by Michael DeLaney and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: I’ll admit, I haven’t really understood Tom King’s fascination with Kite Man during his tenure on Batman. King placed Kite Man in the middle of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” in Batman 27 and his tragic origin — Riddler poisoning and killing his son — still left me unmoved. Batman 30 marks the second part of “The Ballad of Kite Man” as well as my cold heart thawing to Kite Man’s tragic existence.
Batman 30 is an interesting chapter in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” that functions as the aforementioned second part in Kite Man’s story, a “day in the life” piece as well as a crucial moment in the story’s arc. Come to think of it, many of the chapters in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” have been unconventional as far as stories of this magnitude go; this is following up an issue that was dedicated to a nine-course meal, after all.
I like that Batman 30 commits to maintaining Kite Man’s POV throughout the issue. We don’t get any piece of information outside of Kite Man’s awareness, such as the Batman joining up with The Riddler — a decision that Batman 29 left dangling. More so, we get the particulars of that bargain, as Two-Face and Harvey Dent argue over breaking Batman and Riddler’s “no killing” truce.
It’s hard to keep track of what players are off of the board in this war, but if Kite Man’s various team-ups are any indication, Joker is scraping the bottom of the barrel. No offense to Mr. Freeze, but everyone else that Kite Man is rolling with in Batman 30 is strictly C-level Bat-villain: The Ventriloquist, Tweedles Dum and Dee, Man-Bat, The Mad Hatter and The Cluemaster.
Cluemaster’s plan to hold out and wait to get beat by Batman is the kind of villain philosophy that I respect. It’s a lot like the philosophy of Taskmaster and Black Ant in Secret Empire 9 — I like bad guys who are smart enough to see the reality of their situation.
Given the fact that the eponymous hero of the story has sided with The Riddler, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that The Joker is on the losing side of this war. I suppose I expected Joker to be putting up more of a fight since he is typically portrayed as a larger than life chaotic force. Though with the tragic tune of Kite Man’s Ballad added to The Joker’s “search for a smile,” it makes sense that The Clown Prince of Crime seems to be on the outs.
Let’s talk about that tragic ballad, shall we? I think it’s safe to say that we are overexposed to an array of fictional deaths — especially in the inciting incident sense — making Kite Man’s “dead son” motivations not as effective for me personally. By “lowering” the stakes a bit and telling a story about an underachieving, disappointing father, I believe that King has hit the sanguine sweet spot.
The entire issue revolves around Kite Man being a joke, or rather his son Charlie asking him if he is indeed a joke. The idea of a father realizing that his son might see him as inadequate is far more impactful for me than an arbitrary death. Through his narrated conversation with Charlie, we see Kite Man navigate the waters of his own self-worth.
Every dad wants to be a “hero” to their son, so over the course of Batman 30, Kite Man embraces the fact that he is a joke. Kite Man’s never say die approach to his nay-sayers and critics is one that is both inspiring and pathetic. On the one hand you have this powerful message of never giving up. On the other hand, Kite Man is admitting to his detractors that they are right about him. It’s an immensely complex psychology that many of us have experienced when we feel defeated but refuse to give in to that defeat.
Clay Mann’s pencils embody the depressing reality of Kite Man’s situation as he draws a six-panel page that shows the eventual breakdown of Kite Man. Here Kite Man questions his life choices, the way his son saw him and his son’s subsequent death all in one sequence.
As evidenced by Batman’s refrain in the “I Am Suicide” arc, King has a thing for character mantras. Given that, I think that any Batman devotee will be hard-pressed to hear the phrase “Kite Man” without the “Hell yeah” follow-up. This is a phrase that Charlie said when flying a kite in Batman 27 and that Kite Man has subsequently adopted as a catchphrase. Despite that, I found Riddler’s “hell yeah” call and response ending to be a little silly.
I will suspend my disbelief, but not that far!
I’m also a little iffy on the idea that Batman would just stand by idly as Riddler interrogated Kite Man and boasted about killing his son, when Batman told Kite Man he’d help bring Riddler to justice for that very crime. Then again, I suppose it speaks to the POV of Batman 30 more than anything. As Riddler questions and taunts Kite Man Clay Mann draws Batman sinking into the shadows, becoming more and more removed from the situation.
Drew, what’s your take on Kite Man? Did you like Clay Mann’s decidedly Burtony penguins? I still am unclear as to what Batman’s “great sin” in this war is, do you think it’s that he compromised his morals by teaming up with Riddler?
Drew: That’s certainly a strong contender for Batman’s “great sin,” but we can’t rule out some future turn of events might weigh even more heavily on his conscience. It could also be the strategy to single out Kite Man as the weak psychological link in Joker’s army. Not only does that put Charlie in the dangerous, stressful situation of double-crossing the Joker, it also denies him the relative safety of being taken off of the board. No other character echoes Cluemaster’s sentiment that they were only working with the Joker out of fear, but the padded walls of Arkham are at least more predictably safe than Joker’s whims. Case in point:
Of course, Joker isn’t the only one beating up Kite Man in this issue. Michael mentions the “Hell yeah” refrain, but there’s also a narrative refrain of Kite Man thinking the situation can only get so bad, the situation turning out way worse, and poor old Kite Man dusting himself off to do it all over again. It’s classic Charlie Brown, only, you know, way more violent.
But that might present its own psychological torment. Being beaten is one thing, but having your optimism punished again and again and again is something entirely different. And then there’s the ego-sapping truth of being one of the ones left behind. Yes, that might mean a brutal beating from Joker, but it also puts Kite Man in the same pitiful class as the Ventriloquist (without Scarface).
Not only is does leaving Kite Man behind subject him to more and more beatdowns (including those from Joker), it also makes it clear that Batman and Riddler simply don’t see him as a threat. Even the puppet warranted capture, but not Kite Man.
All of which feeds into the greatest truth of Kite Man: that he is, in fact, a joke. He wants to deny it at first, but by the end of his recalled conversation with his son, he’s embraced being a joke as some kind of noble pursuit. He recalls the parable of Sisyphus to illustrate his point — that we may mock those for trying and failing, but there’s something tragic about someone condemned to struggle for all of eternity — but then again, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is also a popular definition of insanity.
So is Kite Man a joke? He and everyone else — including, importantly, the Riddler — seems to agree that he is, but what if he’s like that “nine cats” line from issue 27? What if Kite Man is actually a riddle? We now have a man so deeply invested in not helping the Riddler forced into a position where he has to. What happens then? What if Batman’s “great sin” isn’t what he put Kite Man through, but what Kite Man did afterwards?
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