Throughout “Joker War,” Punchline to me came off as an attempt to create a new Harley Quinn. A Joker companion that wouldn’t become an anti-hero and instead could remain a villain. As the event progressed, you could tell she was a bit a schemer but as a whole, the character fell a little flat to me in her use. Punchline #1 though is exactly what I’ve been waiting for as far as the character. It’s an exploration of her descent into the world of the Joker and is a not so subtle exploration of Trump’s America.
Written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns, Punchline #1 is the character’s origin. We get to see her first crossing the path of the Joker and Batman and her journey to become Punchline. It’s an interesting issue that focuses on radicalization and the media.
With an impending trial, Punchline is doing what she can to continue the Joker’s vision, to bring “his joke” to the world. Through a series of podcasts and various characters we learn why a shy, quiet girl would seek out and become a partner to a sadistic murderer. We also get to see society’s reaction to her crimes and their manipulation to profess and cheer on her “innocence”.
The comic is an exploration of Trump’s America. An obvious criminal who has committed horrific acts on the populace and those who are not only willing to look the other way but also support and celebrate him. Punchline is a complicit enabler. She’s the Stephen Miller to the Joker’s Trump. Her mission is logical and focused and she sees her “boss” as a means to an end to achieve her goal which is intertwined with his. And much like the current administration, she uses the media to distort and manipulate the masses to achieve what she needs and wants.
That would make an interesting enough story but Tynion and Johns explore the chaos Punchline sows. We know her crimes and her guilt but she uses social media and specifically podcasting, to build support. We get to see the reaction and radicalization of her supporters as the story builds resulting in large rallies proclaiming her innocence. She’s the celebrity criminal who has duped those around her. It’s a reflection of what we see today with the claims of a rigged election and protests around the country. A group manipulated into believing a fantasy.
Punchline’s “adversary” in Dr. Leslie Thompkins also feels like it’s a stand-in and commentary on our political leadership. Thompkins could easily be the personification of opposition, easily manipulated by Punchline to achieve a goal. Thompkins is Pelosi, Schumer, and Democratic leadership to Punchline’s Trump and McConnell. A well-meaning individual who is out of their element and dealing with a force the likes of which they have never dealt with before. One who is playing a different game by completely different rules.
And again, that would make for an amazing story but there’s more. There’s also the aftermath of the “Joker War”. Already teased in the pages of Batman, those who supported Punchline and the Joker have slithered their way back into society, hiding their allegiance and complicity in the chaos and destruction. Much like the reckoning of those who have supported the abuses of the Trump administration, we are forced to question those around Punchline and where their loyalty lies. Is it with law, order, and justice, or is it with chaos?
This is the challenges we face today with those who just months ago said “f your feelings,” praised kids in cages, and supported the stripping of rights of their fellow Americans still among us. How does society treat them? Are they willing to atone for their sins? Are they the danger that lurks underneath? How can we look at our fellow citizens again and not question where their loyalty is and where they stood when it mattered?
Tynion and Johns are joined by Mirka Andolfo on art. Romulo Fajardo, Jr. provides colors with Gabriela Downie the letterer. For as solid as the writing is, the art matches the quality. It’s a fantastic looking comic with interesting use of panels. It plays off of the framing of the exploration well too. We’re forced to go back and forth between Punchline as she grows into her role and the current impending trial. Through that, we bounce around balancing the different visual aspects of the story including solid use of social media.
It’s all quite effective especially in that the visuals don’t give us an expected spiral into madness. Instead, the visuals take us along a journey of radicalization without shock. We too are asked to join in on the big picture and accept Punchline’s vision. There isn’t shock, there’s an invitation to enjoy through imagery. Like Trump, the visual is key to acceptance.
It’d have been interesting to have read Punchline #1 in the wake of a Trump re-election but that’s not reality. Instead, with President-elect Biden the reality, the comic is a clear exploration of the wake of the last four years and Trump’s America. It also teases what those four years mean for the world as Punchline, much like Trump, has sold his brand to other countries. Punchline’s “joke” is Trump’s nationalism. They’re both a cancer that threatens to engulf us, slowly killing society. Punchline #1 is one of the most intriguing comics to be released this year by the big two and shows that costumed superheroes can explore our society effectively. This is a comic that’s not to be missed.
Story: James Tynion IV, Sam Johns Art: Mirka Andolfo
Color: Romulo Fajardo, Jr. Letterer: Gabriela Downie
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review