My favorite comic book store is Austin Books and Comics. They always give me interesting recs, and they’re the reason that I’ve been soaking in all the Tom King stories that I can lately. (Sorry for that, by the way! I usually try to mix up my reviews.) This book was pitched to me as making The Riddler a cool villain, and someone you should be scared of. It worked.
In this particular continuum, Bruce Wayne/Batman “like likes” Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but for their relationship to go forward, he has to get something off his chest. This whole volume is more or less a post-coital Batman reliving out loud something that happened very early in his hero run to Catwoman. Like a lot of King books, the narration jumps around a bit, more in an Arrival/Dunkirky way than a Tarantino way. I think King does this to show that who we are is very tied in to where we’ve been and what we’ve done, but it also could just be a preference.
What Batman recounts is the story of a city-wide war between Joker and Riddler. It’s kind of like CIvil War but for Gotham badguys instead of Marvel heroes. Joker and Riddler both want to kill Batman, but they can’t resolve who should get the honor. Victims, both innocent and guilty, pile up all over Gotham. Unsure of what to do, Batman has to make some difficult choices that haunt him. That’s the plot.
Like the rest of King’s stories, the plot is fine, but subservient to character. Joker has lost his smile in this book (hence that awesome cover art). His ennui is fascinating because he is charming, funny, and vicious in these books. Somehow you are rooting for this demon to get his groove back. Riddler isn’t a puny, whiny know it all. He’s young, vigorous, lethal, and maybe the smartest guy in the room. King also delivers some real gut punches of feelings from unexpected minor characters.
I love King’s characterizations and insight into people. That’s what he’s best at, in my opinion. I really like his stories but haven’t loved any that I’ve reviewed thus far. Still, I recommend this one as a solid read.
A final, trivial note – Catwoman and Poison Ivy are gorgeous in these books. Catwoman sort of has a Morena Baccarin + Audrey Hepburn look, and Ivy is like Jane Levy + Eva Marie Saint. Good work by Mikel Janin.