The first shots have been fired in “The Joker War” and I have to say, I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere near Gotham right now. If this were the real Gotham Gazette and not just a Batman column we’ve named after it, I think today’s headline would just be something like, “GET OUT IF YOU CAN, AND IF NOT, IT WAS NICE KNOWIN’ YA!” followed by all the places the Joker has attacked, and maybe a short article in the fashion section about how Punchline is really making purple work this season because…dang, girl!!!
On the subject of Punchline, can we just talk about how ridiculously good a fighter she is? I mean, we knew she looked great and could talk a good game, and we were pretty impressed when she took down Harley Quinn a couple of issues back. But she more than held her own against Batman this week. Granted he’d just been poisoned, but still, the Joker’s newest lieutenant has some real grit.
Of course, the Joker’s no slouch either, and he seems to be everywhere lately. This week, it was his headline-grabbing antics in Batman #95 that got everyone’s attention and it’s not hard to figure out why. Thanks to him, Bruce Wayne is now penniless and under investigation, and even worse, all of Bruce Wayne’s money, businesses and assets are now his. Alfred’s dead, Lucius Fox has been heavily dosed with Joker toxin, Catwoman’s been shot and the Bat-Family is hanging together by a thread. As for Batman, he’s hardly 100%. The Joker and his minions had him on his heels for much of Batman #95, and his ultimate fate there at the end is a little uncertain.
Even accepting that he’s probably not dead, things aren’t looking so good for the Dark Knight right now. However, in one hopeful sign, he’s not entirely alone in Gotham. While his steadfast ally Commissioner Gordon hasn’t been seen much since the Batman Who Laughs had his way with him, his acting replacement, Harvey Bullock, isn’t buying into the Joker’s backroom shenanigans. That makes sense. While Bullock is far from perfect, he does want to clean up the crime in Gotham and being a member of the GCPD, he knows what corrupt deals smell like. He also knows what it’s like to lose everything. The thought of that doesn’t frighten him, which makes him more than willing to die on a hill he believes in, such as denying the Joker’s obviously suspect requests. At this point, the only thing Bullock really has is his pride and reputation as a straight-shooting cop, and it’s clear he’s not willing to sacrifice either of them, even if it does mean he eventually gets kicked off the GCPD.
“The Joker War” is really just getting started over in Batman, but in the world of Nightwing, I worry that it may be over—and that the Joker has won. I mentioned last month that you really need to be paying attention to what’s happening in Nightwing, and if you followed my advice, you now know why. Dick Grayson—
Wait…is he Dick Grayson, or is he still Ric Grayson? At this point, who knows?
At any rate, the guy formerly known as Dick Grayson is now completely under the Joker’s control as of Nightwing #72. And I don’t mean he’s being coerced into working for him against his will or secretly working as a double agent—he’s 100% Team Joker. Of course, it’s no secret that Grayson has been different since he was shot by KGBeast. In fact, it’s debatable if you can even still call him Nightwing. We’ve learned that part of this is because the doctor who was tapped to help him recover turned out to be a member of the Court of Owls—let’s be real, that would do a number on anybody. However, proving that things in Blüdhaven can always get worse, the crystal that Dr. Haas used to replace Grayson’s actual memories with false ones has now fallen into the Joker’s possession…and as you can imagine, he wasted no time in using it for his own psychotic purposes.
So, now Dick’s bad. Like, fighting with Punchline over who gets to kill Batgirl bad. And what I have to wonder is…how much more of all this can his mind take? Even assuming aligning himself with the Joker doesn’t get him killed, Dick’s mind has been partially destroyed and then manipulated multiple times. I worry about its state, even if he does manage to undo the Joker’s hypnosis. Batman #55—the comic where Nightwing first got shot—showed us how vulnerable our heroes’ minds are against an effectively armed opponent. But a bullet isn’t the only way to destroy someone’s mind, and I worry that the Joker may ultimately complete the work that the bullet started when it comes to Dick—um, Ric—er, Ferdinand. (Seriously, read Nightwing, guys.)
You know whose mind is sharp as ever, though? Barbara Gordon. Not only did she immediately realize something was wrong with Dick, but she also managed to do what NO ONE ELSE has been able to do so far in “The Joker War.” She defeated the Joker.
I’m not going to equivocate here. Batgirl #47 is an absolute must-read comic. It doesn’t matter if you read the series regularly or not—it’s a standalone “The Joker War” one-shot. You don’t need to be aware of anything else happening in the series prior to the issue. You don’t even need to be aware of anything else happening in “The Joker War.” And yet, Batgirl #47 is a magnificent example of how these line-wide crossovers can stoke creative fires and occasionally inspire brilliance. Writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Robbi Rodriguez have built upon the foundation of Batman: The Killing Joke as well as all of the heroic development that Babs has seen herself through in the years since to create what might be the perfect follow-up to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s iconic Joker story.
While Batgirl has faced the Joker plenty of times in the years since he paralyzed her, Batgirl #47 finds him once again knocking at her door, this time aided by some cutting-edge tech that the Wayne fortune provided him. With the push of a button, Barbara’s spinal implant is under his control and she once again finds herself gasping at his feet, in pain and unable to move.
This is one I don’t want to spoil for you if you haven’t read it yet, but I’ll say that this tightly-packed story plays like a quiet, sometimes brutal triumph over what’s one of comics’ most infamous violations (make sure you read Castellucci's guest post about how it came together, if you haven't yet). And best of all, it’s all Barbara. There’s no nick-of-time rescue from Batman or her father—Batgirl takes down the Joker on her own. It’s a personal victory for Barbara and could very well be a deeply cathartic one for Batgirl fans.
But right now, it’s really the only victory the Bat-Family has managed to pull off—and in the larger story, it’s not much of a setback for the Joker. His ego’s likely far more damaged than his plan. We don’t know what lies ahead for the Clown Prince of Crime and his ruthlessly efficient allies. We don’t know how much damage he’ll do. We don’t know what role the rest of the Gotham City underworld may play and where Catwoman may slot into it. We don’t know where the Robins are or when Jim Gordon will enter the fight. And while Batgirl may have won her own personal battle against the Joker, it’s clear this war is far from over.
Let’s hope the city can survive it.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column.