In this first issue’s main story, James Tynion IV and Guillem March present readers with a haunted take on James Gordon. Make no mistake; while the clown’s name is on the front of the book, this first issue is very much Jim Gordon’s story. In fact, very little of the issue gets out of the man’s head, with exquisite narration captions carrying much of the story for the first large chunk of the chapter. This allows readers an opportunity to truly understand why Gordon can’t let go of the past, and why he’d feel even the slightest reservations about the task he’s presented with at the end of this first issue. On several occasions, March draws the Joker looming overhead, an increasingly grotesque monkey on the former Commissioner’s back.
Arif Prianto’s colors are also so important for solidifying the tone of the book. A darker palette dominates the Gotham portions of the book, with the shadow of the Joker and the hopeless grays of the city seeming to follow Gordon wherever he goes. The only times that things brighten up are the moments when Gordon is presented with someone who thinks they know how to handle the Joker, whether it’s the mayor in his spacious office or Gordon’s mysterious benefactors in their palatial mansion. Even when the Joker himself does appear, living his best life, it’s in a tropical, sunny climate that stand completely opposed to the look and feel of Gotham City. These different settings almost seem to exist in a fantasy world, apart from Gordon, who carries the specter of the Joker with him at all times.
In fact, if there is one thing that may dissuade readers from fully digging this book, it’s the fact that the darkness of the story is unrelenting. Every page is filled with Gordon’s narration, in which he describes every way that the Joker has ruined his life. He lives a haunted existence, and the creative team wants the reader to be fully aware of that. The constant darkness may end up being too much for some readers, but I found this first issue to be a fascinating character study.
It helps to see how other characters react to Gordon’s preoccupying obsession with the Clown Prince of Crime. Barbara wants him to move on with his life, maybe settle down outside the city. Harvey wants to keep busting heads with his old pal. Neither path seems satisfactory to Jim, who seems frozen in place by the trauma and loss he’s endured time and time again.
And this book certainly sells that fear, equating the Joker more than once with the devil himself. Gordon recalls a conversation with a former colleague, one who went mad in pursuit of his own boogeyman. This first chapter presents the reader with a version of Jim Gordon who is staring right into the abyss, and it seems like much of this series will be exploring how close he’ll come to falling in.
How you feel about the backup story may honestly depend on your feelings toward Punchline as a character. I personally can’t seem to get a read on Punchline, nor am I particularly interested in seeing her further adventures. However, Sam Johns and James Tynion IV take the interesting angle of having a grassroots following calling for Punchline’s release from prison. Harper Row is one of my favorite supporting characters in the Batman line, and I’m beyond thrilled to see her taking a more proactive stance when it comes to looking after her brother and rooting out the corruption that Batman might have otherwise missed.
The fight in the prison is unsettling, thanks to Mirka Andolfo’s expressive faces. All of the surrounding characters seem to be as horrified as Punchline is exhilarated. This is another story that uses color in interesting ways, contrasting the dank and dark halls of the prison with Punchline’s more vibrant and out-there personality, which the character’s fans have adopted for their own purposes.
The two stories complement each other very well, so even though I’m not particularly sold on Punchline as a character, I am still interested to see where this backup story goes. The backup feature seems to be feeding into some similar ideas that are at play in the main story: that the law has failed to contain the evil that the Joker has perpetrated and inspired.
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