by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Marvel’s various takes on their Civil War franchise have all urged readers to “choose a side.” That’s not an approach Tom King and Mikel Janin can really take with “The War of Jokes and Riddles” though, because who wants to support either side of a war waged by sadistic supervillains? Yet, that’s exactly where Batman finds himself in Batman 29 — forced to pick between supporting either the Joker or the Riddler if he wants to end this war once and for all.
This is likely the primary source of the guilt Bruce so palpably expressed back in issue 25 — while Batman’s been shown playing gangs against each other in the past, explicitly backing one group of criminals in order to take out another is extreme even for him. Bruce is clearly desperate, even going as far as to invite eight supervillains into his home in order to broker peace.
Bruce is quite serious about his offer to choose as side, too — which gives Janin and King plenty of opportunity to explore just what makes Joker and Riddler tick as Bruce weights his options.
Janin keeps his layouts consistent across both pages to reinforce their equal positions, but otherwise, they couldn’t be more different. Joker and Riddler’s fantasies about killing Batman reveal quite a bit about themselves — Riddler wants to dominate Batman, wants to prove himself superior (because that’s what testing people with unsolveable riddles has always been about), while Joker wants a more intimate experience, one that will make Batman smile (because he’s still an obsessed showman at heart).
A few pages later, Janin and King pull the same move, only this time, Riddler and Joker get to sum their opponent up instead.
Even then, though, they’re revealing more about themselves as well. Riddler attempts to “solve” the Joker, to declare him pathetic and empty, again hoping to make himself look better in the process. Joker, meanwhile, couldn’t be more dismissive of Riddler — as always, the only people he cares about are himself and Batman.
Legitimately examining both sides of this conflict only makes Bruce’s choice feel more impossible; the lesser of two evils is a major understatement here. We aren’t privy to Bruce’s final choice by the issue’s end, but if I had to guess, I’d venture that he’ll back the Riddler. After all, Riddler promises to release his hostages, while Joker had already slaughtered his before their meeting even began. Bruce looks livid in response, and if there’s anything that could get him over the repugnancy of working with the Riddler, it’s the sheer inhumanity of the Joker.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?