SYNOPSIS: Coming off the spectacular success of Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler, the Eisner Award-winning team of Tom King and Mitch Gerads reunite for a horrifying four-part retelling of the first bloody clash between The Joker and the Batman. A tale of loathing, lies, and laughter, this may be the most frightening Joker story in a generation. Everyone is going to be shocked. Everyone is going to be talking about it.
Writer Tom King is back, and while he is still telling a tale set during “Year One”, he’s moved on from the noir-like settings of his instant classic, Gotham City: Year One, opting instead for a time just post the Miller/Mazzucchelli beginnings seen in Batman: Year One.
What does that mean?
The Joker is here.
And he is unsettling.
Inspired by the original Batman #1, King reteams with frequent collaborator Mitch Gerads to bring a modern, terrifying spin on Bill Finger’s inaugural account of The Clown Prince of Crime’s first encounter with The Dark Knight.
Despite King having written numerous disturbing turns for The Joker, I was not ready for this. It’s a rainy night in Gotham City, with Captain Gordon grumbling that he has to go out to the Claridge Estate for what is probably another prank. After all, the reservoir threat turned out to be a lot of nothing last month. Surely this is more of the same…
Meanwhile, at the railroads in Northeast Gotham, a dark knight pursues his prey…
All the while, a man in Northwest Gotham at the Robinson Apartments frantically calls 9-1-1 again. His daughter Helen has gone missing in Adams Park. It’s been four hours now and no one has come.
Unfortunately, someone has found young Helen. Someone with a balloon, a smile, and a knife…
All these elements are mixed together as the story unfolds, with a dash of Alfred having to lie to gangster Brute Nelson as to the whereabouts of Bruce Wayne. The scenes are deftly cut together in King’s script, each with its own unique sense of tension. Yes, we’ve seen Batman threaten a criminal before, but there’s an edge here I wasn’t expecting. Well-read fans know the fate of Henry Claridge, but the way King and Gerads depict it has new layers of shock and horror as Gordon recoils from the forming rictus grin that The Joker’s victims will be known for. I’ve read that story for over thirty years and the creative team found a way to bring a panic to it that I haven’t experienced in a long time.
All of these scenes are fantastic. Gerads pulls double duty, providing the art and coloring. His Batman drenched in rain with the green night sky is a sight to behold. Much of the scene is told in horizontal panels, adding a cinematic flair to the proceedings, hitting you with a splash page at just the right moment for maximum impact.
However, the most chilling part for me was the scenes with young Helen. When we first meet her, we can’t see who she is talking to. All we get are dialogue cards, the kind you would see in an old demented silent movie. The nine-panel grid style, which King and Gerads love to use, comes into play, making for an effective storytelling device and a great-looking page layout. The splash page revealing whom she is conversing with carries an overwhelming sense of dread. She is with someone who has no regard for life, be it an adult or a child. This can only end in tragedy.
And it does.
“Batman: The Winning Card, Part 1” is a powerhouse of a story. Updated for modern sensibilities, an old classic feels dangerous and fresh in the hands of King and Gerads. Atmospheric and with no punches pulled, I was captivated by every page. This team is a well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders. Is the clock about to strike midnight? That’s when the terror really begins!
And that’s not even the whole comic! This is The Brave and The Bold, after all, which means team-ups! Being that it’s 2023, it has to come back with a twist, which has resulted in it transforming into an anthology book spotlighting many heroes. Since this is BOF, we’re going to focus solely on the Batman tales, but feel free to check out the other stories!
The issue concludes with “Heroes of Tomorrow”, with a story and art by the sensational Dan Mora! His eight-page entry feels like a lost story meant for Batman: Black & White and not just because of the coloring, or lack thereof. Opening in “Another Gotham, another life” it almost feels like the reader is thrust into the world of Batman Beyond. An armored Batman must save two children from Royal Flush Guardsmen, but not everything is as it seems. Dealing with the theme of change, Batman must rise above his situation and become all that he truly can be. Mora’s art is magnificent, capturing a high energy that would seem right at home in a manga. While not traditional, I had fun with the story as it contained elements of hope and adventure, balancing out King’s entry, which veered toward the grim and gritty aspects of the character.
With so many different aspects of The Batman captured, it’s easy for me to recommend the relaunched Batman: The Brave and The Bold on the strength of the Batman stories alone! King and Gerads were so effective that I felt like I was inside their story. Mora captured an optimism and determination in Batman that I found refreshing. King continues to define The Dark Knight long after leaving his main title, adding hidden depths to the legend. More of this, please! – Javier E. Trujillo
GRADE: A+ (for both Batman stories)