Epic Covers: The Joker #15 by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

With Batman Day coming up this weekend, it may or may not be an appropriate time to feature the Clown Prince of Crime…

With The Killing Joke in 1988, Brian Bolland cemented his status as one of the definitive Joker artists of all time. So any time Bolland draws the character, it’s noteworthy. We were treated to Bolland’s latest rendering of the character with a variant cover for The Joker #15, which came out last month.

I talked recently about my fondness for single-color backgrounds on covers. This cover meets that criteria with a basic black background. We also have the Joker’s fake eye, which is a byproduct of recent events in Batman. So the character obviously has a different look than we’re used to getting from Bolland.

But what I dig more than anything about this cover is that it’s a modern take on Bolland’s classic cover for The Killing Joke. If The Killing Joke were released today (Which it would never be…), the cover would look something like this, given the advent of smartphones.

The Joker 15, variant cover, 2022, Brian Bolland

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Astonishing Art: The Killing Joke by Cole Watkins

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Much can be said, and has been said, about Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. It’s one of the most famous Batman stories ever told, and also one of the most violent and controversial. As an grown adult and a parent, my feelings on it have definitely changed from when I read it for the first time 20 years ago.

Still, we can’t deny just how iconic Bolland’s art is. No shot is more iconic, and more synonymous with The Killing Joke than the cover shot of the Joker and his camera.

Here, we see Cole Watkins recreate that iconic image using four different cinematic versions of the character. It’s especially cool to cycle trough those images using the slideshow effect, as you can see how he kept the placement of the head, hands, and shoulders consistent in all four images. It all adds up to a tremendous tribute to Bolland, The Killing Joke, and the character’s rich history on film.

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Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Joker #3 Micro-Review – Wrong Turns

***This is where we keep it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: The Joker #3
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV, Sam Johns
ARTISTS: Guillem March, Mirka Andolfo, Arif Prianto (Colorist), Romulo Fajardo Jr., Tom Napolitano (Letterer). Variant cover by Gary Frank.
RELEASED: May 11, 2021

The main story in Joker takes a couple of turns in issue #3 that I’m not too fond of at first glance. The first is that it rehashes The Killing Joke, which is a trick that’s beyond tired at this point. The second is bringing Jim Gordon and the Joker together too soon. I was hoping to see the Gordon’s manhunt continue for another one or two issues.

Still, the book is still on track. And there is plenty of intrigue in the Jim Gordon and Joker team-up we’re about to see…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

The Joker’s Animated History by Noah Sterling

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Our friend Noah Sterling is at it yet again! Having previously given his animated take on Green Lantern, Robin, and numerous other comic book icons, the Joker is the latest to get the Sterling treatment!

One thing’s for sure, there’s no shortage of ground to cover…

For more, check out Noah Sterling’s official site or his YouTube page.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Three Jokers #1 Review – Too Many Smiles?

TITLE: Three Jokers #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS:
Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Black Label
PRICE:
$6.99
RELEASED:
August 25, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, DC. You can have your “Joker War,” and you can have Three Jokers. But after these are both said and done, we put the ol’ Clown Prince back on the shelf for a little while. There is such a thing as too many smiles…

At last, more than four years after it was first teased in Johns and Fabok’s Justice League run, Three Jokers has arrived. Why’d it take so long? No clue. But I’ve gotta say, the end product was almost worth the wait. While he’s obviously used Batman in his larger DC stories, Geoff Johns hasn’t spent a lot of time on a proper Bat-book. But in terms of the overall “feel” of things, i.e. characterization, tone, the sense of sacrifice, and that lingering dread that comes with a great Joker story, Johns and the Three Jokers team absolutely nail it.

Three Jokers presents us with the notion that there are…well, three Jokers. When the Harlequin of Hate seemingly strikes three points in Gotham at the exact same time, Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood must figure out where the genuine article is. But certain evidence points them toward something more elusive: That three different men have played the role of the Joker over the years. And unbeknownst to our heroes, a fourth Joker may be on his way…

In a broad sense, I don’t really like the idea of there having been three Jokers. Rather, I like the notion that he evolved over time just as Batman did. But I’ve been around long enough to know these kinds of things often aren’t as they initially seem. So I’ll reserve judgment on the premise and simply judge the content on its own merits.

One thing I give this issue a lot of credit for is quickly and effectively establishing the Joker’s relationship to Batman, and also providing the character with dramatic weight he deserves. It’s all done within the first few pages, using very little dialogue. We see Batman’s scarred and mangled flesh juxtaposed with single images of his enemies corresponding to specific wounds. Characters like Bane, the Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. Then we get one for the Joker. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker yet again. Thus the reader, whether a Batman buff or someone picking up a comic for the first time, understands the Joker isn’t simply another villain. He’s the one who’s given Batman more scars, both physically and emotionally, than anyone else.

Also adding dramatic weight is the presence of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and the Red Hood/Jason Todd. Ask a casual comic book reader to name three Joker stories, and chances are two of them will be (for better or worse) The Killing Joke – Where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and A Death in the Family – The infamous story where the Joker kills Jason. So having them around is a nice reminder of what the stakes are when dealing with the Joker. You’d think, with both breathing and walking, the opposite would be true. But both carry a heavy existential burden.

Jason Fabok gets to put his own little tweaks on all the iconic costumes for Three Jokers. The only changes of real significance are to Red Hood’s costume (shown above). Most of what we see is an improvement. The Bat emblem on his chest is thankfully gone. He’s now in a leather jacket with a red tunic that has, you guessed it, a hood. The tunic is supposed to look like the Robin costume. It even has an R on the belt buckle. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it’s grown on me. In fact, it’s probably my favorite take on the costume since Under the Hood in the mid 2000s.

I credit Three Jokers #1 with having one of the best, most cinematic chase scenes I’ve read in quite awhile. There’s not even that much to it. Just Batman and Batgirl trying to stop an ambulance, with Batman coming aboard and fighting inside. But Johns and Fabok made a more exciting sequence out of this than some creators can with four times as much.

This book is also beautifully colored. The palette Brad Anderson is working with feels like it can explode into a bright, beautiful blaze at any moment. But instead we get colors that are very full and that pop, but also feel like they’ve been dipped in darkness. The way Fabok and Anderson capture Gotham City feels definitive. Like this is what it’s supposed to look like.

Jason Todd is really the star of this first issue. That’s mostly because of the climax and a deliciously emotional, character-defining moment between a killer and his victim…

Three Jokers #1 straddles an interesting line. I totally disagree with its premise, yet I can’t deny this is a great comic book. Normally I can’t stand it when even oversized comics are priced above $5. But I can say with full confidence that this one is worth the price of admission.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Batman, Vol. 7: The Wedding Deep-Dive Review – Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 7: The Wedding
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Tony Daniel, Clay Mann, Mikel Janin
INKERS: John Livesay, Sandu Florea, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Tomeu Morey, June Chung
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #4550, portion of DC Nation #0.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
October 24, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Welp, this was a big one. A pivotal moment in Batman’s world. Or was it? I mean, it certainly could have been…

Either way, this book pissed a lot of people off. And not just with the pay-off (or lack there of) to a year’s worth of build-up. Tom King and the Batman crew had been cranking up the weirdness factor with the last several issues. And not necessarily weird in a good way. It was more weird in a, “Huh?” way. There’s a strong argument to be made that the weirdness reaches its apex here, in a three-issue story called “The Gift”…

1. What’s your refund policy?
Linkara actually did a masterful job of roasting “The Gift” in a recent episode of Atop the Fourth Wall. But I’ll touch on the broad strokes here.

In an ill-conceived attempt to give Batman a wedding gift, Booster Gold and Skeets travel back in time to stop the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The idea was to give Bruce an It’s A Wonderful Life moment, i.e. a chance to see what the world would be like without Batman. And indeed, the world is worse off for him being gone. Much worse. The nation of “Eurasia” is ruled by Ra’s al Ghul. The Penguin has become president of the United States. Selina Kyle is a serial killer who only speaks in meows. Gotham is infected by a “Joker” insanity plague. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is a homicidal Batman whose costume is covered in firearms and explosives. When Booster finds himself trapped in this horrific reality he’s created, he has no choice but to try and…well, take back his gift.

Perhaps the most prominent theme, of Tom King’s Batman run has been the question of whether or not Bruce can actually be happy. It’s a hell of an idea to explore. I get the sense that’s what “The Gift” is trying to do. Would Bruce be happier if his parents hadn’t been killed? And considering how the world looks without Batman, is everyone better off with him being unhappy, yet serving a greater good?

However, in terms of plot holes, “The Gift” looks like friggin’ swiss cheese.

Let’s start with Booster Gold. Setting aside that King portrays him as a complete doofus, his plan makes no sense. By the classic Back to the Future, Part II logic, if you travel back in time and change something critical, reality will change around you. The world you return to may be drastically different than the one you left behind. So Booster goes back in time to stop the Wayne murders, thus preventing Bruce from becoming Batman. Once he does that, how does he expect to return to the present day and show Batman what he’s done? Batman doesn’t exist! That was the idea behind this whole cockamamie scheme in the first place!

What’s more, with this story King, like so many other writers, falls victim to Batman worship. Would the world be different without Batman? Or at least the Batman we know? Yes. But does the entire world fall into chaos without Batman? Remember, we’re still in the DC Universe. The Wayne murders had nothing to do with the origins of Superman or Wonder Woman. Hell, we even see Green Lantern in this story! (Albeit in a gratuitously violent manner.) You’re telling me no other heroes could have stopped Ra’s al Ghul from conquering half the planet?

Dick Grayson becoming Batman, much less a Batman who’s more like the Punisher, makes no sense either. How does Dick get the whole bat motif if he’s not taken in by Bruce? Did a rogue bat somehow fly into Haley’s Circus and snap those trapeze wires?

In addition to serving as an extremely bizarre look into an alt-universe Gotham City, “The Gift” essentially serves two purposes. First, like “Everyone Loves Ivy” in the last collection, it helps set the stage for Heroes in Crisis, in which Booster has a major role. Secondly, it gave them a reason to have Tony Daniel draw Catwoman in her Batman Returns costume. But Christ on a cracker, if they wanted to work that in, there had to be a better way than this. Just say it’s a failed prototype costume Selina made. You don’t have to alter the damn timeline…

2. Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?
Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? You can’t do a big story like this and not have the Joker around in some form.

Mikel Janin is back for the two-issue story, “The Best Man.” But before that, we get a little gem from DC Nation #0 drawn by Clay Mann. The Joker breaks into a random house, and holds a man hostage while he waits for the mail to come, inexplicably expecting an invitation to Batman’s wedding. By and large, I’m not necessarily in love with Clay Mann’s take on the Joker. But there are two shots he absolutely nails. The first is the opening splash page. The second is the panel at left.

Tom King writes a decent Joker. He’s good at working humor into the horror, one of the hallmarks of a great Joker writer. The Clay Mann story, “Your Big Day,” and the first several pages of Batman #48 are really good. But as the proceedings continue, he runs into a familiar problem: Joker, and later Catwoman, talk too much in attempts at banter. This is especially true in issue #49, which consists almost entirely of them talking about “the old days,” and Joker’s worry that a happily married Batman wouldn’t be funny, and might ultimately cease to exist.

The big problem I have with issue #49 isn’t so much about the banter attempts. It’s that the Joker, for lack of a better term, talks straight with Selina. He drops the act. He talks like a normal person, as if to an old friend. That’s the idea, I suppose. But I believe that on the rare occasions the Joker does that, it has to be brief yet impactful. It has to mean something.

Consider it this way: Tom King and Mikel Janin clearly have a fondness for The Killing Joke, the classic story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. At one point Joker even refers to the church they’re in as the “Moore Cathedral” on “Bolland Ave.” For those of you who’ve read it, think about that final scene where Batman extends that olive branch to the Joker, and the Joker simply and quietly responds. For just a few precious moments, he’s not a monster anymore. Then he goes into a joke, and brings himself back into character.

Now…what if he’d been like that for a huge chunk of the story? Or the entire story? Not in the flashback scenes, mind you. The ones in the present day. Takes a lotta the punch out of the story, doesn’t it?

3. The Moment of Truth
Artistically, Batman #50, the wedding issue, is a beautiful tribute to the dynamic these two characters have shared for nearly eight decades. There are splash pages, pin-ups essentially, by the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, among numerous others. You can argue work like that is worth the $16.99 on its own. Meanwhile, we’ve got Janin back for the story proper.

While I think this Batman run has soured a lot of people’s perceptions of Tom King following his stellar run on Vision, he’s on his A-game for this issue. As he damn well should be. There’s an absolutely beautiful one-page scene between Bruce and Alfred. Depending on how invested you are in them and their surrogate father/son dynamic, it may even move you to tears.

The ending of this issue, i.e. the outcome of the wedding, had a lot of people crying foul. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but it’s been over a year since the issue was published. So I feel comfortable enough saying fans thought DC didn’t deliver on what they’d promised.

But let’s be honest: These are mainstream superhero comics, where marriages either get retconned out of existence, or are mystically evaporated via deals with Mephisto. At best, there was only a 50/50 chance they were going through with the wedding anyway. Plus, it’s not like they had the Joker, or God forbid Kite-Man, come in and break up the ceremony. They tied it into what had already been established in the 49 issues prior, and the big theme of Bruce and happiness. Was the final outcome predictable? Absolutely. Even a little bit of an eye-roller. But it works. Especially with the benefit of hindsight.

When discussing a potential marriage between Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio once famously said in 2013…

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. … They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

DC would ultimately scale back on that philosophy. For instance, they re-established the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane. But I think fans who were in the know about DiDio’s remarks saw this ending as a step backward.

I think that’s an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a bit premature. As of this writing, Tom King has one issue of Batman left, which happens to be an extra-sized 48-pager. Then he’s got a 12-issue Batman/Catwoman maxi-series coming in 2020. So he’s clearly not done with them yet. I’m not saying I expect anything in particular to happen. I’m just keeping an open mind as we move ahead.

4. I Now Pronounce You…
Batman: The Wedding is a red letter moment in the history of two iconic characters. For that alone, it’s worth a read. And for all the blunders King has made during his Batman run, he got the wedding itself right. Mikel Janin’s art continues to amaze, standing tall on its own even with additions from iconic Batman artists. And hey, if train wrecks are your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out “The Gift.”

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, and Bride or Burglar?.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

Epic Covers: Doomsday Clock #5

Doomsday Clock 5, Gary Frank, JokerBy Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

ARTISTS: Gary Frank, Brad Anderson

THE ISSUE: As Watchmen characters continue to make an impact in the DC Universe, the Joker enters the picture.

WHY IT’S EPIC: So I have this thing that I call the “Alex Ross Theory of the Joker.” I pulled it from a passage in Mythology: The Art of Alex Ross. It’s his take on the Joker’s appearance, and what that famous chemical bath actually did to him physically. It goes like this…

“In my mind it wouldn’t have given him green hair and red lips – the chemical bath would only have turned his skin white. He adds the rest himself to complete the picture. There’s a panel at the end of Batman #1 in which the Joker is stabbed and we see that his chest is white. I never forgot that – The realization that his whole body was white. Eerie.”

You don’t see this idea represented much in the canonical DC Universe. That’s because DC relies so heavily on The Killing Joke, in which the Joker emerges from the chemicals with the green hair and red lips. But the Ross idea makes sense, all things considered. It lines up nicely with the theatricality that’s built in to the Joker character.

That’s why it’s so cool to see Gary Frank and Brad Anderson go that route with this variant for Doomsday Clock #5. Frank doesn’t get to draw Joker very often. But when he does, it’s a treat. Look at the wild insanity we see in those eyes. We see him inside the issue as well. But this right here is the coup de grace.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

A Batman #25 Review – The Sad Clown

TITLE: Batman #25
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 21, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not going to follow up on the whole marriage proposal thing, huh? Alright, I guess that’s one way to do it…

To be fair, we do kinda/sorta get an answer. “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is framed as a story being told by Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle about his early days of Batman. You’ve got to figure if she’d said no, they wouldn’t be in bed together like we see them here. So, congratulations?

For the Joker, the unthinkable has happened. The Clown Prince of Crime has found his life suddenly devoid of humor. He can’t bring himself to laugh, or even smile. Conversely, the Riddler now finds all puzzles and quandaries have no thrill or meaning. The common cause? Batman. The Riddler proposes an alliance, but Joker responds with a gunshot that will ignite a war to decide who gets to kill the Dark Knight. A war with all of Gotham City in the crosshairs.

The Joker and the Riddler have similar mischievous, game-ish motifs, and obviously they’re both completely off the mental reservation. So they make natural rivals, in terms of one trying to outdo the other. Until now, that idea hasn’t been explored much in their near 70-year history of coexistence. So to see it played up as a big event like this is really cool. What’s more, the solicits make it look like they’re looping in most of the other major Batman villains. Almost like a Long Halloween type ensemble story. They’re diving head-first into the rogues gallery on this one.

Mikel Janin is back on the pencil, and he’s channeling his inner Brian Bolland. His Joker has a Killing Joke vibe to him. Nothing overt. The way he draws Joker’s face. The black suit he’s wearing, which is reminiscent of the Red Hood sequence in that book. The fact that this is a pretty dark and moody issue adds in that respect as well.

Janin’s take on Edward Nygma is a little bulky for my taste. Look at the lower panels in the image at right. Facially, he looks a little like John Cena, doesn’t he? He’s also more physically dynamic than we’re used to seeing. Early in the issue we see a cop questioning him in Arkham. He eventually leaps up in the air and slashes the guy’s throat. It’s almost a Matrix move.

King also has Riddler just recite riddles to himself. They’ll loosely connect to the situation he’s in, which justifies them to an extent. But it’s a trait I can’t remember seeing before. Not sure how I feel about it…

Still, Janin and Tom King respect the Riddler, just as Scott Snyder did during his run. There’s a really nice sequence where the Riddler escapes prison simply by saying the names of all the guards’ daughters. Answers, information, those are his currency. His power lies in his ability to be cunning and clever. And for a bit of charm, he’s got the classic green bowler hat on during the whole thing.

We get back to back two-page spreads in this issue, each a wide shot of the Joker’s office. The Riddler in one (shown below), Mr. J in another. It conveys a pretty big moment. Our first meeting of the two sides before the fighting begins. They’re also beautiful pages, Janin’s inks and June Chung‘s colors aligning perfectly to show us a gorgeous night in Gotham City. Though I can’t help but wonder how much this artistic choice had to do with the added page count for this “anniversary” issue.

There is one thing Batman #25 leaves unclear, perhaps purposely. In the office scene, the Joker shoots the Riddler at near point-blank range. He seems to hit him right in the gut, and we see a pool of blood. Yet Nygma is able to get to his feet and stumble away. Is he wearing a protective gimmick around his waste? Is the Joker using rubber bullets for some reason? What gives? The war should be over right here!

Tom King had a rocky start on Batman. The series is still a little rocky these days. But when this team is on, they’re really on. There’s nothing in here that damns “The War of Jokes and Riddles” from the get-go. But I’m not chomping at the bit to get to the next issue either. As a single issue, Batman #26 is fine. But for now, the story is still in the “Wait and See” column.

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A Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 Review – The Never-Ending Joke

Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, 2016, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1
AUTHORS: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
PENCILLER: Claire Roe. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 20, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been looking for a reason to write about The Killing Joke, what with the animated movie coming out. I didn’t expect to find it here. But I’ll take it!

Someone is sending information to mafia families using the name Oracle, Barbara Gordon’s handle during her days in a wheelchair. This obviously strikes a personal chord, and Batgirl asks Black Canary to help her investigate. Babs is looking to get the Birds of Prey back together. But Dinah isn’t interested (“I’ve moved on. So have you.”). Still, she tags along for her friend’s sake. They cross paths with Huntress, who inexplicably knows some big secrets. But the identity of this mysterious new Oracle? That’s still a secret.

In reviewing how Babs became Oracle, we flash back to The Killing Joke. We see Claire Roe’s take on some of the famous shots from that story: Joker in the Hawaiian shirt, Barbara getting shot with the coffee mug in her hands, her laying looking up at him. Interestingly, Roe puts Barbara in a tank top and pants, as opposed to the skirt and blouse she was wearing in that story.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1, Killing Joke flashbackI read an article recently on DC’s refusal to put The Killing Joke behind them. Though heralded as a landmark story, it’s unquestionably brutal and cruel. It also spawned an era of creators seemingly trying to mimic The Killing Joke by having female characters face awful acts of violence (see Women in Refrigerators). Yet the story lives on. Why? For the same reason DC won’t give up on Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. Name value.

Those three stories were arguably the three tentpole works of the “grim and gritty” movement in the ’80s. If you’ve been into comics at all over the last 30 years, chances are you’ve at least heard of them. In one way or another, they’re masterpieces that changed the industry. So by connecting those stories to their new books, DC creates a bridge to readers that have either left them behind, or simply aren’t reading comics anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why the first several issues of the New 52 Batgirl series weren’t just about Barbara being a superhero again. They were about her recovering, and coming to grips with being able to walk again. Just like in this issue, in 2011’s Batgirl #1 we relived the Joker shooting scene, and went over Barbara’s trauma. Eventually Babs even winds up confronting a nameless henchmen from that story.

I’m not disputing The Killing Joke is a great story, albeit one that inspired a bunch of bad creative choices. I just hope a day comes where we don’t have to go back to it every time Barbara has a new series. There are other stories out there, after all…

Huntress church sceneSo what’s with Dinah not wanting to put the Birds of Prey back together? The New 52 Birds of Prey series wasn’t exactly their highest of highs. But Babs and Dinah are still good friends. Why the cold shoulder?

Huntress makes her first appearance in a church confessional. I’m not as familiar with this version of Helena, but it looks like she’s as much a believer as her pre-New 52 counterpart was. The visual messaging in the church scene makes sense, particularly the shot of her walking out. By that point, you know her mission is to kill mafia hitmen. To say the least, she’s become a lapsed Catholic. You’ll notice this version of the Huntress costume doesn’t include a cross necklace.

The panels in the confessional are lit very interestingly (some shown above). Colorist Allen Passalaqua does great things withthe faint light coming in from the church and the resulting shadows on Helena’s face. The panel where her elbow is on the ledge is the best in the book, giving us an image more natural than what we see in most superhero books.

In contrast, Batgirl has what I’ll call some “mouth issues.” Not Barbara. Just Batgirl. I can’t decide if Claire Roe draws it in a way that’s somehow conspicuous, or if she just came out a little toothy. In certain panels, she almost looks like a buck-toothed Pipi Longstocking in a cowl. It’s one thing if that’s the look she’s going for. I don’t think it is.

Batgirl and the Birds, just a nameIt’s hard to believe, but Birds of Prey turns 20 this year. The group has had a variety of incarnations. But the most successful, at least creatively, have always had two ingredients: Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance. At its core, Birds of Prey is a buddy superhero series about two women who bonded through their work and found friendship. If you’re missing one of them, you don’t have Birds of Prey. Thankfully, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has its core intact. Now they simply need to built on top of that. With two female writers and a female penciller, I’m hopeful they build a series unlike any other on the stands.

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