Batman #48 variant cover

Review – Batman #48: Joker Goes To Church

DC This Week
Batman #48 cover
Image via DC Comics

Batman #48 – Tom King, Writer; Mikel Janin, Artist; June Chung, Colorist

Ratings:

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: I..Have No Idea Why This Issue Happened

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

Ray: Tom King is a master of shifting genres, tones, and styles in an instant. Coming off a three-part time-travel arc with a large scope and a twisty timeline, this issue pulls back and sets its entire story inside one building, playing out over the span of less than an hour. And it doesn’t need a big set piece or plot twist, because it has the Joker. Tom King’s Joker may be more human and less supernatural than Snyder’s, but in some ways he’s even scarier. That’s because his violent unpredictability can often take even veteran readers by surprise. His brutality is senseless and shocking, and that’s where this issue excels – but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s too much for many readers. Picking up from the short story in DC Nation #0, it starts right after Joker got his “invitation” to Batman’s wedding. How he even knows Batman is getting married, we don’t know (and there’s some odd developments on that front in another comic this week), but he’s decided to get Batman’s attention, and his method for doing that is by taking another wedding at a church hostage.

The scenes set in the church are shockingly intense, with Joker leaving a trail of carnage among innocent people to get Batman’s attention. This calls back to the chaos and death he caused during the War of Jokes and Riddles. One thing I notice about King’s Joker – he never seems happy. He seems like barely coiled rage, all the take, which is unsettling when it comes to reading him. By the time Batman arrives, he leads Batman in a bizarre one-on-one game of cat and mouse through the church, alternately threatening his own life and Batman’s, as part of his strange quest to get an official invite to the wedding. It’s almost quaint, like something Cesar Romero’s Joker would come up with – except for the fact that he’s leaving bodies everywhere he goes. Selina only appears in one scene this issue, but that seems to be setup for her to take the starring role next issue, as she faces off against Joker to save her stubborn husband-to-be. It’s not going to be for everyone, but to my eye, this issue is brilliant.

Batman #48 page 5
We had to be careful which page to use, lest the violence be NSFW. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: This issue is brilliant.

It’s also a horrible Batman story.

I also love Janin’s art but, like Brian Bolland’s art in The Killing Joke, I feel Janin’s beautiful lines are ill-suited to such a dark and horrifying tale. Kelley Jones or Bill Sienkiewicz would make me feel more like I’m in dark horror tale that is this issue. There will be some who say that the cleanliness and beauty of the art added to the horror rather than being a discordant note and, hey, fair enough.

But back to why this is a horrible Batman story. I originally thought this was a dream sequence because it practically revels in the murders. There’s a fine line between showing the Joker being horrifying and a Joker rampage becoming violence porn and this one crosses it. (Again, perhaps different art…?)

King has a habit of not allowing readers into a character’s head and simply letting scenes play out. It can serve him brilliantly, mostly with Omega Men and Mister Miracle, but one of the joys of reading Batman is being in his head and going on an adventure with him and, over and over, King had locked us out of Bruce’s head. (King does the same with Selina, so much so that she’s an utter cipher to me.)

In any case, that Batman has little emotional reaction to the Joker’s murderous spree is meant to be chilling–but it has the effect of locking the reader out from any emotional reaction as well. It was simply one horror after another, almost to the point where I was bored.

I also don’t buy Joker being so powerful that Batman can’t save anyone in the church. This is the same King who wrote Batman literally taking apart hundreds of armed men when assaulting Bane’s fortress and coming out the victor and he can’t take down one gunman with a hostage before he kills her? Not buying it, and that’s another reason it’s a bad Batman story.

I also take issue that Batman would tell Catwoman to stay back or that she would stay back if told. Cat never does anything she’s told. That’s her nature. Unless we’re leading up to Selina jilting Batman at the altar (entirely possible) it makes no sense he wouldn’t treat her as a full ally. (Yes, King’s Batman also put his boys into suspended animation for a while which…WTF…there too.) As long as I’m picking on concepts, I’ll point out that Bruce should have known that if word got out that Batman was marrying Catwoman, the wedding would be crashed by villains in horribly violent ways, especially by the Joker. In a sense, the deaths of everyone at this wedding is partially Batman’s fault.

Finally, I can’t help pointing out that the death of an entire wedding party of black men and women in a horrific way, while two white men fight some private battle, is an unfortunate subconscious message to send in these turbulent times.

So, all in all, as a short horror tale with a nihilistic ending? Maybe it’s brilliant. As a Batman story, it fails on all levels.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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3 thoughts on “Review – Batman #48: Joker Goes To Church

  1. In reading several reviews of this issue, I’ve noticed a recurring criticism that the author was somehow wrongminded in depicting the mass murder of an entire wedding part of black men and women. I’m of the opinion that comics are more than escapist entertainment, at their best they can be a poignant reflection of the world we live in. It did seem strange to me that Batman seemed to have his hands in his pockets as the Joker murdered the bride, but then I considered the scene from a different perspective. Perhaps that awful moment was meant to be a mirror reflecting the apathy and grim acceptance that many white Americans feel towards social injustice. I believe it is important to tell positive and inspiring stories about the marginalized members of society, but we musn’t sacrifice artistic integrity on the altar of political correctness. Perhaps I’m giving Mr. King too much credit or reading too much into this particular issue, but Shakespeare did say that artists are the chroniclers of their times. And we certainly do live in turbulent times.

    1. I think the story can be interpreted the way you view it–I’m certain that the creator’s intention was not to create a racially insensitive situation. But I mentioned it for two reasons. One is a real-world reason in that DC currently employs few black creators or editors, so it’s doubtful there were own voices input into this particular issue. Second is an in-story reason: there are few black characters in Batman comics (Luke Fox, his father, Duke Thomas) and those characters have hardly been used in King’s Batman run, if at all. Meaning, the only major appearance of black characters in Batman comics right now is the slaughter of this family. I can only imagine the reaction of a black reader upon reading this comic and seeing people like themselves as helpless victims and nothing else.

      It would be like me, as a female reader, seeing no women at all in this run, except for an issue where a crowd of women are horribly murdered and Batman could not stop it. That would be stomach-turning to me and if all the creators were male, including editors, and that was the only issue that dealt with women on any level, well, I would certainly not interpret it as a statement about the violence women face in society.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more about the underrepresentation of minorities as both creators and characters in comics. I just think these are two separate issues. I don’t believe in art by committee and I don’t think an author needs to be black and/or female to tell stories about minorities being victimized. Of course, comic issues like this are going to be especially disturbing to certain segments of the audience. But that’s exactly the point – to provoke and confront people with the blatant injustice in the world we live in. I think we share a similar vision about the world we wished we lived in, but that’s not the world we live in today. I truly believe art, especially featuring iconic characters like Batman can serve as a social mirror, a call to action and create change. I suppose I’m clinging to the hope that depictions of fictional violence and the casual devaluation of minority lives can in some small way make the world we share a kinder, gentler place.

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