Review by Karl Verhoven
Via Bruce Wayne’s fortune, Batman’s crimefighting resources have been almost infinite. That all changed when the Joker drained the Wayne bank accounts and used to money to finance his revolution in Gotham. Joker War eventually saw him defeated, but not captured, and for reasons well thought through reflecting what would apply in the real world, it’s explained to begin Ghost Stories why things can’t just return to the way they’ve been. Batman can still operate in Gotham, but it’ll have to be a war on crime with resources considerably scaled back, and as Alfred is no longer on hand Batman will have to see to his own wounds and repair his own costumes.
Scaling back Batman’s possibilities is an interesting scenario, but that’s more for the medium term than these stories, which concern themselves with the continuity implant of the Ghost-Maker. Tinkering with the past to reveal previously unrevealed indomitable characters is a difficult trick to pull off credibly, and James Tynion IV doesn’t entirely manage it. Ghost-Maker is a Batman who’s taken a different path, training with the same people before beginning a costumed career, but with no compunction about killing criminals. He’s previously honoured an agreement to keep away from Gotham, but recent events have forced his hand.
In case it wasn’t clear from Joker War’s epilogues, both Clownhunter and Harley Quinn’s participation in Batman is for the forseeable future as supporting characters, with Catwoman phased out for a while. Their differing personalities are spotlighted in solo scenes, and Tynion’s version of a slightly saner Harley has appeal. “I’m all about finding my potential”, she notes “and my future is looking shiny and bright”. We’ll see.
Seven pencil artists draw the five chapters of the main story, with only Guillem March managing an entire chapter, which isn’t a very satisfactory state of affairs. Carlo Pagulayan is the most frequent substitute, and most others can approximate their style, but what is the problem with what should be basic scheduling to enable one artist on one story? Thankfully, they’re all good artists. So is James Stokoe (sample art), although the suspicion is that he’s too far removed from the standard Gotham style and his pages will probably be divisive. He draws Clownhunter’s background, which has been referenced in previous volumes without being spelled out. Here we’re shown his family’s meeting with the Joker and Harley, which is terrifying, but Tynion ensures the remainder is strangely touching. Not as successful, but with equally offbeat art from Riley Rossmo is a shorter piece about ghosts and teaming with Deadman. There is a strong emotional worth, but Rossmo’s goofy cartooning kills it.
Back in the main story, Tynion fills in the previous conflicts between Batman and Ghost-Maker while the present day events unfold, and surprises with where he takes that. Over the course of doing that Tynion shapes the relationship between Batman and Ghost-Maker into something credible, and where it leads will be seen in The Cowardly Lot.