Batman #26 continues the big arc, The War of Jokes and Riddles, as Batman continues to recount the tale of a massive war between the Joker and the Riddler in his second year as the Dark Knight to Catwoman. The issue continues to set up the war to come, and through excellent use of narration and art ramps up the tension as the fuse starts to reach the bomb at the end.
While Batman appears more in this issue than he did the last, the focus is again on the Joker and the Riddler as they begin to ramp up their plans and ignite their war against each other. Batman in this issue plays the role of narrator, mainly, and through this narration Tom King shows a side of Batman that is very interesting and powerful.
Batman essentially provides exposition on each of the early victims, giving us little tastes of backstory that heightens the sense of loss and damage caused by their deaths. What I particularly enjoyed was this was even done for the near faceless goons in the issue. Henchmen given names and pasts that makes even their losses more poignant and striking – and also shows a side of Batman as someone who cares about the effects of crime, on every party in the equation.
But as I say, the action of the issue mainly focuses on our warring antagonists, and they continue to get intriguing and frightening development.
Joker in particular is building in this truly creepy direction. The art alone conveys it. In the above scene, where Mikel Janín and June Chung illustrate Joker's continued struggles with finding his laughter, shows the character in a way we rarely see him – troubled. Joker's derangement is well known and well-covered. Here, we see Joker's frustration, and that leads to a deeply frightening Joker.
One who's madness and callous attitude to life is amplified.
The Riddler's plans feel more cerebral in the sense that we see his use of manipulation to begin to gather his forces, in this issue with Poison Ivy. However, he continues to be a somewhat more physical Riddler than we've maybe ever seen before. With his new question mark branding, he swaggers around with his shirt open to the waist like a lothario, with a chiselled broad physique. It is perhaps the one thing I'm a little put off by in the issue. For me, Riddler is a more cerebral, brains over brawn villain type, so to see him as this sexy, brutal physical figure feels a little odd.
It does however lead to another fun little homage to Batman history.
Overall, the story continues to follow the path of exploring something Batman sees as one of his biggest failures. The exact reason of this still feels up in the air: is it the sheer loss of life involved, as he is clearly haunted by each and every one? Is it the feeling he could have stopped the war before it started? Or perhaps, will Batman be responsible for the Joker getting his laughter back somehow?
This is a tight issue, with powerful characterisation and ramping sense of danger. I have high hopes the team can keep this up.