The Joker War is billed as Batman and the Joker going head to head for the last time. How many people believe that’s the case? On the other hand James Tynion IV delivered an intriguing set-up in Their Dark Designs, in which the Joker deviously acquired Bruce Wayne’s fortune and assets, depriving Batman of much that gives him an advantage when fighting crime. Conversely, the Joker, bereft of principle, now has a vast fortune at his disposal, used to promote crime and anarchy. In an early scene it’s revealed organisations reporting the truth are being served with legal notices, a tactic notably used by disgraced British media tycoon Robert Maxwell in the 1980s. Dosed with hallucinogenic gas, hearing Alfred’s voice in his head, and injured, Batman’s means of fighting back are extremely limited.

Tynion uses the Joker sparingly to begin with, but moves the spotlight away from Batman long enough to know what he and his underlings are up to, adding to the tension. Jorge Jiménez picks up on the action elements in the art, using big images serving a cinematic story, but also packing panels with people and details. Unless it’s for the post-combat pose, people are rarely standing still, and Jiménez is equal to the continual switches of emphasis in Tynion’s rocket-paced plot. With the art so sound, it’s nice to note Jiménez draws every chapter, which is such a rarity in the 21st century.

There are several counterpoints to the main action. Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler all have parts, and Harley Quinn has an even larger role, especially peeved about the Joker having a new woman hanging around with him. Punchline is less wacky and definitely more manipulative, which provides a fair contrast to the Joker himself. She’s proved a popular character in her own right, and it should again be noted that Tynion is a rare creator these days who introduces new characters in superhero comics, most preferring to keep better ideas for their own projects.

At times the Joker seems a little off-message. “This city does not want you. This city is sick of you and sick of all the ways you’ve failed it”, comes across as the Joker forced to be the voice for a point Tynion wants to make rather than consistent with Joker as known. However, the core story is a thriller from beginning to end, a classic Joker confrontation to live in the memory. It comes with a good coda also, as Batman addresses another new and very proactive character with an interesting moral code.

The Joker War comes in two formats, and this is the one to buy. It’s the core story, all thriller and no filler. The Joker War Saga (reviewed separately) costs more because it includes the crossover chapters from series featuring other Gotham-based heroes, none of which are necessary for enjoyment of the main story. That continues in Ghost Stories.