After giving Batman fans one of the Dark Knight’s most romantic moments in a marriage proposal to Catwoman, writer Tom King is now taking him to a darker place before any wedding plans are made.
“The War of Jokes and Riddles,” the new eight part storyline taking place in “Batman” (part two/issue no. 26 is available now in print and digitally) is exactly what it sounds like: a turf war between two of Gotham City’s biggest crime lords, the Joker and the Riddler.
The battle takes place in Batman’s past, only a year into his life as a vigilante, and serves as a confessional of sorts between he and Catwoman/Selina Kyle.
“Batman has gone through a lot of emotional things. He’s come to the point where he proposed to Catwoman, he’s trying to find a piece of happiness in his life,” King told the Post’s Comic Riffs. “What [Batman] says is before you marry me, I have to confess my darkest moment, because you can’t marry me until you know the worst of me.”
Batman, it turns out, is the cause for the war.
King writes the Joker as a maniac who has lost his laugh, because Batman’s constant winning takes the humor out of everything. Nothing is funny to him anymore.
Meanwhile, Edward Nygma, the Riddler, perhaps Gotham City’s most dangerous mind, always ten steps ahead of everyone, becomes obsessed with the one riddle even he can’t figure out: Who is Batman? And what makes him tick?
Both villains realize the only way to end their suffering is to kill the Batman, and the race begins to see who can do it first.
“Both of them have something they want and that if the other one gets will ruin them and so they go to war over it,” King said. “And then it gets personal and as wars tend to do, the first cause is lost once the first victim gets shot.”
Twenty-six issues into his run writing “Batman,” King says he’s more comfortable now with the character than he was when he first took over after the end of Scott Snyder’s five-year run.
“When I was first taking on Batman, I was writing a trilogy of other books, ‘The Omega Men,’ ‘Vision’ and ‘The Sheriff of Babylon’ simultaneously,” King said. “I had to put those books away and sort of focus in on who Batman was and why he appealed to me as a character.”
King’s take on Batman’s rogues gallery is that he considers them to be dark extensions of the hero.
“The Joker is [Batman’s] insanity. The little part of him that broke when his parents died and he couldn’t put back together. That’s all the Joker is. It’s Batman without love,” King said. “The Riddler is the opposite of that. It’s the detective in him. That utterly logical, has to get things done, has to solve this problem [guy]. It’s Batman without the humanity.”
When plotting with artist Mikel Janin, King mentioned bulking the Riddler up a bit for his duel with the Joker.
“Mikel is widley known for drawing the sexiest men in comics,” King said, in part referring to his rendering of Dick Grayson/Nightwing. “The idea of doing a buffer, sexier Riddler — I like that. I think he’s a reflection of Batman and I think of him like a scary, evil Batman. Like Bruce Wayne without a conscience.”
King remembers Jack Nicholson’s Joker performance in 1989’s “Batman” combined with the release of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke” a year earlier as moments that raised the Joker’s pop culture profile. He’s looking to take the Riddler to that level, even giving the character a scene that “mirrors” the “Batman” movie as a symbol of his evolution.
“We’re trying to elevate Riddler the way that movie elevated the Joker,” King said. “Sort of be a villain worthy of that much attention.”
Even though Batman is the rare hero whose villains are big enough to take all the attention, King says this new tale is still a Batman story at heart.
“That’s what’s great about the Batman universe. When you explore Gotham, when you explore the villains, all of them point to this one character,” King said. “This iconic American symbol for how we deal with pain and loss and how me move forward after it.”