is publishing right now and I mean 10/10 every single time. Nothing DC’s putting out is this sophisticated or interesting in its style and then critics misunderstand what he’s going for and say he’s only “okay” at doing a thing he isn’t even trying to do. He’s GREAT at what he’s actually trying to do.

    I think the story will open up for you when you think about two things: it’s the parts that it’s important for Batman to relate to Catwoman so he can make his confession; that dictates all the pacing. And Joker is clearly depressed. What a concept! A depressed Joker that can’t laugh. It’s a feature, not a bug.

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  2. batmanjones

    September 21, 2017 at 1:34 am

    Love your reviews and no offense but I think you’re missing a little bit of what King’s cooking. That he can’t laugh was all the clue you needed. This isn’t a lame or out of character Joker. He’s a depressed Joker. He can’t do the things you suggest, like making great jokes. He’s depressed.

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