The following article contains spoilers from Batman #139, on sale now from DC Comics.
Batman has been forced to tighten his belt for some time now. Ever since the Joker War, his resources have been significantly limited, and that only continues in the pages of Batman #139 (by Chip Zdarsky, Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey, Clayton Cowles). After breaking away from his family, Batman found himself going back to basics. He maintains his own gear, operates alone, and even monitors things through the police radio. It feels very much like he has been forced into a more limited role than he has been in years.
Interestingly, the Joker also finds himself in a similar situation. He has not only managed to burn most of his bridges thanks to his recent conflict with the other Joker, but also finds himself short on manpower thanks to Catwoman’s attempt to end crime in Gotham. In an ironic twist, this might actually be beneficial for Gotham City. Without as many resources to call upon for their work, the two can focus more on each other when they come into conflict, thereby limiting the damage they do as a whole.
Batman and Joker Have Gone Back to Basics
Jason Aaron’s miniseries Batman: Off-World will have a young Bruce Wayne face cosmic threats earlier than most of the Dark Knight’s previous comics.
Fans who followed the events of the Gotham War know that it changed the status quo quite a bit. Batman’s inability to accept a different perspective on stopping crime in Gotham caused a division within the Bat-Family that not only saw him completely destroy the trust of those closest to him, it also cut him off from his own network. For the first time in years, Batman is now operating purely on his own merit. While it’s not impossible for someone like him, it means he has to be more careful and precise with his crimefighting, taking constant stock of his gadgets, and keep up with crime in the city via conventional means such as listening to the police radio channels.
Likewise, the Joker is also in something of a tight situation. His war with the impostor Joker has exposed just how sick of him the city has become. He has essentially burned every connection he has with Gotham’s major villains because they no longer have the patience for his brand of chaos. While he may have regained control of his gang, it isn’t even a shadow of what it once was. The deaths the war caused, coupled with Catwoman retraining the majority of Gotham’s hired criminals, means he has fewer henchmen, resulting in a slowdown to his plans and forcing him to take part in the physical preparation of his schemes.
In short, both men are now more involved in the process of what they do than they have been in years. While Batman might try to believe he is more focused than he has been in years, there is undoubtedly some part of him that laments the loss of his resources. For all the good he believes the isolation is doing for him, he isn’t half as effective as he used to be. The Joker is more verbal about his distaste at losing his henchmen, openly criticizing Catwoman for her part in disrupting the status quo of crime within the city. Yet, their current predicament could be a boon for Gotham.
Gotham City Will No Longer Be Collateral Damage
Batman Beyond’s clever use of futuristic language has effectively made the franchise timeless.
Consider, the battles between Batman and the Joker have always been epic, but in recent years they have only gotten bigger and bigger to the point where the last two major Joker attacks have nearly destroyed all of Gotham. Now, while most of the blame lies on the Joker, there is an argument to be made that Batman has allowed things to escalate to such a dangerous degree. Now though, they find themselves with less of a foundation for these battles to become so destructive.
Without their resources, the two of them could now focus on a smaller picture, not being able to influence the world around them as much as they used to. Proof of this can already be seen in the issue. Their fight took place in an isolated location, and for once, the body count of this latest bout between them has not extended into the double digits.
This is because they are only focused on the battle between them. Joker isn’t putting on some grand performance for the city, he is getting in touch with his roots by only attacking Batman. Their age-old dynamic has been reignited as they fight one another instead of rampaging through the city and harming its people.
The Gotham War Did One Thing Right
The Joker has always had a twisted relationship with Red Hood, but there may be more affection behind it than anyone realized.
Though the grand experiment of the Gotham War ultimately proved to be a failure, it seems that it has fixed the recurring problem of Batman and the Joker, if only unintentionally. This could even be good from a marketing point of view. There is always some major crossover event whenever the Joker attacks. Now it can just go back to simpler times where fans don’t have to buy multiple books to understand a single story.
More to the point, it might even be good for Batman and the Joker. Both men have been having crises of identity lately; even the Joker can admit that much. While the two of them are not yet fully recovered from their recent adventures, perhaps after the dust settles they can take stock of where they stand. Batman claims he’s doing better like this, but it’s an obvious lie. When he finally takes the chance to examine how things are going, the benefits of being more focused in his approach could make him more effective, as he would have fewer things to focus on.
The Joker himself would, of course, still be an agent of chaos, but a more precise one. His attacks wouldn’t kill as many people as they have in the past, especially if he is trying to reignite his rivalry with Batman. As strange as it sounds, being forced back to square one might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them, and for Gotham as well.