A Reveal as a Punchline in Batman 48

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!


Last time Tom King and Mikel Janin put out a Joker story — in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” — the Clown Prince of Crime wasn’t exactly himself. Batman 48, then, gives King and Janin a chance to show their take on a more platonic form of the Joker. He’s probably more manic and scrambled than usual, but just as devious, cunning, and ruthless as ever. Most importantly, though, this Joker is wickedly funny. Batman 48 is jam-packed with black humor and perfectly constructed (albeit remarkably morbid) jokes. In fact, the entire issue can be viewed as one long set-up to a perfect punchline.

Now when I say morbid, I mean morbid — the issue opens on a man in a church, praying and begging to God for his life only to be shot in the head by the Joker. It’s sad, it’s tragic, but it’s also a bit of a joke its own right, albeit one where the “punchline” is the fact that, in Gotham, God has no power over evil. As if to reemphasize this, on the next page Janin and King cut to a stained-glass portrait of Jesus before cutting to another stained-glass window, this time draped in the shadowy silhouette of Batman mere moments before he bursts through the window. It’s a loaded metaphor, to say the least.

The jokes become more traditional from here on out, but no less morbid. The next page finds the Joker taking a bride hostage, “accidentally” shooting her in the head before he can even finish warning Batman to back off. I’ll admit that I had to choke back laughter here — especially because Joker himself looks so surprised by how things played out! — but then I also felt really bad about laughing. These kind of jokes continue throughout the issue, culminating in one that’s just about perfect.

The only way this could be funnier was if there was a page-turn between the first and second panel. The subversion between what the audience expects the Joker will say and what he ends up saying is a brilliant bit of set-up and punchline. It’s also a smaller version of the joke this entire issue turns out to be playing.

It’s a joke whose set-up actually began all the way back in DC Nation 0, where Joker learned of Batman’s upcoming nuptials and tortured and killed a man while waiting for his invitation. Joker’s showing the same kind of madness when he attacks this church just to attract Batman’s attention; Joker’s so unhinged, and such an agent of chaos on even his best day, that the audience likely isn’t questioning his motives. He’s the Joker — he’s obligated to crash Batman’s wedding. Then the issue hits us with this:

Joker’s motive hits out of the blue, yet is absolutely, 100% in character, and perfectly set-up by the rest of this story. The explosion (Joker put a bomb in the cross) might as well represent the punchline itself, or readers’ reactions to it. Joker quite literally drops a bomb, and proceeds to slowly change from there; he continues his monologue about his mother, seemingly just as unhinged as before, but this time with a point. Life is either love or chaos, and if he can’t be the best man for his twisted love, then he’ll be chaos incarnate. It’s logical and deranged in equal measure — it’s, in short, the Joker. The end of Batman 48 is both a fantastic reveal and a perfect punchline to everything that came before.


The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

4 comments on “A Reveal as a Punchline in Batman 48

  1. While I thoroughly enjoyed King’s take on the Joker here—a somehow even madder and more unhinged version of the character we’ve known for so long—I’m very much of the opposite opinion on his Batman.
    Why was Batman so passive in this issue? After witnessing horrid acts committed against innocents, he seemed particularly ineffective against Joker in both a physical and mental scenario. Worse, he apparently indulges Joker to kneel beside him with hands clasped and let himself be sucker-exploded.
    This reminds me of a lot of King’s Batman run: Sacrificing character for story and/or a particular theme in his work. Whether it’s stilted dialogue or questionable actions, King’s run has been divided for me.

    • A massive problem with King’s recent work is that he’s got a very ugly set of themes that creates such terrible characters because only they can reflect the ugliness of the ideas (why the actually plotting is so terrible I am still trying to work out). Underneath the superficial glamour, there are serious, serious problems that really reflect just how ugly and poor his work really is.

      The writing of woman and PoC is the most obvious manifestation of the problem. Batman 45 was disgusti g to the point where it made me feel physically ill. But it is more than just that. There are two very ugly themes in King’s work that corrupts the book and lead to such horrible characters.

      The first is the glamourisarion of suffering. Not in a heroic way of suffering as a sacrifice for others. Suffering itself the glamorous. That suffering is inherently heroic, and not the tragic byproduct of actual heroic acts or the obstacle to be heroically overcome. That’s why the announcement of this Heroes in Crisis event is so awful. With King’s current writing, it would be like getting an arsonist to write about fire safety.
      So Mister Miracle is about lovingly depicting and romanticising suffering. King spends a lot of time showing off with formalist tricks that are meant to provoke awe, but never uses form to provoke empathy or functionally assist the narrative. It is a book about looking in awe at a character suffering.
      And King’s Batman isn’t about heroism. Heroism is just a pretext for him to suffer, an excuse to put him in situations where he can suffer. The whole point of the story Is for Batman to suffer because the act of suffering is beautiful. Is heroic. There are many, many, many examples of this but it is hard to think of a better one than the Wonder Woman arc where, after getting a brief moment of happiness with Superman, he is thrown into contrived plot mechanics which are designed solely to make sure that nothing actually happens except give Batman an excuse to feel really bad. To suffer. Batman isn’t supposed to be smart, he isn’t supposed to be good, he isn’t supposed to be a fighter. He doesn’t even need a coherent heroic ideal. Those are merely props for what King’s Batman actually is. The man who suffers.
      It also explains King’s legendarily bad Joker. King’s Joker has the superficial glamour King writes, but any proper look makes him appear utterly hollow. King’s Joker has no villainous ideal. Morrison’s Batman was the Batgod, the ultimate man who could do everything and explain everything. And so, Morrison’s Joker was the limitation. The unexplainable. His ideal was the rejection of the idea of the Batgod. Snyder’s Batman was a man of connection. I’d almost say love. His stories were about Batman’s connection to the city, to his family, to the people. Where Morrison’s was a looks what our best selves could be, Snyder’s was a look at just how much we can do to help others. And so, Snyder’s Joker destroyed connections. Snyder’s Batman loved communities, Snyder’s Joker hated them. Meanwhile, King’s Joker just does stuff. He very rarely has actual motivation to do things, even in War of Jokes and Riddles where he made moves that went against his supposed motivations. He has no reason, as the opposite of King’s Batman has to be as hollow as King’s Batman. King’s Batman has no heroic ideal, so neither does Joker. King’s Batman suffers, and therefore Joker causes suffering. That’s all he exists to do. Be an excuse to cause suffering.

      The other major theme is a strong philosophy towards women that comes straight out of the Manosphere. Not incel ideology, but very close to it. Women exist for male self actualization, and men are incomplete without one. Men are incomplete without their need for a woman being fulfilled (women’s humanity is ignored, as the Manosphere see women merely as objects)
      That’s how you have Batman; a character with two loving father figures, four loving children, multiple surrogate children, very close relationships with Superman and Wonder Woman; going through an arc about how important it is to have a wife to properly actualize. He needs love, but the love can’t be from the hundred of other sources it could come from. Women exist to complete men, and as Batman doesn’t have a woman, he needs one.

      I’m not saying Tom King believes these things. Merely that, intentional or not, that is what he is writing (I wonder if the loss of a very specific, strong setting like he had in his previous work is partly responsible). Which is why he is second only to Geoff Johns when it comes to horrible DC writing

      And what this means is we have a Batman whose most important moment is not promising to avenge his parents death, but the act of seeing his parents die. Not a man who found fulfillment in creating a family to replace what he lost, but lacks fulfillment because he lacks a woman. King’s Batman isn’t a hero who helps others and stops evil.
      King’s Batman is a man who exists to be hurt for the sake of hurting. A man who is tragically incomplete because his masculinity requires a woman.

      Another way to describe that? Not Batman

      • Well said, sir.
        I actually agree with most of your points. I thought the arc with Wonder Woman was horrible, both for the character and for the story itself. She had little to no free agency except as a foil for Batman to prove how loyal he is (and possibly to have someone witness his suffering as well).
        The constant suffering martyr character that Batman is at his worst—because like certain other friendly neighborhood characters, the powers that be determined that he can’t ever be happy for long—isn’t even justified by his acts as you pointed out. Apparently he’s just there to brood and angst.
        As with King’s Joker—and bear with me here as we’ve only seen his “true” Joker here since the one in War was not himself—I would actually say that a seemingly motiveless Joker is top Joker. He’s mad, sure, but could one apply reason or rhyme to him? And for such a purpose-driven character like Batman, who thrives on reason and logic—his antithesis would seem to be an “unpredictable” Joker.
        Just my two cents. Thanks for your thoughts!

        • The problem with the idea of Batman can’t be happy is that it so fundamentally misses the key aspect of Batman. Batman is never going to be perfectly happy. But the whole point of Batman is that he makes something positive out of the pain. As the song from the LEGO Batman movie goes

          “I’ll never forget the first time I realized
          That the darkness in me can be lightnin’ in the night”

          He’s not supposed to constantly be suffering and unable to have any happiness. The pain will always be there, but so too are all the positive things that are built from that pain. Snyder’s Zero Year expressed this wonderfully. Bruce could never have the happy life with Julie Madison. He’s too hurt for that. But Snyder never pretended he didn’t get a different happy ending instead. He got his own loving family, even if it wasn’t in the way Alfred dreamed.
          But when you ignore the fact that Bruce has built something positive, just focus on the suffering, what’s the point? How is Batman a hero, if you remove the aspect where he builds something positive from his pain? Instead, you just have suffering. That’s not a hero

          With the Joker, I’ve said before that ‘insane’ characters like Joker still need to have motivations and reasons for their actions, just ones rooted in their ‘insane’ logic. But there are bigger problems. King, as I’ve said before, gives things superficial glamour, but his Joker doesn’t work.
          Unpredictable is good, but it needs to be mixed with some actual storytelling chops. Instead, King’s Joker reminds me of Jared Leto’s performance in Suicide Squad. Random emphasis on random syllables that was unpredictable but whose only outcome was a terrible performance that only ever made the character worse than a more typical performance.
          If you are going to have the Joker be random, it needs to have some greater point than ‘look how unpredictable and chaotic he is’. Morrison handled this wonderfully, creating random insanity whose entire point was to confuse people looking for patterns to the madness. Morrison’s Joker’s unpredictability was the perfect contrast for Morrison’s Batman.
          Maybe King’s Joker was always going to be terrible, because what else could King’s Joker be, with such a bad Batman? Just aimless crazy, randomness without story reason. An awfully written villain to challenge King’s awfully written hero.

          I really miss when King wrote with a shred of competence. He used to be one of the best writers around

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