Punchline #1 – James Tynion IV, Sam Johns, Writer; Mirka Andolfo, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr, Colorist
Ray – 9.5/10
Ray: The upcoming Batman Annual is all about Clownhunter, but this is essentially a bonus annual—an oversized issue all about the breakout character of 2020. We all know Punchline-mania is big, and this issue almost feels like a meta-commentary on that—bringing that fanaticism into the DCU itself. Cowritten by Sam Johns with regular Bat-writer James Tynion IV and drawn by superstar artist Mirka Andolfo, it picks up right from the end of Batman #100, as Punchline unleashes a propaganda coup just as she’s about to stand trial. Claiming to be a remorseful victim of the Joker as she reveals a tragic past where her college class was targeted by the clown, she insists she’s sane and wants to stand trial—and court psychology expert Leslie Thompkins reluctantly concurs.
The meat of this story isn’t really about Leslie or Punchline, though—it’s about Leslie’s protege Harper Row, who has been in semi-retirement as Bluebird and looking after her teenage brother Cullen. Cullen is normally a likable boy, but when he’s stuck at home as the Joker War chaos continues to rage, he gets sent a message to Punchline’s secret podcast from a fellow gamer—and becomes obsessed. Much of this issue is devoted to Punchline’s growing obsession with Joker as she traces the sites of his most vicious crimes (including a subtle reference to The Killing Joke and how it’s largely been erased from Gotham history). As her fascination with Joker turns into obsession, we see the same thing happen to Cullen as he spends all his time listening to the words of a maniac.
In many ways, this issue feels like a commentary on the radicalization of young men. While Cullen is a minority himself as a gay man and as such the type of radicalization is different, he’s brimming with resentment over the death of his mother and Harper’s decision to forgive her killer. That makes him easy prey to Punchline’s message that the world is absurd and Joker is simply revealing the truth. Seeing her get into Cullen’s head through one of her loyal soldiers, and seeing her twisted fanbase go and turn her into a cause celebre as her trial begins is scarier than anything we’ve seen out of Joker in years. She might have started as a product of hype, but this issue indicates that she could wind up being the most important new Bat-villain in years—and that may be Tynion’s legacy on this title.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.