Punchline #1 // Review

The Joker has been very, very active in Gotham City over the years. It's not just Batman: the whole city has a long-running relationship with the villain. Writers James Tynion IV and Sam Johns explore this relationship's nature from an intriguing angle in Punchline #1. Artist Mirka Andolfo brings a sophisticated look into one girl's psyche to the page with the aid of colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr. Since her introduction in early 2020, Punchline has proven to be a provocative 21st-century update on the Joker concept that pulls aspects of now ancient Batman themes. So far, the character has been haunting the edges of the page. The first issue of a Punchline title brings the concept of the character into the center of the panel where it belongs.

Alexis Kaye was a college student who was touring a Gotham TV studio when the Joker took over the TV studio. She was given a script and told to read it to the camera. The trauma of the event came to be an obsession for her. A series of podcasts on her journey found her gaining fame while getting lost in the madness of what she was investigating. Now she's something altogether more savvy and powerful than the man that she had been so obsessed with. Punchline is the madness of the Joker amplified through the reality-warping lens of social media.

Tynion IV and Johns sharpen the character of Alexis in a double-length issue that dives very, very deeply into her pathology. Not only does the story make a statement on the nature of social media, but it also takes a deep look at the nature of information in the age of the internet. Alexis' search for meaning in the Joker leads her to draw together the Joker's madness into something that is well beyond his control. Not only do Tynion IV and Johns look at the psyche of one woman, but they also cast a deep glance at a city that is caught up in the cycle of madness and violence that is generated by a city populated by masked villains and vigilantes.

Andolfo's art is perfect for the story. Andolfo infuses Alexis' face with radical changes in energy and attitude as the story of her radicalization flits from one cover to the other. The fusion of darkness and weirdness on the edge of insanity is brought to the page with deft darkness that's amplified with shadowy radiance by Fajardo Jr. Andolfo's art leaves more than enough space for Fajardo Jr. to cast dark moods. The issue is visually washed in a million moods. The ghostly glow of phones and video screens cast life into the Gotham media as street lights animate the darkness at night. A Punchline perp walk flanked by admirers is bathed in bright, cheery sunlight.

Tynion IV, Johns, and company do an impressive job of updating aspects of the hero/villain exploration of life in the amplified world of Gotham City. So much of the Batman/Joker dynamic has been pummeled to death. It's nice to see a fresh perspective on it. Between this and the work that Cecil Castellucci has done with Batgirl, there seems to be some refreshing life in a city that's been around since Bill Finger flipped through a New York City phone book and picked out a name for it back at the dawn of the 1940s.