A new villain is born.
Writer Tom King has taken a fairly risky approach to depicting the events of “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” That war has mostly unfolded in the background of the series, with King and his partners less concerned with chronicling the battles themselves than the effect they’re having on the major players and those innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. That approach continues in Batman #27, the first of several interlude issues focused on the origin story of Kite-Man. This issue succeeds in transforming that villain from goofy comic relief to tragic, integral player in this devastating conflict.
Not unlike The Killing Joke did for Joker, “The Ballad of Kite Man” sets out to explore the hellish circumstances that transform an ordinary man into a costumed lunatic. King immediately succeeds in painting Chuck “Charlie” Brown as a sympathetic figure, one unwillingly dragged into Joker, Riddler and Batman’s war and used as a hapless pawn by all three sides. The tone of this issue is equal parts absurd and fatalistic. There’s a an almost silly quality to the way Chuck bounces from one costumed character to the next, but also an unnerving sense that it’s not a question of whether his luck will run out, but when. And by the time it does, it’s impossible not to feel for this budding supervillain.
King is clearly fond of repetition in his Batman scripts, as we’ve seen seen from his “Bat/Cat” motif and various other stylistic flourishes in the past. This issue makes especially strong use of that element. This issue features a recurring trope involving Batman emerging from the shadows to confront an unwitting Chuck. That rope slowly morphs from comedic to somber over the course of the story. There’s also a riddle that preoccupies several characters and winds up tying back into the issue’s events in an effective way.
Clay Mann makes his return to the series with this issue, this time without sharing the spotlight with David Finch. Mann’s clean, detailed line-work is always a big draw, especially during the first encounter between Batman and Chuck and during one particularly eventful splash page. But where Mann truly stands out is in his ability to build an entire issue with Chuck as its literal center. Chuck is the focal point of many panels, giving the impression that he’s a stationary object around which the entirety of the War of Jokes and Riddles is revolving.
Color has always played a huge role in this series in terms of setting mood and contrasting past and present story threads. Thankfully, colorist Gabe Eltaeb is able to keep that trend going with a very diverse palette that draws firm distinctions between Chuck’s idyllic past and murky, tragic present.