Review: ‘Batman- The Joker War Zone’ Is More Important Than You Might Think
by Tony Thornley
Gotham City is a battleground as The Joker takes over the Wayne fortune and wages a street war against the Dark Knight and his allies! Enter the “war zone” with short stories featuring characters like Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and Luke Fox and see how they’re fighting back in a city under siege! Also, the brutal full debut of the mysterious new anti-hero known as Clownhunter!
Four times a year, comics readers are lucky enough to get a fifth Wednesday. Publishers often use the extra publishing week to catch up on late books, print mini events, and release annuals and specials. Batman: The Joker War Zone falls firmly in that last category, but it’s more important, both to the DC Universe and to the larger comics community, than you might realize.
This special features five different stories, each one covering a different aspect of the Joker ruled Gotham of Joker War. However, three of the five have enormous meaning outside of the special’s pages. It was created by James Tynion IV, Guillem March, Tomeu Morey, Clayton Cowles, John Ridley, Olivier Coipel, Matt Hollingsworth, Deron Bennett, Joshua Williamson, David Lafuente, Hi-Fi, Gabriela Downie, Sam Johns, Laura Braga, Antonio Fabela, Tom Napolitano, and James Stokoe.
The Joker has torn Gotham apart. We get glances into what that means for Bane, the Fox family, Spoiler and Orphan, Ivy, and Clownhunter. It’s clear that Gotham will never be the same.
Art-wise, this is a solid one-shot throughout. Each artist is top notch and doing extremely good work. However that’s not what makes this such an interesting and potentially important issue.
Many other one shots like this would focus on the same ol’ characters, like Tim Drake, Damian Wayne or Alfred. Here though, we get four out of five stories about diverse characters (a black family, two women, a queer woman, and a neurodivergent young man). Ridley & Coipel’s Fox family story (focusing mostly on Lucius and Luke but giving a few others some spotlight) explores the family, hits on institutional racism briefly, but then sets up Ridley’s Batman mini to debut in January. Williamson and Lafuente elevate Steph and Cass back into the Batgirl role. Johns and Braga give Ivy a new name and role. Lastly, Clownhunter gets his biggest spotlight so far.
Three out of the four also work really well. Ridley does some interesting things with Lucius and Luke that make it clear that this is a family worth following into their own mini (and interestingly teasing a Fox who we haven’t met yet). Williamson’s story may be simply fan service but it could be more; regardless it’s a return to form for the popular characters, and adds two more female characters to the Bat-family A-list. Johns also teases some interesting things for Ivy, a queer anti-hero, especially her newly chosen name of Queen Ivy, a change that DC has danced around for several years now.
Even better, many of the creators themselves are diverse. Tynion is queer, Ridley is a person of color and Johns is non-binary. This is the sort of project that diverse voices really strengthen the story and makes it stronger for it. Comics should reflect the world outside their pages, but without diverse voices telling stories about diverse characters, it will never be that. Even as a cisgender, heterosexual white man, it’s important to me to see those voices because it expands these fictional universes and makes them richer.
Maybe one day, we can reach a point where this sort of story, with the diverse range of creators involved, is the norm not an exception. It helps that this story is so good, quickly dispelling any scuttlebutt that these creators were hired for their diversity and not the quality of their work.
Batman: The Joker War Zone is available now from DC Comics.