Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann, Danny Miki, John Livesay and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“The War of Jokes and Riddles” takes a mournful side trip into the life of one of the title’s longest-running gags in the melancholy Batman #27. Kite Man, the Z-list punching bag villain that has been popping up throughout Tom King’s run of Batman, gets a turn center stage as the Riddler and Joker’s war continues to rage throughout the city. Flashing back to the days before Kite Man took up his, uh, kite, King, along with returning guest artist Clay Mann, backs up the humor he’s mined from the character with a tragic backstory and an unlikely position in the ongoing conflict.
Mann, along with inkers Danny Miki and John Livesay, and the matte-like colors of Gabe Eltaeb, provides the issue an eye-catching, theatrical kind of intimacy. Focused tightly on the emotions of the characters, but filtering that emotion through a Batman ‘66-like lens with larger-than-life costumes and plenty of inspired colors. Clay Mann and the rest of the art team strike a nice balance between the gritty and the outlandish, something this current run of Batman has been making a habit of of late. Though it seems a bit early in this arc to be taking detours, Batman #27 is another unexpected and heartfelt treat from a title unafraid to take thematic risks.
Daredevil. But after Batman #27, his siren call of “Kite Man! Hell yeah!” might just lose its power as a laugh line. Opening with Kite Man during his pre-costumed life of crime as a henchman, Tom King gives us a gut-wrenching look into what happened when he entered the orbit of the warring trio and the cost of being a pawn in a larger game of heroes and villains.
King has pulled these kind of turns a few times, with the Gotham twins in the first arc, Swamp Thing in the “Brave and the Mold,” and now it is Kite Man’s turn. While this issue doesn’t exactly add anything significant to the overall plot of the "War of Jokes and Riddles," it does inject a level of tragedy into the comedic scenes King has been using to break up the tension of the earlier stories. Though it's a tad convenient that a joke character King has been using as a gag has a closely intertwined history in what King is positing as one of Bruce Wayne’s defining crime fighting moments, it is just another example of Tom King aiming to make his time with Batman more than just another superhero story.
The return of Clay Mann to the title also gives the story an extra stylish edge amid the clean glassy pencils of Mikel Janin on the main story. Mann, working closely with inkers Danny Miki and John Livesay, takes a few cues from the more noirish artwork of the likes of Tim Sale and Frank Miller. Made complete by the heavily flatted but pointedly bright colors of Gabe Eltaeb, Mann makes this issue look like if the FX Network did a Silver Age Batman show; all broad shouldered suits, smokey neon lit dive bars, reflectively moody cityscapes, and plenty of silly but still somehow intimidating villain costumes.
The art team tempers this visual loudness with some genuinely emotional turns, especially in the latter half of the issue. After putting his son in the crosshairs thanks to both the Joker and Riddler (and, arguably, Batman) have manipulated him into double and triple crossing the other, Mann and the art team settle into a focused highlighting of heartbreak, breaking up scenes into only the most affecting moments in time like Kite Man quietly weeping at his son’s hospital bed and Batman stoically looking on, overlaid with a lighting that looks suspiciously like the bars of a jail cell. It is a simple way to tell a story but Clay Mann, Danny Miki, John Livesay and Gabe Eltaeb make sure to make each moment hit as hard as it can.
Tom King’s Batman has taken some strange turns, but #27 may be the strangest one yet. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing! With heavy pathos and a willingness to break out of the mold of everyday, run-of-the-mill superhero storytelling Batman #27 pulls a Smiths, showing that this joke isn’t funny anymore because it hits too close to home and too close to the bone.