DC's Batman Editor Talks Joker War, Punchline, and More (Exclusive)

James Tynion IV's run on Batman has taken us on quite a journey, meeting new characters like The Designer and Punchline along the way and setting up a big-time showdown between Batman and Joker. That showdown is known as Joker War, and it all kicks off in Batman #95, though the building blocks for the event have been placed all throughout the Batman's battle against The Designer. Batman #93 featured another huge piece of the puzzle, and while we have to wit a little longer for the even to kick off, you can get your first exclusive look at the event right here, and who better to break it all down for us than Batman Group Editor Ben Abernathy. Abernathy sat down with ComicBook.com to talk all things Joker War, including how this battle is different from others Joker has waged against the Dark Knight in the past.

"It is a war against Batman, but it's also a war against Bruce Wayne," Abernathy said. "Dating back, we did a three-issue prelude in Batman #85 last December and had that impact of The Joker, who knew who Bruce Wayne was, that he was connected to Batman, but the game always was against Batman, and Joker had never really moved against Bruce Wayne. But then a light bulb went on in that sequence to where The Joker, I don't want to say end game, but he saw a bigger picture and a bigger play, and how to basically wage war against Batman and Bruce Wayne."

"I think James Tynion put it the best, in that Joker War is his final thesis on the battle between these two characters," Abernathy said. "So we have been building up the Joker War throughout the year with The Joker impacting some of the characters in the background at certain points, and the culmination of the fortune being taken in #93 is the tip of the iceberg of what's to come."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-1
(Photo: DC)

Tynion kicks off Joker War by framing the battle between Batman and Joker in a way that is rather unique, which is saying something after so many years and stories featuring the two. Joker War is also looking to set up both characters for the future by analyzing them at their core, both at their highest and their lowest points.

"I came on as the Batman group editor in October," Abernathy said. "James was already working on Batman. He'd already been hired, but he and I had synchronized in a lot of ways to build out a plan that goes deep into the future, and Joker War is a bigger piece to the puzzle of what's to come. It's defining in a lot of ways for both characters."

"Bruce has isolated himself through Their Dark Designs, but also since the death of Alfred, he's been carrying a lot of grief and a lot of personal sense of tragedy and responsibility for what has been happening," Abernathy said. "He finds himself in a very vulnerable moment and we've seen that through Their Dark Designs. Even including, I hope everyone checked out the Pennyworth RIP book that we did back in February, but The Joker's move comes at maybe the most vulnerable point Batman has been in quite some time."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-2
(Photo: DC)

"I'm not going to pretend to be an expert of 81 years of history of Batman and then quote it, but this is, if not the, one of the pivotal moments of him as Batman," Abernathy said. "It's like a rebuild of Gotham and a rebrand of what his relationship is with the city, what the city can be. The reasons why he is doing it are starting to show. The cracks are starting to show with his relationship with Catwoman and the Bat-Family. Like I said, a lot of this grief, he's carrying over from the death of Alfred in the City of Bane."

"One of the elements that we see through Their Dark Designs in particular, and this isn't just the Batmobile because it's the Batwing too, is that as Batman and Bruce Wayne are working to rebuild Gotham in a lot of ways as we see through the first seven months. There are a lot of new toys. There's a lot of new gadgets," Abernathy said. He's got a new plane, he's got a new car. He had that Bat-Lounge we joked about that fired him out of the plane, and he slid down a building using magnets and stuff along those lines."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-3
(Photo: DC)

"In a lot of ways, I don't want to say he's overcompensating with this vast amount of technology. He has the hibernaculum set up where he's got 3D printers building all of this stuff, but in some ways, that's not who Batman is at his core," Abernathy said. "He's not defined by the gadgets or the toys that he has, and that will come into play a lot in Joker War as well."

Now, while The Designer has been a huge part of the series thus far, fans got the real story in issue #93 with the reveal that Designer was just a corpse, manipulated by Joker, who killed the villain way back during their first meeting. We asked if there is more coming for the character or the concept after this, but for the most part, it seems the road for Designer has truly come to an end, though there are some interesting threads to the character that will be explored a bit more.

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-4
(Photo: DC)

"I will say, for the most part, The Designer is the character for Their Dark Designs because, and I'm quoting from Batman #85, the idea with The Joker is that he's refocusing on Bruce Wayne," Abernathy said. "The Designer's plan, what is revealed is his plan was to steal the wealth of the wealthiest family or man, or woman, or person in Gotham, which back then we have the first Jorge Jimenez issue, a flashback, I think it was #91, it wasn't necessarily the Waynes."

"So they had this plan," Abernathy continued. "The Designer had this plan to utilize the four villains, that was ultimately a giant heist. The Joker has hijacked that as well as the identity of The Designer, which has now been revealed and succeeds in doing what that goal of that mission was, and we reveal that The Designer is dead. So we do not have plans for the future of The Designer, unless perhaps there are flashbacks or something along those lines, but we also have the character that we introduce in #94."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-5
(Photo: DC)

"It is not a spoiler, but from the Jorge Jimenez issue, we reveal that The Designer was Moriarty," Abernathy said. "There was a great detective, a Sherlock Holmes type character and we see them sword fighting on blimps and on trains and stuff along those lines in flashbacks when The Designer was revealing his plan. So we get a glimpse of who that adversary was in #94, but there are no plans necessarily to spin out either of these characters for now, but they're great characters and they're great ideas. I've been a big Sherlock Holmes fan myself. I'm like, how do I do a series on this? Because this could be really fascinating to explore. But right now, they're specific to Their Dark Designs."

You can't talk about Joker War without talking about the newest Batman sensation, Punchline, who faces down Harley Quinn in issue #93. There's quite a bit more to come from her, and we had to ask about the early comparisons to Harley and how DC felt about the general reaction to the newest addition to the Batman mythos.

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-6
(Photo: DC)

"I love the character, Punchline. I know what you mean. A lot of people are like, 'Oh, she's like a fake Harley Quinn, or she's the new Harley Quinn,' which we knew obviously there was going to be that connection because she is the flip side to what Harley is," Abernathy said. One of the things that I stress to people is that Punchline is the third or fourth new character that we've introduced in James' Batman run, though she's definitely the one that has stuck out."

"But regarding her development, James and I were very much on a wavelength of what we want to do and develop, and what we want to see within the title," Abernathy said. "When he first mentioned this character, Punchline, and then we talked about the origin and things along those lines, she was definitely a character that maybe on the surface when people see her design or when people run pages from Batman #92 or whatever, or Hell Arisen #3, the assumption is she's just some Harley Quinn knockoff or some '90s bad girl. You know what I mean? A replica or something along these lines, but we put a lot of thought into who Punchline is."

"It was the reason why with The Joker 80th, we reveal her origin pretty immediately because in a lot of ways, she's commentary on society today," Abernathy said. "If in a lot of ways you look back to the history of Batman, a lot of it was started with mobsters and organized crime, things along those lines. What we learned from the origin in Joker 80th is that she discovered through social media this ideology of The Joker, and it was something she was drawn to and was radicalized on the internet towards The Joker. We have more plans with that character going forward, and it'll be a study upon society today. So she is a character that I don't think we've seen the likes of in the Bat-Family in a long time, and her origin alone separates her from Harley Quinn in that sense."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-7
(Photo: DC)

"She's not love-struck," Abernathy said. "She doesn't see an element of humanity that she wants to save. She is all in on, like I said, the ideology and the anarchy and what The Joker represents. So this is not some love-struck doctor who gets her mind unwrapped or whatever in Arkham Asylum. She knows what she's doing and she understands it, and we'll see that develop."

In Batman #85 fans got their first taste of what was to come in Tynion's run, and that focused on The Joker at a time when the character was as popular as ever. A hit movie and several stories focusing on the character were out on the market, and while the character will always be immensely popular, we had to ask if Joker fatigue ever factored into their decisions to make him the primary villain of the next run.

"That's an excellent question. Coming on board, back in October when we started discussing the year and what was to come, with Their Dark Designs, there was already the idea that The Joker was going to be a big part of that and a growing part of that," Abernathy said. "We started talking directly about Joker War back in December and these plans and how we could tell a summer event that would connect and be built around The Joker. The Joker was a character that hadn't been featured as much, I'm trying to remember, in the '90s or '80s, some issues that Tom King had done. There was War of Jokes and Riddles and there were some great issues of The Joker and stuff, but Bane was much more of his big bad for a lot of those issues."

Batman-95-Joker-War-Preview-Checklist
(Photo: DC)

"Granted, we'd just come off a successful movie," Abernathy said. "Joker 80th was coming in the spring. So to me, it just made sense to do The Joker. He was this character that, publishing wise, we hadn't done a lot of Joker content with. In a lot of ways, it came naturally, as James was already building in that direction. To me, I didn't feel like there was a lot of Joker fatigue. It's like the version of the movie is not our version of the character necessarily. It was funny because as we were developing Joker 80th, and the inclusion of Punchline shows you how far out we were planning all this stuff to have the origin and stuff in there as well. It just all coalesced into the plan for Joker War."

0comments

"And plus too, one of the things I wanted to see when I became the group editor was a further realignment, in a lot of ways, of the Bat-Family titles. Because through various editorial shifts and stuff, they were being handled by different groups, but one of the things I liked when I was reading as a kid, when you read Batman: No Man's Land or whatever, you got a sense that there was a connectivity to it all. In a lot of ways, Joker War helps with our tie-ins and stuff, which we'll have, Joker War is helping to realign or reconnect some of the titles to the main bat group."

You can check out the first part of Joker War in Batman #95, which hits stores this July, while Batman #93 is in comic stores now. Let us know what you think of the preview in the comments, and as always you can find me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things comics!