Gotham City is torn to pieces so often that it’s amazing that the No Man’s Land status quo of the late nineties didn’t become permanent. However, with the Joker’s new reign of terror, something feels different this time.
The Dark Knight is in a tough spot and his allies have it even worse. It’s a great spot to tell this story from. This issue comes from James Tynion IV, Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles.
As Batman fights through the hallucinogen he’s been injected with, Gotham is in chaos. The Joker has created the perfect atmosphere for his brand of anarchy. Meanwhile Punchline is preparing a massive chemical weapons attack on the city and the Underbroker is destabilizing the city’s economy. Can Bruce Wayne pull himself together long enough to save the day or is all lost?
This is a fun issue that’s also frustrating in equal measure. On one hand, the opening “flash forward” is some truly excellent Batman writing, a vision of a future that could actually be a FANTASTIC status quo for a while. It’s enjoyable, a smart evolution of the concept, and incredibly intriguing. Also, the last few pages are totally chilling, a Batman versus Joker horror story that I hope the next issue dives in deep with.
However, what falls in between is where the issue falls short. Outside of one page, the exposition telling us about what’s happening in Gotham is just Harley Quinn and Batman in a dingy safe house, with Harley talking. Now, it looks great (a testament to how amazing Jimenez and Morey are as an art team), but it’s incredibly boring. It could have used Harley’s narration while showing us more of this new Gotham- Punchline being gleeful sadistic in Ace Chemical, the Underbroker paying off cops and politicians, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood being overwhelmed by it all- but we don’t get any of that.
Again though, it looks FANTASTIC. Jimenez’s star continues to rise. His work on the opening scene is stunning, giving us not just a Gotham unlike any version we’ve seen before, but a Batman that’s clearly the Bruce we know and love, but also fulfilled and content. His “post-apocalypse Harley” design is perhaps the best deviation from her modern design ever. Morey continues with his great color work as well, bringing a bright optimism to New Gotham, while filling the pages with a dingy neon in the city as it falls apart.
It’s a frustrating duality that I see here. It’s a book that feels like it’s just right at the edge of its potential, but it’s been teetering there for ten issues. Without something to push it over the edge, it’s just a frustrating cycle of a book that’s not quite what it could be, and that’s a tough read every two weeks.
Batman #96 is available now from DC Comics.