Batman has many enemies… understatement of the century, right!? Batman’s enemies are some of the most iconic group of bad guys we’ve ever seen in comics. Most superheroes have that one main nemesis that we could name off the top of our head. For example, Superman and Lex Luther, or Spiderman and the Green Goblin. You may be able to think of a few more, but any passing fan of Batman could probably name off five to six iconic Batman villains and they all seem utterly terrifying. The Dark Knight has done a good job of keeping these bad guys at bay, but what happens when they go to war with each other? As horrifying as that thought may be, The War of Jokes and Riddles tackles that very question. The Joker and the Riddler decide to have a war with each other and they effectively divide the Batman villains into two camps. Batman is now in the middle of their conflict. This story is told as a flashback to Batman’s earlier years as the Dark Knight of Gotham.
After DC Comics did a mini-reboot of the DC universe in 2016, Tom King was tapped to write Batman. King is well known for his works, The Omega Men and The Sherriff of Baghdad, which were heavily influenced by his extensive knowledge of issues pertaining to national security, that would ultimately propel him to the prominent role of writing Batman, the world’s greatest detective. Mikel Janin has been drawing for DC Comics since 2011 and has been a strong artist, starting with the Justice League of America.
Violence: This graphic novel is pretty violent, despite the “Teen” rating. We see a lot of characters getting punched and kicked, and we also see some very bloody scenes as well. A lot of bad guys and innocents are shot and killed. The Joker cuts a man’s arm off and one bad guy has his hand impaled by a knife. The war causes mass casualties of innocents and we see the Riddler poison a young boy to drag his father into the war. While at times the artist would try to pan away from the violence, there are still scenes where we see the violence in full force. I think those who are sensitive to violence should think twice before picking up this graphic novel.
Sexual Content: This entire story is actually a flashback that Bruce Wayne is telling Catwoman, Selina Kyle. He is telling her this story while they are sitting on a bed together in sleep attire. Bruce is shirtless and Selina is in underwear and a short shirt. Several of the villians, men and women, wear form fitting clothing.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Several characters are shown drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
Spiritual Content: God is mentioned once or twice, but that is about it. While this is rarely explicitly stated, many times in comic books, heroes and villains are almost perceived as demi-gods and this holds true for this story as well.
Language/Crude Humor: One character consistently says, “h*** yeah!” While there is almost no bad language, one or two lewd comments are made.
Other Negative Content: It should be noted that Bruce and Selina are engaged at this point in the Batman universe, and not married, but are still choosing to live together. While they do not claim to be Christians, they are still demonstrating that this is perfectly normal behavior, something that is a contradiction to the Bible (Hebrews 13:4).
While Batman demonstrates a strong value in human life, his villains certainly do not care about the people of Gotham. The Joker and Riddler do not consider the consequences of their actions and are willing to expend human life to meet their own goals.
Positive Content: Despite many of the negatives that I list, the actions of Batman are heroic as he tries to save Gotham from this devastating street war.
Batman has always been pretty straight forward. Batman does battle with numerous villains who are up to no good and generally Batman always wins. Even when he doesn’t win, he still finds a way to turn things around in his favor. Simple right? Well, in The War of Jokes and Riddles, the game changes and the Riddler and Joker divide Gotham’s super villains into two warring sides and unfortunately for Batman, he is stuck right in the middle. It’s not so simple anymore.
Our story kicks off as Bruce Wayne tells a story to his now-fiancé Selina Kyle about a turf war that took place in Gotham during Batman’s earlier years. The Joker can’t laugh anymore because the Batman always outplays him and the Riddler can’t solve the puzzle of the Batman. They seem like natural allies, but instead, when the Riddler approaches the Joker about an opportunity to team up, the Joker just shoots the Riddler (I guess that is perfectly rational, right?), thus kicking off a bloody and horrible war.
The War of Jokes and Riddles is without a doubt one of the bloodiest conflicts I’ve ever read from a Batman comic. The Riddler and Joker bring all of the Batman super villains on one of two sides and there is no doubt that the war claims many innocent and non-innocent lives. Mikel Janin and his creative team have done a great job of presenting the horrors of the conflict in grand detail, but he also does a great job of zooming in on the small details. The reader can just see how different the Riddler and Joker carry themselves in this conflict. The Riddler seems calm and calculated, carrying himself with arrogance, while the Joker lacks any smile and just comes off as cold and menacing. For example, there is a dinner scene where Bruce Wayne (not Batman) brings the Joker and Riddler to a diplomatic table and the reader can just see all of the small nuances in their demeanor and how they communicate. The Joker is hard and cold the entire dinner, never smiling or giving anyone the time of day, and the Riddler appears to be enjoying his meal without any concern of the devastation around him, while also acting as if he is in complete control of the entire conflict. I won’t spoil how that meal ends!
The story is incredibly engaging. Tom King has done a great job of creating a story line that seems almost hopeless to Batman as he tries to engage the different sides in this conflict. You can really see the Batman’s struggle as he has to play the dual roles of negotiator and enforcer, all the while it just seems like everything is hopeless. There is also a sub-plot within the story where a villain by the name of Kite-man is involved. His story is very tragic, his son was poisoned by the Riddler, jolting him into this conflict and is often the butt of jokes because he isn’t the most terrifying villain. He is not a good guy, but he is used by all sides in this conflict for one reason or another. I won’t spoil anything, but his story is a woven thread of tragedy and redemption.
However, the story is not perfect by any means. Because the narrative is a flashback being told by Bruce, we jump around in time quite a bit with the narrative and it doesn’t always come off as clear as to where we are in the story. Additionally, some of the plot points seem a little far-fetched, even by comic book standards. I’ll reference the dinner scene again; while I enjoyed it for its back and forth dialogue, I find it strange that these two sides would just happen to gather around a dinner table with all of their villain allies standing in the background during the most downright bloodiest turf wars I’ve ever read in comics. I was also taken aback by one of the plot twists at the end, as it just didn’t make sense in my mind. I’ll let the reader decide for themselves, but I was not terribly convinced by it.
All in all, the story was a captivating one that highlighted some very interesting themes. The one that stuck out to me was what to do when evil turns upon itself and when innocent lives are caught in the middle. We see this a lot in our own world, from civil conflicts to neighborhood gang fights. The War of Jokes and Riddles is highlighting something we already know about in our world. Bruce Wayne learned pretty quick that you can’t negotiate with evil and the Bible is abundantly clear that we must steer clear of evil and unrighteousness, while distinguishing between what is good and what is evil (John 3:20-21 and Job 28:28). Batman had to do what he does best, stand for justice. We as believers in Christ also have to stand for what is righteous. This never means punching bad guys in the face, but rather speaking the truth of Christ’s love on this world. Christ is the only way hearts can be changed and minds renewed. We see civil conflicts end, but that doesn’t mean hearts are changed. Only Christ can change a heart from darkness to light.
The War of Jokes and Riddles is a solid entry into the Batman universe and lore, with its engaging story and action packed sequences. The graphic novel offers a Batman that has to learn on the go and has to make some hard decisions, while also learning from mistakes. I very much enjoyed this entry, but the reader will have to look past some questionable plot decisions and graphic violence. I do highly recommend this book for Batman fans who want to see Batman react to a situation that he is very unaccustomed to!
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+Engaging Storyline +Unique twist to a Batman story +Incredible artwork +An abundance of fast-paced action
-Confusing jumps through time -Very violent -A somewhat unconvincing plot twist -Questionable plot decisions throughout
The Bottom Line
Overall, The War of Jokes and Riddles was a solid entry into the Batman universe, but it contains some questionable plot points and a weak twist at the end. The story is a unique take on Batman's legacy, as we see the Dark Knight having to manage a conflict, rather than fight exclusively on one side.