Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, June Chung, and Clayton Cowles
Edited by Jamie S. Rich
Published by DC Comics
Release date: June 20, 2018
One of the Batman franchise’s biggest attraction to readers is his rogues gallery. Their modus operandi, origin stories, and appearance have just as much appeal if not more as the Dark Knight. Issue 49 focuses exclusively on the two biggest of his once and current foes delving deep into their psyche and tormented relationship with Batman. It’s a brilliant look into their minds and questions where it all will go from here.
There is no need to continue to say just how amazing Tom King’s writing is especially with examples such as this latest issue of Batman proves. Batman 49 is a frank conversation between two old friends the night before a big wedding. It’s a story of the groom’s “best man” and the bride to be having a heart to heart. It’s nostalgia, regret, and concern for the future. It’s soul-baring. The moments in this issue are beautiful even though it’s set amidst dead bodies and hours of drifting towards death. The conversation becomes very meta as Joker and Selina discuss the changes in Batman’s villains over the decades as well as the core set’s quirks. It’s a thoughtful look at what Batman once up until very recently and as his story begins to step into a completely new chapter what will he evolve into. It depicts the clown prince of crime as not being “crazy” at all but psychologically trapped by ruminations on an enemy that has become something more. Reader’s that have seen Batman: The Lego Movie will immediately feel tinges of familiarity though, appriopately, not as funny. Joker is at his sanest in this issue (or has he always been?) and speaks with a clarity that is as haunting as it is insightful. It puts into words what we all suspected about Joker and Batman’s relationship and references key scenes in a couple of the biggest Batman stories of all time to do it. It is very revealing for both Joker and Selina in that it shows that both love Batman but in very different ways. The reader may also be able to discern which of the two love Batman more. But there’s something more important to be gleaned from this story. In some of Joker’s final words of the issue there is an even deeper revelation of why Joker feels he needs Batman to be Batman so badly. The Joker knows just what he himself is capable of.
The conversation between Joker and Selina mirrors one that is in the heads of readers as well: can happiness and Batman co-exist? Is Batman nothing but darkness, rage, and misery? Without his dark side does he revert to Batman ’66? The end of the story is of course inconclusive as far as what happens; as it should be. The reader will be left wondering does Selina laugh for her own reason or because Joker got to finally tell his punchline?
Mikel Janin’s artwork imparts the juxtaposition of the forces clashing in this issue. In the fight starting off Issue 49 both Joker and Catwoman have their moments of being on top but it quickly devolves to reveal their true standings. They are both on equal ground but on opposite sides of a spectrum of love for Batman. They lie beside each other in different directions but both being presented to the reader at different times being the one that is “upside down.” It further drives home the idea that both are in love with Batman but each in their own ways. Janin’s rendition of the Joker is a perfect realization of the ideas being put forth here by King. The reader will find the Joker looking both, at the same time, desperate and calculating; normal and insane. From the very beginning Janin delves the reader into the Joker’s soul with a deep look into his sickly eyes. Throughout the story the Joker’s eyes remain prominent and tell his story almost as good as King weaves his words. The background for the panels throughout is a very interesting representation of the contrasting characters. Janin uses sharply contrasting light and shadow on the rugged pile of bricks they lay upon. It’s a foundation of rocky balances of light and dark that confirms to the reader there is no gray area here. That contrast is echoed in Joker and Selina’s faces. One is rendered as (for a majority of the story) cold and unfeeling while the other is portrayed as having deep emotions. Panel layout is beautiful and continues to follow Tom King’s heavy use of 9 panel sequentials. It works beautifully for a page of Joker loading his gun. It brings the moment to life and jacks the tension up 110%.
June Chung provides the color work for this issue and does exceptionally beautiful work. Somehow most of the issue has a very monotone feel to it even though it’s not. This effectively makes the use of bright color shine even more. Key points of action during a fight are punctuated by dangerous oranges that intensely impact the reader. More important, though, is the color that brings the pairs eyes to life as they spill their souls to one another.
Clayton Cowles continues to create some of the best lettering work in the industry. His work in this issue gives Selina and Joker clear distinct tones and cadence. Joker’s lettering is as unsettling as his appearance and declarations. Cowles also brings the sound effects to life while also allowing them blend seamlessly into the action.
This issue is an absolute must read for any fan of the Batman mythos. The reader may find it to be as powerful and revealing as some of the past big stories that is alluded to in these pages. The look into THIS Joker’s thoughts put this issue among one of the best of the year. Batman #49 proves that Bruce Wayne’s legacy is more than just Batman but the antagonist that rise up to balance him.
The Verdict: 9.5/10.0