Batman #644

Reviewer : Tim Byrne
Title : Judgment at Gotham (‘War Crimes’ Part 4)
Writer : Bill Willingham
Penciller : Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker : Sandra Hope
Letterer : Jared K. Fletcher
Colorist : Jason Wright
Editor : Bob Schreck
Publisher : DC Comics

War Crimes comes to an end, and not before its time. This limited scale cross-over certainly seemed unnecessary when I first heard about it, particularly given the crossover-heavy nature of the DCU at present. This is all in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis. Reading through the four parts of the story hasn’t really changed my opinion.

Batman, Black Mask (in his Batman outfit) and the Joker continue their confrontation, and the person behind the death of Stephanie / Spoiler / Robin is finally revealed.

Although previously impressed with the characterisation of Black Mask since his return to the Batman titles, his sneering, tough-talk persona did little for me in this concluding chapter of the story. Further, the Joker’s presence added almost nothing to the narrative apart from attempted one-liners.

As someone who does not read every Gotham-centered title (sticking to Nightwing, Batman, Gotham Knights and Gotham Central), I have no idea as to whether the Joker’s return in this story-arc has been adequately explained. As most readers will recall, the Joker was last seen (pre-War Games) having the absolute tar beaten out of him by Jason Todd / Red Hood. It sure seemed to me as if the beating sequence was meant to imply the Joker’s death (although deep down we all knew that he would be back).

In any event, the Joker’s presence is decidedly tacked-on, and his references to the deaths of various holders of the ‘Robin’ title is a take on the Joker’s psychosis that simply feels just as ill-considered. The references to ‘diminished capacity’ by newscasters only serve to underline the increasing absurdity of Joker’s continuing ability to break free and commit crime after crime after crime.

And as for the conclusion….well, without venturing into spoiler territory, let me just say that both of the characters in the final conversation do not ring true, and I was very disappointed at the actions and motivations which the writer(s) of the crossover thought would be a satisfying conclusion to this storyline.

The art is patchy, with some of the shots of the Joker looking completely out of proportion, and not in a successfully surreal way. Batman’s portrayal in also inconsistent.

After a gripping couple of arcs featuring the Red Hood and the return of you-know-who, this is a big come-down.

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