REVIEW: ‘Punchline,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Punchline #1

Punchline #1 is published by DC Comics, written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns, art by Mirka Andolfo, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr, and letters by Gabriela Downie. Order has been restored in Gotham in the wake of the Joker’s latest attack. Or has it? With Gothamites everywhere becoming more disenfranchised with a system that has subjected them to so much death and suffering it seems like all it will take for the city to explode is the smallest spark. 

Emotions are humanity’s most basic elements. We run on them. They drive us, warn us of danger, and deliver comfort when another share theirs with us. It is an intrinsic aspect of who we are to trust our feelings. Even more so than our minds and our reason. And that is why there is nothing more dangerous than when emotions get turned into weapons. When concepts like pity and sorrow are manipulated to twist people up inside. To make them feel like they should do something that all reason says they should not. If life were a joke, it would be the most painful punchline. And there is at least one person in Gotham who fully appreciates the power of emotions.

Punchline #1 opens with our titular character retelling how she first met the Joker. How she was forced at gunpoint to read a message for him while on a high school field trip to a local news station. It is short and painful. And it is the perfect begging to the story.

As Punchline #1 cuts away from this gut-wrenching scene we discover this story is being told as part of Punchline’s sanity hearing. Surprisingly enough, she is arguing that she is in fact sane and should be allowed to stand trial. With the professional opinion of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, the court ends up agreeing. Punchline will be charged with a laundry list of felonies.

Along with Dr. Thomkins is Harper Row. She and Thompkins have a moment outside the courtroom where their mutual concern for the situation is shared. Punchline #1 then proceeds to follow Harper’s home where she is greeted by her brother Cullen. He has stumbled upon Punchline’s apology video that she sent out upon exiting the courthouse. Cullen seems to be instantly swayed by Punchline’s tear-filled video. Shortly thereafter, Harper has to leave for the night, leaving Cullen to a night of video game playing.

During Cullen’s game time the chat is filled with talk about Punchline. Everything from sexual comments to an unfortunate, if realistic, homophobic remark fills his feed. Most of it about Punchline. His night takes a turn though when a player with the gamer tag Bluff sends him a private message. He has a link to Punchline’s podcast she was making, Hunt for the Joker. Cullen instantly becomes hooked on the series.

A solid portion of Punchline #1 gives readers glimpses into various episodes of this podcast as Punchline details her growing obsession with both the Joker, as well as Gotham’s relationship with him.  It takes her all through the Joker’s history. From an aquarium housing some of the mutated joker fish, to the footsteps of Arkham Asylum, and all the way to Amusement Mile, the site of some of the regrettable The Killing Joke events.

Throughout all these moments Punchline clearly becomes more and more consumed by her fixation on the joker, and this grandiose joke she believes he’s trying to tell. It’s just no one is listening. Her obsession is palpable. And it’s presentation is served eloquently and its delivery is masterful. At first, it almost seemed to clash with her apology. But then, I got to thinking.

Punchline’s video apology goes to great pains to paint herself as a sorrowful victim. She was manipulated and hurt. Just like everyone else. Her podcast, however, comes across too much like someone who is already going down an extremely dark rabbit hole. Her desire to understand what the joke the Joker is trying to tell is delivered in a way that actively made me feel uncomfortable. Tynion and Johns deliver the character’s voice brilliantly if that is the effect they are striving for. But wouldn’t this disturbing feeling make it all the harder for people to believe she isn’t a willing participant to the Joker’s madness? Wouldn’t people see how she is basically confessing to searching for him so she can be part of the joke?

I’d like to think so, but as I place Punchline’s performance through the lens of the world I live in I begin to wonder. Would people be willing to believe that, despite the fact that she admits to being witness to numerous crimes the Joker enacted, including countless cases of murder, that she could be blameless, and be deserving of being found of no wrongdoing? She claims she followed the Joker because she thought he was bringing change. That he would break down the establishment that was oppressing the people. That when things went bad that was on the Joker. That she went along for the ride isn’t her fault. Like when one backs an obviously corrupt politician. Can they be held as partly accountable when things go bad? Why yes. Yes, they can.

The emotionally twisted tale that Punchline #1 presents is given shape not only by Tynion and Johns’s excellent writing but also by the book’s art. Andolfo captures every moment of this story within one impactful panel after another. Punchline’s every twisted grin and tear-filled sob is delivered with all the force a picture can deliver. These images, combined with Fajardo’s excellent colors bring to life the story the writers set out to tell.

Lastly, we have Downie’s letters. The flow of this story is perfectly executed. The smooth delivery allows the reader to never lose focus on the story being told. I especially applaud Downie’s decision to have Punchline’s off-camera dialogue be in white font with a black background. This reverse of the standard makes the boxes feel more at home in many of the panels. As white would’ve clashed with a lot of the art.

When all is said and done I am thoroughly impressed with what Punchline #1 delivers. It provides a deep, dark look into a woman who has become obsessed with madness. It is at times uncomfortable, and at times disturbing. Perhaps mostly due to how easily people see tears and allow them to wash away what Punchline had a hand in doing. And how I can’t shake the feeling their would be a lot of people that really could be manipulated so willingly. But, horror always hits best when it touches real life. And there is definitely a feeling of horror to be found here.

Punchline #1 is available on November 10th wherever comics are sold.

Punchline #1
4.5

TL;DR

When all is said and done I am thoroughly impressed with what Punchline #1 delivers. It provides a deep, dark look into a woman who has become obsessed with madness. It is at times uncomfortable, and at times disturbing. Perhaps mostly due to how easily people see tears and allow them to wash away what Punchline had a hand in doing. And how I can’t shake the feeling their would be a lot of people that really could be manipulated so willingly. But, horror always hits best when it touches real life. And there is definitely a feeling of horror to be found here.