Batman is at his most vulnerable following a massive dose of an experimental new Joker toxin. With the Dark Knight haunted by demons and visions, it’s up to Harley Quinn to protect him while he recovers—because Punchline is on her way!
As a story escalates, especially one as wild as “Joker War”, time needs to be taken away from the action to refocus the narrative on the characters and their internal and smaller-scale interpersonal conflicts. Batman #98 does this well, by forcing Batman himself out of the spotlight and giving Harley Quinn a chance to shine.
The issue begins with Riddler and Scarecrow playing a game of chess and trading a little banter., and shifts to Catwoman and Penguin discussing the situation. A nice bit of table-setting, and a good showcase of Jorge Jimenez’s art. His Coipel-influenced style works well here, his clean figure work and layout sense working well in action and talking scenes. Where he breaks away and does better is in his ability to capture the grotesque and horrifying, a skill that has been deployed several times over the course of this story arc, aided by Tomeu Morey’s slick and saturated colors, which give everything a dreamy, unreal quality.
The story then shifts to Bruce Wayne, still trapped in his hallucinatory state, again reckoning with his inability to accept failure as Batman. This story so far has been about Batman trying and failing to keep a hold on the situation, and the price he’s paid for that. James Tynion IV has a good handle on what makes Bruce and Alfred work, even if that Alfred is a figment of the imagination.
But the heart of the issue is in the next scene, when Harley and Punchline face off. It’s a wonderful running scene through the entire issue, digging into the abuse Harley endured at the hands of Joker, and Punchine’s dismissal of it feels raw and real, and Harley’s rage at being called “stupid” for it becomes a burst of cathartic violence. Not enough can be said about how Harley has improved overall as a character, and her long-running reinvention as a hardened survivor of abuse that still manages to be silly resonates when executed well.
Batman’s recovery, even if it feels pre-ordained by the narrative, still has a gravity to it, thanks to Jimenez’s presentation. The issue ends with Batman putting out a call to everyone he can, and Selina deciding to insert herself in the fracas.
Even with something that should feel like a “cooldown” issue before the big finale, Tynion IV and his team give readers another issue of tense, satisfying action and great character work.
Batman #98 takes a slight pause from the escalating tensions to showcase the contrast between Harley and Punchline.
Batman #98: This Supposed to Be a Breather?
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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