Batman: The Joker War Zone #1 Review: An Uneven, Yet Captivating Look at Gotham City

The "Joker War" has been making its presence felt throughout Gotham City, as the Clown Prince of Crime sets out to topple the world of Bruce Wayne and those in his orbit. DC fans have already been seeing the ramifications of that in the main Batman title, as well as Detective Comics, Catwoman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Hood: Outlaw—but if you're still left wanting more, Batman: The Joker War Zone is here to help. The one-shot sets out to showcase some of the connective tissue of "Joker War," with characters and settings that lack focus in other titles. What results is a collection of stories that—while inconsistent—ultimately resonates as something both admirable and entertaining.

As the name would suggest, The Joker War Zone follows five disparate stories set in Gotham City, each of which brings a different angle to the "Joker War" conflict along with it. A handful of the stories—namely "A Serious House", James Tynion IV and Guillem March's Joker/Bane rematch that opens the issue—read like deleted scenes of Batman, but the narratives get more unconnected and unpredictable as the issue continues. This structure is both a blessing and a curse, as the stories of The Joker War Zone are too tied together to the overall canon for completely new readers to jump into. But at the same time, if a reader has one individual reason for checking out a story in the issue—whether it be seeing Spoiler and Orphan team up again, or figuring out what the heck is going on with Poison Ivy—they can realistically connect the dots.

Speaking Spoiler and Orphan's return, their story is sure to be a major selling point for The Joker War Zone and it earns the hype. Their appearance, in Joshua Williamson and David Lafuente's "The Symbol," feels like a throwback to the days that Cassandra and Stephanie initially appeared in comics, while also acknowledging the unbridled optimism and spunkiness they bring to the Bat-family (despite not having as large of a role in it as fans might like). It's somewhat unsurprising that Williamson writes Cass and Stephanie so well, especially considering the stellar job he's done celebrating and expanding on the Flash family. Still, here's hoping that once the dust settles on "Joker War," the duo's significance and potential are not shoved aside.

That notion of potential and legacy serves as a thesis statement for The Joker War Zone, with some interesting results. Despite their significant consequences in the "Joker War" plot, some of the stories feel incredibly small-scale—both the aforementioned "A Serious House" and John Ridley and Olivier Coipel's "Family Ties," the latter of which sees Lucius Fox and his family dealing with newfound responsibility. The narrative of "Family Ties" twists and turns between an intimate family drama and an action-packed conflict, in a way that should only make fans more excited for Ridley's upcoming Batman run. On the flip side are Sam Johns and Laura Braga's "Ashes of Eden", which provides a major status quo change for Poison Ivy, and Tynion and James Stokoe's "Clown Hunt", which showcases the might of new character Clownhunter. Both stories do a stellar job of showcasing how formidable their main characters are, in a way that is sure to have ramifications in the Gotham-set stories to come.

There is undoubtedly a visual variety to the stories within The Joker War Zone, which ends up being one of its most inspired and most frustrating qualities. Compared to some of DC's other recent anthologies in recent months—including countless anniversary specials—the aesthetics of The Joker War Zone feel too disjointed. Yes, there is supposed to be a sense that the conflict is affecting different corners of Gotham in different ways, but the photorealistic work in stories like "Ashes of Eden" and "Family Ties" reads like a completely different comic from the more cartoony visuals of "The Symbol" and "Clown Hunt." That being said, there are some aesthetics in the issue that are well worth praising—Lafuente and colorist Gabriela Downie's take on the Spoiler and Orphan costumes feel like Funko's adorable "Heroworld" action figures on steroids, Braga's sartorial take on Ivy is truly breathtaking when combined with Antonio Fabela's colors, and Stokoe makes Clownhunter's world feels like Mad Max had too much sugary candy.

Batman: The Joker War Zone may not be the strongest anthology one-shot DC Comics has put out in the past year, but it still has an overwhelming amount of creative talent for fans to enjoy. The issue showcases just how rich with possibility the world of Gotham City is, especially on the corners traditionally in the periphery of current Batman stories. This issue doesn't reinvent the wheel, but whether you're looking for epic character moments, connective tissue for "Joker War", or a little bit of both, this issue will surely give you some bang for your buck.

Published by DC Comics

On September 29, 2020

Written by Various

Art by Various

Colors by Various

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Letters by Various

Cover by Ben Oliver