In the aftermath of "The Joker War," Alexis Kaye, also known as Punchline, is on trial for her crimes during the attempted takeover of Gotham City. But after she posts a sympathetic apology for all of the citizens to see, how will the people of the city react to another one of the Joker’s "victims" claiming innocence despite all of the carnage she inflicted?
Punchline as a character was always going to be a hard sell for people.
Some immediately thought she was a badass character, the anti-Harley Quinn with a mean streak just as long as the Joker’s. Others just saw a Harley replacement, an “edgy goth GF” that would go through the same levels of pain and torture and end up becoming as heroic as Quinn within a few years. I stand somewhere in the middle. From “The Joker War” until now, Punchline had already had a few ups and downs and this one-shot reaches the same highs and lows in only forty-eight pages.
Written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns, the story picks up soon after Punchline’s capture at the end of “Joker War” where she is being put on trial for her part in the whole scheme. The book mostly follows Cullen Row, brother of former Batman sidekick Harper Row aka Bluebird, as he slowly becomes radicalized by Punchline’s cynical view of the world through a podcast that she hosted before becoming a supervillain. This is a very good framing device as we’re able to glean more about who she is as a character and what her motivations are – which is to deliver The Joker’s punchline to the entire world instead of just Batman.
However, I find the downside to this characterization is that it just finds another way to lean too heavily on the Joker as the main crutch. While Harley Quinn’s relationship with Joker was driven by love, Punchline’s is driven by obsession and angsty rage. She’s a sociopath that sees herself as the Messiah of Joker’s message of madness. She’s like Anarky if he were at all effective in gaining crowds of followers, or a better comparison, The Boys’ Stormfront, but for psychopaths.
On the other hand, I do like that while Tynion IV gave her an explosive introduction in the main Batman title, it seems as though she’s going to become an enemy of Batman’s partners. This idea spawns from her first physical defeat at the hands of Nightwing in Batman #100 and now with a possible rivalry with Bluebird. It’s better that she starts a slow simmer back to the top before becoming a top-tier villain, especially since she seems to encourage the people to get in on the Joker’s joke through social media manipulation like every popular YouTuber of the modern day.
Mirka Andolfo’s art here is also pretty fantastic and made even better with Romulo Fajardo Jr’s. colors. Andolfo has always excelled at drawing faces and I would go so far as to say that this book has some of the best expressions she’s ever drawn. She does a good job with the faces of the supporting cast with Cullen looking more and more enamored with Punchline’s thoughts as he listens to her podcast, seeming enchanted almost and the growing look of concerns from Harper as she confronts her little brother. But Andolfo’s art shines with the main faces from Joker’s already demented smile, to the ever increasingly terrifying grins of Punchline. Hers are especially good as she plays herself off as remorseful of her actions with tears, but turns around and looks horrendously evil when no one’s looking.
Andolfo also makes excellent use of single and double page spreads to convey Punchline’s descent into madness while researching the Joker for her podcast, almost tying in to Geoff Johns’ Three Jokers story by exploring particular tropes and locations of previous crimes. There are terrifying shots of floating bodies with killer grins in the Gotham reservoir, epic upward shots of Punchline looking up at Arkham because of the many times Joker took it over, a wide downward shot of her looking at Joker fish in an aquarium monument and even a horrifying sequential spread of her killing a rat in Amusement Mile, the site of The Killing Joke.
All of these pages seek to show how much further and farther away Punchline is getting from the rest of society and Fajardo Jr. emphasizes this with many cool tones and deep reds as she spirals down. The only time that she’s shown in the light of day is when she embraces the subject of her obsession fully to become the villain that we’ll get to know soon.
Punchline #1 does a lot right with trying to endear a new villain to us and I like the idea of her. She has every potential to be as terrifying as Joker is, but on a broader scale than Gotham City if she wanted, but her obsession with the Clown Prince of Crime hampers what could be a breakout role for herself. Tying her identity so close to such a prominent villain has a chance to overshadow her bright future, but James Tynion IV and whoever his team going forward with her will be has a chance to create a lasting character in Punchline.
Punchline #1: Hoping the Joke Sticks the Landing
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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