Batman’s spent his life stopping robberies. While it might be his battles against Gotham’s colorful super-villains that grab the headlines, not a week goes by where Batman or his allies don’t also foil countless muggings, purse snatches and burglaries. After all, it was a robbery gone wrong that set Bruce Wayne on his path to becoming the Dark Knight. So, it’s surprising, perhaps, that the idea of someone robbing him doesn’t seem to have occurred to Batman…and that the thief could ultimately be the Joker may be the worst oversight of all.
Yet, it’s exactly this terrifying scenario that Bruce is facing in “The Joker War,” the major new Batman storyline that finds the Dark Knight suddenly stripped of his fortune, his business and all of his tools and resources. No Batmobile. No Batcomputer. No Wayne Manor or Batcave. But what makes it infinitely worse is that these powerful assets aren’t just unavailable, they’re all in the hands of the Joker. While Bruce was busy getting not-married and fighting to save the city from Bane, the Joker was quietly biding his time and laying the groundwork for one of his most ambitious and dangerously effective schemes in history. And it seems to have worked.
“Part of what I was trying to do from the beginning of my run in Batman,” explains “The Joker War” writer James Tynion IV, “where we were introducing new vehicles and gadgets in every single issue, is show everything that incredible wealth has given Bruce—all of these advantages—and then seeing it in the hands of the Joker, and how dangerous it is. How it messes with the legal system. How he can really cripple Gotham City in this massive, dangerous way using that wealth.”
He continues, “The danger of overreach and creating these systems and these dangerous gadgets is what if they fall in the wrong hands? Batman has created so much of it that he couldn’t guarantee that it didn’t fall into the wrong hands, and now it’s all fallen into the worst hands possible.”
It’s been several years since we’ve had a major, in-universe Batman story featuring the Joker as the central villain, and even longer since the last Batman crossover of this scale. Yet, creating bold, far-reaching stories with Batman at the core has been part of the plan since Tynion got involved with the character.
“I really, really wanted to build towards a big event story,” he shares. “My first comics ever (as a DC writer) were the backup stories that were a part of the ‘Night of the Owls’ crossover during the New 52. I used to love those big crossover moments in the Batman line because it felt like it really unified the family, and it was something that story could both build to and flow out of. When we first started talking about my Detective Comics run a few years ago, we thought we might do something like that, but we only really did ‘Night of the Monster Men.’ It was something that I was hoping to see some more of.”
Building a big, far-reaching story around the Joker makes a lot of sense—after all, he’s not just Batman’s most popular baddie, but one of the most well-known comic book villains in the world. However, therein lies the problem. He’s been used so much, how do you find something fresh to do with him? In Tynion’s case, much of it came down to looking at the character through the filter of today.
“Our real world has so many podcasts about serial killers and stuff like that,” Tynion posits. “What does Batman’s world see of the Joker? I imagine that there are entire shelves in Barnes & Noble filled with books about the crimes of the Joker. I wanted to build off of that.”
Punchline offers another example of this, filling a story need by looking at behavior we often seen in today’s world.
“I wanted to speak to the growing number of people online in the real world who look up to a Joker ideology, which I find deeply frightening,” reveals Tynion. “They’re looking up to a dangerous character. In the real world all around us, we see people looking up to dark ideologies and people getting radicalized and all of that. I think there is a story of radicalization that is very much of the moment and is very key to who the character of Punchline is in a way that makes her very different from Harley Quinn. That was very much the angle there.”
While Tynion reassures fans that “The Joker War” isn’t a heavy or particularly grounded story—after all, the first issue alone features a bazooka-wielding clown and a Joker-grinning Batplane—he also feels like it has something to say about Bruce and his role within the city as a multi-billionaire.
“When Batman was created, he wasn’t meant to be the richest person in the world,” explains Tynion. “He was a wealthy man, but over time millionaire became billionaire, and the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire is very, very big. Running a company like Wayne Enterprises, it changes the dynamics of the character. Stripping away this angle for at least this storyline was deliberate, and how we carry it forward allows for Batman stories that don’t have the kind of messy questions lingering over their heads where you’re wondering, ‘Why isn’t Bruce dismantling Wayne Enterprises and just putting all of that money into the city?’”
Like many great comics, “The Joker War” is all about relationships. But it’s not just about Batman’s relationship with the Wayne fortune or even his relationship with the Joker. At its heart, it’s largely about his relationship with the Bat-Family, something that fans know has been rather strained of late.
“Joker’s successfully hit a bunch of fracture points that have separated Batman away from his family—some of those fracture points, Bruce hit himself,” says Tynion. “But now Joker has this big family all around him—he has Punchline and this whole gang of clowns in masks, and Bruce doesn’t have anyone around him. That’s where ‘Joker War’ starts, and then we’re going to see that change over the course of the story as Batman realizes who he needs to reach out to in order to win.”
Tynion’s playing coy when it comes to who those people may be, but there’s little doubt that most of the core Bat-Family will find themselves involved with “The Joker War” at some point. Along with the six-issue main storyline in Batman, just about all of the Bat-books will feature “The Joker War” tie-in issues in the weeks ahead.
“On Nightwing, we worked very closely with Dan Jurgens specifically around the beats that happen around Batman #99, which given some of the covers, there might already be some hints as to why we’re coordinating certain beats and to a certain return as a part of that story,” teases Tynion. “I’ve been working closely with (Detective Comics writer) Pete Tomasi since I took on the Batman title. We talked about how our storylines have lined up going all the way back and especially when we co-wrote the Pennyworth R.I.P. special, which set the tone for a lot of the current relationships between the Bat-Family. That was the nadir, and now we’re going to see everything turn around as a part of this story. Working with Cecil Castellucci (on Batgirl) and Ram V on Catwoman, there were key beats that I wanted to coordinate with those titles. I’m really happy and excited about all of the material that’s tying in.”
While beloved characters may be returning to the fold, readers can expect plenty of new characters as well. In fact, the single most important thing about “The Joker War,” at least as Tynion sees it, may be everything new it creates for future stories to build on.
“I’m trying to create new characters, bring them into the Gotham mythos, expand the Gotham mythos, change some of the core pillars of the Gotham mythos,” he expains. “A lot of what ‘Joker War’ does is it raises Gotham so that new stories can be built off of it, and that’s been one of the most exciting things. Just being able to create a whole bunch of new story and threads that are going to pay off, not only later this year, but into next year. That’s been incredibly exciting, and people have been really responding to the new stuff.”