Review: BATMAN #90
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colours: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Batman #90: The mysterious master criminal known only as the Designer once brought together Gotham City’s greatest criminals to plot the perfect crime, and now his plan has been unleashed upon the city in all its might. Batman will go to any length to uncover the grand design, but Catwoman is the one who holds the greatest secret. If Batman wins against the Designer, he will lose everything.
James Tynion IV has been teasing readers with hints about a mysterious figure known as the Designer and a plan he created for four of Batman’s greatest villains. In Batman #90, Catwoman reveals to Batman the full story of how that arrangement came about.
Catwoman’s tale is set “years ago. Not quite the beginning, but soon after”, which she describes as “a simpler time”. This is quite an interesting description, as the more complex storytelling of modern times has been retconned into Batman’s entire timeline. There really shouldn’t be a simpler time in Batman’s timeline as we currently understand it.
However, Tynion manages to believable convincingly establish that there was a window near the beginning of Batman’s career that could be seen as such. As Selina describes it, when Batman first started, Gotham’s criminals didn’t know how to react to Batman: “An old form of crime met a new form of crime fighter and crime crumbled in its face”. For a brief time, Gotham City became less corrupt and less dangerous for its citizens.
And Batman himself had just taken on Dick Grayson as the first Robin, causing Batman to temper himself, and act as more of a role model. Selina looks back on that time with a sense of nostalgia for a time when Batman’s villains committed crimes for run and the chance to make a big score, rather than darker motivations. A time when even the Joker had yet to reveal the depths of his sinister motivations.
Then came the Designer, a former supervillain who finally worked how to defeat his own arch-nemesis. Instead of trying to keep one step ahead of his foe, he learned that he had to make a quantum leap way beyond what that unnamed hero could anticipate or plan for. And now he offered to formulate a plan for the Joker, Catwoman, the Riddler, and the Penguin.
Catwoman’s part of the plan involved her moving from mere robberies of jewellery or money to stealing “the wealth of one of the largest companies on the planet”. The Riddler and the Penguin were equally thrilled by the plans the Designer offered them.
But the Joker’s private consultation with the Designer proved disastrous. Something happened between them that triggered the Designer to abandon his plan and attempt to kill the four villains. However, the encounter ended with his apparent death.
I find this intriguing. What exactly could the Joker have said or done to cause this reaction? I suspect that the Designer might have believed that the Joker was a relatively sane criminal, and that his appearance and behaviour was a gimmick. Perhaps he realized the depth of the Joker’s madness and feared what the madman might be capable of with the aid of the Designer’s scheme.
I love that Tynion has managed to actually make the concept of the Underworld United a real thing in the Batman mythos. The same four villains operated under nearly the same name, the United Underworld, in the 1966 Adam West movie.
It’s also interesting that Catwoman states that this incident is the turning point where Batman’s world started gaining the complexity and darkness that permeates it today. The incident seems to be in some sense a loss of innocence for Selina. And it seems to be a major turning point for the Joker. As Selina tells Bruce, “Something in him changed that night…his eyes…they were different than they had ever been before. It was my first time seeing what kind of evil he would become”. This strikes a foreboding note, as Bruce is about to head into his ultimate confrontation with the Joker.
Before Selina can confess her final secret to Bruce, he informs her that he has already worked it out for himself. The company that the Designer had planned as her target was Wayne Enterprises. Batman seems to be dealing with this rather stoically. Is he keeping his anger at Selina in check until the matter is taken care of? Or does he accept that she has changed and doesn’t blame her for what she planned to do in the past? Hopefully, it’s the latter, but this could have major repercussions for their relationship going forward.
I have no complaints about Tynion’s story so far. He has provided a fresh new story that is consistent with the established characterizations of the title’s cast. Tynion has yet to make anything I would classify as a misstep with this story.
Tynion’s first story as the writer of Batman is shaping up to be a quintessential Batman story, with his most recognizable foes, an intriguing mystery, and a threat to Batman’s vision for Gotham City’s future. Not to mention the threat to the fortune that funds his crimefighting career. Batman #90 provides another great chapter in this exciting story.