Let's see if they can land this punchline.
|Written by James Tynion IV, pencilled by Guillem March|
Earlier this week saw the release of Batman issue 92 and with it the much-awaited formal introduction of the Joker's new partner(/girlfriend/victim?): Punchline. She was originally supposed to debut a few months ago, but due to the current pandemic it only now finally happened. DC comics hyped up her introduction to the Batman mythos something fierce, so I wanted to mark the occasion of Punchline big debut by taking a look at the book and see what she's all about. And, you know, see if the issue is any good, to begin with.
Let's dive in.
The issue starts with Harvey Bullock interrogating the Penguin in his hospital room about events that happened the last issue. Bullock's (fruitless) attempts at getting Penguin to crack is interrupted by the Riddler. He has used local forcefields to divide Gotham up in a giant grid for a crossword puzzle and tasks Batman with solving it on top of everything Bats is already going through. If he doesn't or refuses to play the game, he'll start detonating the bombs he's planted all over the city. Meanwhile, Catwoman and Harley Quinn are crawling through the sewers on their way to rob some kind of supervillain bank, the reason of which isn't explained but it does have something to do with the mysterious new villain the Designer who has been responsible behind the multiple attacks on Batman from the last couple of issues. When they get there, however, they find that bank is already in the progress of being robbed by, you guessed it, Punchline.
Let's not run around the bush here and start off the reason why we're all here: Punchline. I'd describe her debut here as good, but not great. The actual reveal of her in the issue is really great: from the way she's first portrayed in shadows, to her dialogue ('I'm the Punchline that comes after the joke', love it!!) to the full-body reveal, it's all really strong and very cool. Where my issue comes in is what the book does with her afterwards. To understand this criticism better you first need to know with what mindset I came into the issue with. When Punchline was first announced I was very sceptical; she didn't seem genuine to me, just meant to be there to check some (corporate) boxes. With Harley Quinn's ever-increasing popularity DC has moved her away from her villainous routes and made her more and more heroic to the point that in certain media she is portrayed as a genuine superhero. Yet, even with how much DC is cashing in on Harley these days, her change from villain to (anti-)hero has left a void behind at the Jokers side.
Punchline seems to be created to fill this void, to be a new evil, opposite version of Harley Quinn. When reading the issue, I got the feeling that just like I feared, besides these surface elements, there wasn't really anything going on with the character like they thought of her purpose and her design but nothing more. I have to stress here: this is her debut issue, the very first one in which she makes an appearance that isn't a cameo or the like. The purpose at the moment isn't to dive deep into who she is and what motivates are, but to simply show the world that she's here. There'll be enough time later to dive deeper into her character and justify her presence in the Batman rogue's gallery later. This One-Shot is about judging this single issue though right here, right now Punchline as a character feels undercooked.
One final thing I want to mention about Punchline is that, although unconfirmed at the moment, the artwork heavily implies that she is Asian. I'm all down for it if that really is the case. It means more diversity and representation and that's something that Batman mythos sorely needs.
|Yeah. I'm critical of Punchline but this entrance is awesome.|
With the issues Punchline out of the way, let's see how the rest holds up. The first thing you notice when you see the cover and open the issue is how detailed the artwork is. A good example is Penguin's face, which is both expressive while highly detailed with its thick lips, sharp teeth and 'bulbous' skin. The posing is and fights are dynamic and well to follow, Gotham City is given the right amount of flair and identity as it deserves and the colouring and shadow work is excellent. The artwork is really, really good here and that's definitely one of the books selling-points.
The overall writing isn't bad either. The issue switches between its two narratives without any problems nor any logical hiccups, a result of good pacing and writing. The dialogue can also be a treat, Deathstroke especially was a joy to read here. He gets apprehended by Batman at the beginning of the issue and spends the entire time lugged around by him and he's not happy about it. He's snarky as hell throughout the entire ordeal and its amazing sight to behold. I thought Harley's attempts at being funny didn't quite land, though there is a good pay-off present for one of her jokes, that's only a mild complaint as the rest of writing and characterizations of the already established characters all very good.
The book does have one obvious flaw to me though and that's that it undercuts its own tension. While it's a lot of fun to see Batman outsmarts an increasingly agitated Riddler while Deathstroke snarks all the way through from the backseat it results in a sequence that is definitely fun but doesn't feel like a real threat to Batman or Gotham in the slightest. The journey of Harley Quinn and Catwoman fair much better in this department as it is much tenser, but the humorous moments still undercuts some of the tension here as well.
Batman issue 92 is a very good book. Its most notable feature is the introduction of Punchline to Batman's rogues' gallery which is handled well if not a bit undercooked. The book has amazing art, is well written and just enjoyable to read. I highly recommend you check this issue out if you can.