Cover Rank: 7/10. Let’s cut right to the chase. Yes, that is the iconic Tim Burton Batmobile with a fleet of cars in pursuit front and center. There have been a lot of various Batmobile designs over his long history, but the sleek, jet black Burton-mobile has long held a special spot for me. While slightly misleading, it’s not Bruce driving that particular ‘mobile inside, it does paint an accurate portrait of Batman’s current position. All hell has broken loose and everybody’s gunning for him. The second half of the cover, however, holds me back from scoring it higher. It’s a great image, iconic even: Freeze standing in the cold chamber, his obsession frozen behind him sums up his entire motivation. My issue is that it could be used for, essentially, every Mr. Freeze story. It does nothing to directly to tie itself to this particular tale.
Best Variant Issue: The variant for this issue is drastically different. Framed in yellow, you get a shot of Nightwing and Batgirl , Gotham looming in the background. These two play a pivotal role in the twisting narrative Murphy has going. The brighter cover as opposed to the darker nature of the Batman standard, serves as a parallel of their struggle to maintain the light as Bruce stumbles deeper into darkness.
What I Like: From the start, this series has built an intriguing Elseworlds scenario that inverts the traditional Batman/Joker dynamic. Batman begins crossing lines that at he once would have found inviolable, one of which involved beating Joker unmercifully followed by forcing a massive amount of pills down his throat, nearly killing him. Instead it “cured” him. Garnering public favor, “Jack” has turned the tables and is now leading the hunt for the “outlaw” Batman via a mix of the truth and some shady actions. He’s still brilliant just not insane.
Things are looking bad for the Caped Crusader. Following last issue’s reckless heroics by the Dark Knight, he finds himself with no allies left. Gordon has issued an arrest order while both Nightwing and Batgirl have opted to work with Jack’s GTO taskforce. They’re clearly not completely buying Jack’s change of character, but the fact that they’re siding against Bruce makes sense within the context of the story. It helps that they don’t suddenly despise Batman but rather see a destructive pattern developing in him and, while seeking to stop him, the loyalty to him is still in place.
The other half of our intertwining narrative is Jack (Joker) Napier. From homicidal madman, to the city councilman driving Gotham’s new anti-crime taskforce, he has achieved so much in such a relatively short amount of time since being “cured”. He has both the citizenry and those in positions of authority on his side now, but cracks are beginning to show through. He holds great reverence for Batman and exhibits some strong self-doubts having finally “won”, things that were frequently Joker hallmarks. Once you factor in Neo Joker’s (Harley Quinn #2) knowledge that he manipulated his former criminal cohorts into staging the assault that preceded his rise to glory, things prove to be far less secure for him than they would first appear. His reaction upon physically defeating his nemesis shows just how tenuous Jack’s control is.
I’ll discuss the whole 2 Harley Quinn thing in a minute, but before I do, I want to make special note of Harley #1. Throughout the course of these 6 issues, Harleen has been the most sympathetic and relatable character month in and month out. While she’s not much of a focus in this particular chapter, she’s the one desperately trying to keep things from spinning out of control and destroying this new life they have. Clearly, her main concern is keeping the new “Jack” safe and away from relapsing to his old form. This is her dream life, she desperately wants it to continue and she shows growth as a character by getting in Jack’s face, trying to get him to see that he’s in over his head. The undying devotion to him is the defining core of this incarnation of Harley and is readily apparent, however, the shift in his dynamic has given her the confidence to speak her mind even if it’s at odds with his views. That’s something that, historically speaking, this Harley couldn’t bring herself to do.
What I Didn’t Like: My criticisms are fairly minor but, when taken as a whole, they left me feeling more disconnected to the story than the earlier parts. First, I don’t like the 2 Harley’s development. You see, there’s the original, full-costumed, former Arkham doctor Harleen Quinzel. There’s another woman who was a hostage at one time who the Joker thought was Harley. In order to stay alive, she carried on the charade eventually becoming the darker, more scantily clad Harley. Her appearance in the video game Arkham Knight leaps to mind as a fairly close parallel. And NOBODY noticed. I fully understand that both, wildly divergent, roles almost require Harley to fill them, but I find that a bit hard to swallow.
Earlier issues also spent time highlighting the unrest of the general population at how how those in power were handling things. In truth it served as a sort of reflection of the climate in the U.S. right now, which makes it’s sudden absence from the series really stand out to me as something missing. It provided a grounded perspective alongside the grander drama taking place between the principal characters.
For the most part I’m really enjoying Murphy’s artwork, particularly his lavish inks. Admittedly I’m kind of partial to writer/artist combos since you know you’re getting the whole vision of a project, however I do not like his Batgirl. I can’t quite put my finger on what about it bothers me, but it definitely leaves me cold. Speaking of cold, they had a side plot questioning whether Thomas Wayne was a Nazi or not that came to an underwhelming close in an encounter between Batgirl and Mr. Freeze. I get that this was supposed to be a pivotal point in the series but it failed to make any real impact on me at any point. I found it dubious to begin with but, upon further reflection, this proving true wouldn’t have affected his situation. Everybody has already turned on Batman and even Alfred is gone, having died in an earlier issue.
Best Moment: The apprehension of Batman dominates the opening half of the issue with both the planning and execution of it. While seeing his most trusted allies unite with “Jack” against him, and seeing a rare physical win for the Joker were stand out moments, hands down, my favorite was the road battle between Bruce and Gordon. As I said above, I love the ‘89 Batmobile, and to see it’s comic debut as Gordon uses it to take down Batman’s current ride was something I loved. At the close, they sum up the situation with Batman insisting “He’s still the Joker”, and Gordon conceding the point but countering that even so “He’s not my problem now, you are”. What a unique spin on the usual status quo this series has been
Ending: 8/10. It’s the moment we’ve known had to come eventually, Joker isn’t gone just yet. With Batman in custody, Jack finds himself under even more pressure than ever. Neo-Joker has united an army of criminals and used a giant freezing cannon to devastate Gotham. Needing to stall her, Jack makes the decision that the only viable option is to give her what she wants. We end with him relinquishing control and an entire police force draws and takes aim at the Clown Prince of Crime
What I’m Looking Forward To: With 2 issues to go, there is still plenty of time for some more twists to flow from the story. This has been a delightful trip down what might have been and, despite some parts falling flat, I’m extremely interested in how this all turns out. There are any number of potential roads still open at this point and I can’t wait to see what Murphy has in store.
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