How And Why James Tynion IV Co-Created Punchline For Batman Comics
In last Wednesday's Substack subscriber missive, James Tynion IV talked about the creation of the character Punchline for the Batman books, and how it began with the character of The Smiler that he had planned for his Joker 5G comic book that never happened. But that her origin was far earlier, in Erica Slaughter.
One thing that had struck me immediately with the launch of SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN was how immediately the audience connected with Erica Slaughter. It got into my head that a new generation of comic fans were rising and they wanted characters that they loved and they wanted for their own. They didn't want the hand-me-downs of their parents favorite characters, and they also didn't want their favorite character to be someone who was appearing in a dozen different movies and tv shows. The comic book industry is a bunch of nerds making stuff for nerds, and nerds like to be early adopters. The success of Erica as a character had gotten in my head… And it started combining with a few other things. I mentioned in the last TBT that I had a meeting with Ben Abernathy in Burbank where we had discussed turning the Joker part of the story into a real Joker War, and I had the idea of giving Joker a new character as a lieutenant. A character who could be a real opposite number to Harley Quinn. I took the idea home and played with it, and after talking it through a bunch with my partner Sam, landed on the name PUNCHLINE.
Here is how he described her to DC Comics and to artist Jorge Jimenez.
She is, essentially, Joker's new girlfriend. And she is Harley Quinn's polar opposite. She is Joker's #2… A silent, terrifying serial killer, sexy as hell. All of his henchmen are terrified of her and they should be. Imagine Joker being Joker and torturing a hostage, and then he gets tired and sighs, handing the scalpel to Punchline, who slits their throat. We don't want to base her costume off either Joker or Harley's too much, but there should be a bit of a clown component to her. Maybe she has a porcelain mask, but that might be too cheesy. We don't want her to just be anti-Harley Quinn, and we don't just want her to be female joker. We don't want to evoke The Batman Who Laughs or the Dark Multiverse with somebody who looks like she steps out of Hellraiser. Maybe there's a bit of a horror-carnival vibe to her? Like she's a mute sword swallower, and at a key scary moment she can pull a sword out of her throat. When she smiles, it's scary. It's not a toothy smile, it's a closed mouth grin. She is a sadist. She enjoys killing people. She is talented at killing people. The Joker calls her the funniest person he's ever met in his life. She is a physical character, and she should be sexy. Sexy in a slinkier, darker way than Harley, who is all pep and energy. I think her primary weapon should be her knives and her fists. I see her colors being purple and black. Like in the f-cked up Archie Comics where The Joker is Archie, and Harley Quinn is Betty, then Punchline is Veronica. If Harley is the Angel on The Joker's shoulder, Punchline should be the devil.
As for her first appearance?
I was also working on Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen, and had a Joker sequence in the next issue I was writing. I was so enamored with the design, I asked my editor immediately if I could include her in the book to help create a tie between it and my Batman run.