Has Everyone Figured Out the Bad Guy is The Joker...Again?

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Batman 92

Batman is having a very long night. With Catwoman finally having filled him in on how The Designer met with the four major villains in Gotham and helped them work out their most nefarious plans, Batman went on to fight Deathstroke while Catwoman and Harley Quinn battled their way through a squad of zombied police officers (and we still don't know how these zombies operate or how The Designer sees/speaks through them; it's just comic book magic).

Having gained nothing from his fight with Deathstroke, Batman now finds himself challenged -- and I used the term loosely -- by The Riddler, who walls off the city (a feat that would challenge even the Wayne fortunes) into a crossword puzzle grid. Batman has to solve the clues for each block, and wrong answers will trigger bombs. And to make sure Batman doesn't cheat, he blocks off all electronic transmissions to Batman's cowl.

Here's the problem with that. It's Batman. You know, the guy Will Shortz calls up when he needs a 14-letter word for "appears to be true."  So instead of staying above the city to see the layout, Batman is in the subway tunnels, where he apparently has an always-listening Siri/Alexa to bring him the Bat-Subway when needed. He's playing the game in his head as he does this, because he now knows exactly where The Designer is -- thanks to the Riddler -- and he's on his way there to put an end to this once and for all.

Meanwhile, Catwoman has a plan to put a kink in The Designer's design. Since the night has been the fulfillment of all the designs created for each of the villains thus far, she plans to pull off the heist created for her so long ago, thus beating The Designer to the punch. And speaking of punch... who does she run into when setting out to steal it all but The Joker's new girlfriend / partner -- Punchline, here in her first full, not-a-shadow appearance. A fight ensues between her and Joker's former girlfriend, Harley, while Catwoman takes advantage of the distraction.

This is all leading up to the much-anticipated Joker War, and if anyone hasn't figured out that this back-from-the-dead Designer isn't The Joker, then they really haven't been playing along.

Guillem March's art style is a bit exaggerated and puckish when comparing this chapter's illustrations to the previous issue's tag-team work from Rafael Albuquerque, Jorge Jimenez and Carlo Pagulayan. Riddler definitely looks strung out, as we saw him at the beginning of the "Their Dark Designs" arc. Tynion's story is full of action, and is true to each Batman foe's foibles and obsessions, but this one seems almost phoned in. The entire issue we can see there is no real threat to Batman -- he's just en-route while showing how much smarter he is than Riddler. The real action is with Catwoman and Harley, and of course the fan interest in seeing Punchline... punch. We really don't know that much about her except she's Joker's girlfriend / partner, so how skilled or psychotic or dangerous she may be is yet to be revealed. If she can best Harley in a fight, then I'll be impressed, as the Harley character has been written to such an extent of power over the past few years as to be nearly ridiculous.

Overall, though, this is a good story -- or rather, a good chapter in a larger story (comics having long ago abandoned the idea of telling a single story in a single issue). "Their Dark Designs" has the benefit of an interesting plot device propelling it; let's see if Tynion can bring it over the finish line with the wheels still on the axles.

4.0 / 5.0