"Joker War"
PublisherDC Comics
Publication dateSeptember – December 2020
Genre
Main character(s)Batman
Joker
Dick Grayson
Jason Todd
Barbara Gordon
Harley Quinn
Creative team
Writer(s)James Tynion IV
Artist(s)Jorge Jimenez
Penciller(s)Greg Capullo
Inker(s)Danny Miki
Letterer(s)Steve Wands
Colorist(s)FCO Plascencia
Editor(s)Mark Doyle

"The Joker War" is a comic book crossover storyline published by DC Comics in late 2020, featuring Batman and his family. Primarily written by James Tynion IV, the arc is his first major arc on Batman in DC Rebirth. The main story was from Batman (vol. 3) #95–100, while 16 other issues were tie-ins.

The arc spans several titles featuring characters of the Batman family including: Batman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Harley Quinn. The story involves the return of Batman's archenemy, the Joker, and his plan to destroy Bruce Wayne's reputation in Gotham City. The storyline received positive reviews for the art, action, and story. The story is also notable for prominently featuring the recently introduced Punchline, the Joker's new henchgirl and lover.

Plot

Prologue

Following the revealing of Superman's secret identity and the liberation of Gotham City from Bane, one of the Joker's thugs suggested revealing Batman's secret identity to the world to finally bring him down. The Joker bashed his head in for even thinking this, as this would mean he would not be able to torture and play his games with him any longer. Soon, however, he realized this actually would be fun,[1] but he did not really want to kill his long-time nemesis, rather switch roles by becoming the protector of Gotham and turning him into the new Joker, after making the city lose faith in him.

Harvey Dent, the criminal with the split-personality known as "Two-Face", had started becoming more unstable due to the manipulation from the microchip Hugo Strange placed in his brain long ago. Meanwhile, the Joker revived Lincoln March (a Talon assassin from the Court of Owls) in order to make him fight Batman, who had learned about how Harvey was being manipulated by the Joker from Strange as well. As the two battled, Lincoln intervened along with revived Talons, who assaulted Harvey's Church of the Two as well. Harvey successfully destroyed the Talons in James Gordon's Rookie armor, before it was immobilized by Batman, who dug out the microchip and bullet causing his split-personality.[2] [3]

The Joker also secretly hired various assassins to create trouble for Batman and also crafts the narrative of the Designer being alive. As Catwoman tried to take away Bruce's money and stash it away in a safe location, in order to stop the Designer from stealing it, the Underbroker and the Joker's new ally Punchline revealed that she had been already set up, so they could get the codes to Bruce's accounts, before she was shot. Harley Quinn, who had accompanied Catwoman to the Underbroker's lair, also had her throat cut by Punchline, but managed to save herself.[4]

The Joker also went after Batman's ally and former sidekick Dick Grayson, who had been amnesiac since being shot by the KGBeast and had his memories manipulated by the Court of Owls. Using the crystal the Court wanted to turn him to their side, the Joker brainwashed him into believing that he had been taken in by the Joker after his alcoholic and abusive parents' death, consistently waging war on Batman after that.[5] [6]

After Batman uncovered that the Designer was nothing more than a corpse being controlled like a zombie by the Joker, he was stabbed in the femoral artery by Deathstroke, who had pretended to act as his ally after the Designer betrayed his contract and whom he had knocked out with tranquilizers, though unknown to him, he had recovered by the time he finished battling the Designer. Lucius Fox rescued him, but he soon uncovered that Catwoman had been taken out of action, while his money was stolen. Going after her to rescue her, he found that she had run away and the Joker's men confronted him, forcing him to flee from their heavy gunfire.[7]

Main story

Batman (vol. 3)

Kidnapping Lucius, the Joker injected him with a modified Joker venom, making him hand over the codes to all of Batman's weapons and unleashing chaos on the city with his goons. Batman enters his Wayne Industries building, where it has been invaded by the Joker's thugs; he then meets Punchline. However, Batman underestimates Punchline, which causes her to poison him with her own toxin. Batman hallucinates Alfred Pennyworth (who was killed by Bane in the "City of Bane" storyline) where the Joker controls the Bat-plane and fires on Batman.[8] Batman escapes, but is found by Harley Quinn, who had her throat healed. Batman knocks Harley Quinn out and goes to the Mark of Zorro theater where his parents were killed. In the theater, Batman is attacked by Joker victims.[9]

While fighting, Batman starts hearing Alfred's and the Joker's voice. In order to fight through the toxin, Batman causes an explosion and covers his eyes with part of his cape to defeat the Joker corpses by fighting them and using an EMP. Batman collapses again and is found by Harley Quinn, where she takes him to one of Poison Ivy's sanctuaries. Harley Quinn gives him medicinal tea that will heal Batman from Punchline's toxins, which would take a while. Just then, Harley Quinn is attacked by Punchline, while Batman sees Alfred in a vision.[10]

Harley Quinn and Punchline fight each other, with Punchline insulting Harley Quinn for being naïve in thinking the Joker would love her. Punchline says she followed the Joker because he made sense about society, and that she believes in the Joker and what he stands for. Harley Quinn tells Punchline she is stupid because, while Harley Quinn loved the Joker in the past, Punchline thinks the Joker is smart and rational. Bruce Wayne talks to Alfred, where Bruce finally moves on from Alfred's death after accepting that he cannot save his loved ones, but can save himself. Batman wakes up and defeats Punchline before calling his Bat Family for help.[11]

A vigilante named the Clownhunter is killing the Joker's thugs, while going to Ace Chemicals and killing a couple of people, including his goons. Batman gathers Dick Grayson (who has regained his memories), Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, Batgirl, Stephanie Brown (the Spoiler), Duke Thomas and Harley Quinn. Batman explains that Batwoman (Kathy Kane) just rescued Lucius Fox, but the Joker is forcing people to go to movie theaters, where he will kill them with his toxin. Dick Grayson asks Batman where is he going, and Batman says he is going to Ace Chemicals to deal with the Joker; Harley Quinn wants to go with him to kill the Joker. Before the group departs, Batman gives Dick Grayson his Nightwing costume and escrima sticks back. When Batman lands near Ace chemicals, Harley Quinn gives him two warning shots, telling Batman that it would be better that the Joker dies so that future people will not get hurt or be impacted. Batman declines, and Harley Quinn says that, if Batman does not kill the Joker, then she will kill him herself if Batman does not stop her. Batman turns his back on her and walks toward Ace Chemicals, where he sees Alfred's corpse being infected with Joker toxin, and the Joker acquiring a new Batman armor that Alfred designed for him (before he died).[12]

Barbara Gordon regains Gotham City and adopts her "Oracle" persona once again while helping the Bat-family turn the tide. The Joker is firing at Batman, while Batman tries to save Alfred's corpse. The Joker shoots an explosive batarang, which douses Alfred's corpse in more Joker toxin and attacks Batman. Batman turns off the lights, with the Joker claiming that it will not work because bats can see in the dark. Batman counters that the Joker is not a bat, and punches the Joker hard enough that his armor is shattered. Before Batman can gain the upper hand, the Joker detonates a bomb that gravely injures Batman. Punchline finds out the Joker is losing and plans to escape, but is confronted by Nightwing. Punchline tries beating up Nightwing, but Nightwing easily takes her down, due to his greater fighting skill. Punchline calls in help, but Nightwing reveals he had backup (Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, the Spoiler, and Duke Thomas) and they easily take her down.

Batman tells the Joker that his Bat-family has won because they took back Gotham City, but the Joker reveals that he did not plan on taking Gotham City. His whole plan was to make Gotham City hate him, due to the Joker using Wayne tech to cause destruction to the city. The Joker explains that Bruce Wayne was seen as a symbol of hope for Gotham City, but the Joker achieved his goal in ruining Bruce Wayne's reputation. The Joker explains that now Gotham City will not need Batman anymore, that Gotham City knows that Wayne Enterprise is now just as corrupt as other companies, and nearly kills Batman when Harley Quinn shoots him in the eye.

Batman asks Harley Quinn what she is doing, and Harley Quinn says she is tired of Batman not stopping the Joker for good, and straps bombs on the Joker and herself. Batman tries explaining that they can lock the Joker up, but Harley Quinn says that the Joker will just escape and cause chaos again. Harley Quinn gives Batman a choice, save her or the Joker, and jumps out of the burning building. Batman tries telling the Joker he can free himself by using items from the new Bat-suit, but the Joker disagrees, saying that he knows Batman will try to save him because he always has. Batman looks at the Joker, then walks past the Joker to save Harley Quinn. The Joker is shocked and angered at this just as the building explodes.

A week later, Harley Quinn wakes up to see Batman visiting her. Batman explains that he tried saving Harley, but when he got back, the Joker's bomb was intact and deactivated, but the Joker escaped. Batman notices how Gotham City looks different. Harley Quinn says Gotham City is an ugly city with ugly people, but at least the people are alive. Batman tells Harley Quinn that he is glad she is okay, and he just buried Alfred with the Bat-family. Batman explains that Alfred once told him that fighting the Joker was like fighting himself, and the fighting is living, continuing on, and Batman is prepared for the fight as well as vowing to be a better man.

In the epilogue, the Joker had indeed survived and decided to leave Gotham City, killing a man in a bar and making him look like him in order to fool the police. Punchline, meanwhile, manipulated public opinion in order to avoid a harsh sentence and Batman went to the Clownhunter's home, telling him to seek professional help from Leslie Thompkins or he will stop his violent vigilantism himself. The Ghost-Maker, a former friend who had trained alongside Bruce in the past, had watched how this whole war tore Gotham up. Deeming him to be a massive failure whom their teachers would be ashamed of, he decided to head to Gotham to become Gotham's new protector and fight Batman. Remnants of the Joker's gang, however, kept attacking people for a while even after the defeat of their boss, making the Bat-family intervene and round up the rest of the Joker's thugs.[13]

Tie-in issues

Batgirl (vol. 5)

In Batgirl (vol. 5) #47, the Joker kidnaps Lucius Fox and injects him with a modified Joker venom, making him hand over codes to all of Batman's weapons and unleashing chaos on the city with his goons. He also gained control of the city and went for Bruce's ally Batgirl, who was secretly Barbara Gordon. He used a device to control the implant allowing her to walk and demanding she tell her the access codes of the computer in the Batcave. Batgirl, however, dug out her implant before driving a rod through his back, though he survived and fled.[14] Batgirl was rescued by her brother, James Gordon Jr. [15]

Batman: The Joker War Zone

The assault of the Joker's thugs while the GCPD did next to nothing to help and the Bat-family was nowhere to be seen encouraged people to take the law into their own hands, particularly in the Gotham Narrows, where the Clownhunter had killed many of the Joker's thugs after getting disillusioned with Batman's ways. The Joker personally sent a hit squad of four men to eliminate him, but he succeeded in killing all of them and earned the support of the people of the Narrows. The Joker's gang came after Lucius and his family, but Batwing soon neutralized all of them with the help of Lucius.[16]

Catwoman (vol. 5)

Catwoman convinced the Penguin and the Riddler to help her steal Bruce Wayne's money back as well as that of every other criminal after recovering from her wounds, in exchange for receiving part of it. Infiltrating the Underbroker's business front, however, she transferred all the money to Lucius Fox instead, hoping it will be put to better use. She escaped to Gotham City's East End in order to hide from the Penguin and the Riddler, whom she had betrayed and robbed as well.[17]

Detective Comics

In Detective Comics #1025, Batman would soon liberate Lucius from the grip of the Joker's thugs at Wayne Tower with the help of Batwoman.

When the Joker's thugs destroyed the Monstertown hotel owned by Killer Croc, he ran back to the city's sewers. There, he found a bunch of criminals hiding from the war and planning on taking Gotham when it was over. They soon started drowning in the toxic waste from the Ace Chemicals processing plant, dumped in the sewers after the Joker's goons attacked the facility, but he rescued them. They were turned into animal-like monsters and Croc decided to build his new Monstertown with the chemicals, by kidnapping people and turning them. Batman discovered this, and also that the waste was slowly killing them, before defeating them all and bringing them in for treatment.[18]

Nightwing (vol. 4)

In Nightwing (vol. 4) #72–74, Dick Grayson's girlfriend Bea Bennett called Barbara Gordon for help after she noticed him acting strange ever since his encounter with the Joker. Growing concerned after learning what had happened, she tried to track him down, but Dick caught up to her instead and attacked her in concert with Punchline. The two soon knocked her out and forced her to fight him in a ring, for the entertainment of the Joker's clowns. She successfully escaped, while Punchline called Jason Todd and Tim Drake, pretending to be her and claiming the Joker's thugs were going to assault the children's hospital dedicated to Alfred. Dick Grayson fights against the Red Hood (who realized that Dick Grayson was the one who attacked him) while Tim Drake tries to disarm the bomb. The Joker is enjoying this when Batgirl arrives and steals the crystal, and just as Dick Grayson is about to kill Jason and Batgirl, Bea used the crystal to make Dick Grayson regain his memories as Nightwing. Batman arrives and is glad Dick Grayson remembers everything, revealing that he has been watching Dick Grayson ever since he lost his memory. Tim Drake successfully disarms the bomb, and they all meet to take down the Joker and Punchline.[19]

Red Hood: Outlaw

Jason Todd arrived in Gotham after hearing about the chaos there. Making the Joker's goons follow him to Ma Gunn's School for Boys, he rigged it to blow up and take out as many of them as possible. While battling them, he heard noises of someone being beaten with a crowbar, which is how he was himself killed by the Joker in the past before being revived. Rushing to its location, he found that Punchline was being beaten by Duela Dent (the Joker's "daughter"), but was ambushed by a masked Dick Grayson (who was being mind-controlled by the Joker). As the two fought, Punchline knocked him out by hitting him from behind with her crowbar and the two dragged him outside, while planting another woman's corpse to make him think that Duela had been killed.[20]

Titles involved

Road to Joker War

Main story

Tie-ins

Reception

The main story received generally positive reviews for the action, plot, and art style. The entire storyline (including tie-ins) received an average score of 7.7 out of 10 according to Comic Book Roundup. [21]

According to the review aggregator Comic Book Roundup, issue #95 received an average score of 8.2 out of 10 based on 22 reviews.[22] Derek McNeil from DC Comics News wrote that "Tynion has done a masterful job of setting up the ultimate showdown between Batman and the Joker. Batman is backed into a corner with no help and no resources, while the Joker has possession of his wealth, his tech, and his secrets. The next few months are going to be a wild and crazy ride for Batman readers".[23]

According to Comic Book Roundup, issue #96 received an average score of 7.8 out of 10 based on 21 reviews.[24] Charles Hartford from But Why Tho? wrote: "Batman #96 blew me away. I havent been this taken with a Batman story in quite some time. If the creatives can keep this energy going for the rest of this storyline The Joker War could find itself a spot among the great stories in the Dark Knights history".[25]

According to Comic Book Roundup, issue #97 received an average score of 7.9 out of 10 based on 21 reviews.[26] Jeffrey Movie Files wrote: "The Joker War is building to its conclusion with #100, but at this rate, Tynion really could take longer in playing it out as its been an amazing ride so far".[27]

According to Comic Book Roundup, issue #98 received an average score of 7.8 out of 10 based on 19 reviews.[28] Wes Greer from Comics the Gathering wrote: "Overall, Batman #98 delivers all the excitement and emotions we could ask for in a Batman story, getting us pumped up for Batman to get back up on his feet as well as the excitement of the battles around him all leading to the final blows to come in Batman #100 while all brought to life by an incredible art team who seem to have really found their groove and taking fans into a deep and dark Gotham city full of beautiful characters and details".[29]

According to Comic Book Roundup, issue #99 received an average score of 7.4 out of 10 based on 23 reviews.[30] Kevin Lainez from Comic Book Revolution wrote: "In terms of bringing all of the sub-plots in this series and tie-in comics together Batman #99 gets the job done. James Tynion and Jorge Jimenez bring everything together to provide a strong set-up for the final chapter of Joker War. Unfortunately by bringing together so many different sub-plots together does show that Joker War may have had way to many things going on for its own good. Hopefully Batman #100's increased page count will help in fixing these story problems and wrap up Joker War in a satisfying way".[31]

According to Comic Book Roundup, issue #100 received an average score of 7.9 out of 10 based on 24 reviews.[32] Travis Trucker from On Comics Ground wrote: "Long story short. I loved this ending. It's rare that all of my complaints of an arc are dealt with by its climax, but it is a sublime feeling to witness it happen. It's about time".[33]

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