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BATMAN #103 [Review]

BATMAN #103/ Script by JAMES TYNION IV/ Art by CARLO PAGULAYAN, DANNY MIKI & GUILLEM MARCH/ Colors by DAVID BARON/ Letters by CLAYTON COWLES / Published by DC COMICS

In the days when he first began wandering the world seeking teachers to help him train for his war on crime, Bruce Wayne made an enemy; another young man seeking the same teachers, but for far less altruistic reasons. Dubbing himself The Ghost-Maker, he made it his business to disrupt Bruce’s education, though he was content to keep his distance from Gotham City… until now.

In the wake of Joker’s War on Gotham, a new vigilante has risen called The Clownkiller – a troubled young man whose family were killed in front of him by The Joker’s followers. Now he’s begun hunting down everyone who worked for The Joker, from hired goons and flunkies to ordinary citizens who gave into their dark sides for a moment while dressed as a clown at Joker’s direction.

Clownkiller’s next target is the semi-reformed Harley Quinn. Yet unbeknownst to him, he’s become the quarry of the Ghost-Maker, who is determined to prove to Batman that his efforts to save people while living by a code do more harm than good, one dead vigilante at a time…

I hadn’t planned on reviewing Batman #103, being as its in the middle of a story arc involving the introduction of Ghost-Maker. Generally I try to review first issues of storylines and mini-series, as its easier to judge how the writer is trying to snare readers there. At this point if you aren’t snared by James Tynion IV’s Batman run, well, I don’t think anything I say will help. Yet I am reviewing this issue, partly because it is a light week, but mostly because of how impressed I was by this issue on a technical level.

There’s not much that is unique about this issue, as the idea of giving Batman a rival out to prove his superiority has been done before with other villains. (Bane being perhaps the most famous example.) Batman: The Animated Series pitted Bruce Wayne against a rival from his past with its Night of the Ninja/Day of the Samurai episodes. Tynion doesn’t give Ghost-Maker much of a personality and Clownkiller is such a ludicrously stupid character I’d be glad to see him killed off. And yet, I loved this issue, for everything that it shows us of Harley Quinn and Batman as characters.

Much has been written about DC Comics’ efforts to turn Harley into a hero or anti-hero over the past decade. I won’t rehash those arguments here but I will say that I loved Tynion’s take on Harley during Joker War and the introspection she shows here as she talks to an imaginary Poison Ivy as a way of working out her own issues and tries to get her head together regarding what she does next with her life. It’s a nice character moment, but it also neatly explains a lot of the conflicting images of Harley we’ve seen from various writers by making it clear even Harley isn’t sure who she is meant to be without someone telling her what to do. If you’re a Harley fan, it’s well worth picking up this issue for that moment alone and Harley’s interaction with Clownkiller.

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The artwork is solid and I never would have noticed the two art teams at work on it had I not gone looking. The differences are there, but the flow of the story is such I didn’t notice the shift between styles. The coloration by David Baron helps keep that sense of continuity going and the lettering by Clayton Cowles is impressive, with a distinctive font and balloons being used for Clownkiller’s distorted dialogue.

I’d suggest picking up Batman #102 along with this issue for the sake of seeing the whole story, but a new reader could jump in with this issue if needed. With impressive artwork from two teams and a solid, if uninventive, story, Batman #103 is a prime example of why this has been my favorite Batman book for a while now.

rating 4

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