Batman Annual #5 (February 2021)

There Is Hope In Crime Alley

Writer: James Tynion IV, Art and Colours: James Stokoe

The riveting new vigilante known as Clownhunter was a breakout star of “The Joker War”…but what’s the tragic origin of this teenage assassin? How did his parents die at the hands of the Joker, and is there a place for him in the evolving Gotham City? Can there be redemption for the infamous Clownhunter? This epic tale reteams writer James Tynion IV and artist James Stokoe, the storytellers behind the definitive Clownhunter tale from Batman: The Joker War Zone #1!

DCCOMICS.COM official solicitation

DC are labelling Clownhunter as their most recent ‘breakout’ star, a tag that they seem to give to every new character. Clownhunter was introduced in the in Batman #95 at the start of the ‘Joker War’ crossover as an extreme counterpoint to the other Gotham heroes with his mission state to kill as many of Joker’s goons as possible. This is a concept that DC wheel out every few years to justify Batman’s no kill policy.

James Tynion IV created the character and here he delivers the Clownhunter’s origin. This is revealed as he tells his story to Leslie Tompkins, the doctor who runs Gotham’s free clinic and helped a young Bruce Wayne, who he was directed to by Batman. Even though Clownhunter is a killer, Batman still sees him as redeemable at this point.

What we get is the stereotypical Gotham hero origin tale. Child sees parents killed by villain and vows vengeance. We are introduced to Bao Pham, a Vietnamese American, who is a lazy, video game obsessed son of restaurant owners.

One night Joker and Harley pop into his parents restaurant for a bite to eat after a heist. Things soon go the way they do with the Joker and Bao is left standing over his parents bodies vowing vengeance. Batman arrives on the scene with a promise to Bao that things will get better and gives him a batarang.

Over the coming years, every time Bao hears about Batman and the Joker he expects that to be the end of it but it is a n ongoing cycle of violence. When violence erupts in his neighbourhood, again because of the Joker, Bao decides to take things into his own. But, unlike Bruce Wayne who went through rigorous training, Bao takes his influences from ultra violent video games (blame the games) and fashions a weapon out of a baseball bat and the batarang he was given. That’s right, he has a batbat. He then takes to the street and starts braining henchmen.

The Clownhunter comes across as a more extreme Jason Todd, Damien, or John-Paul Valley. He’s set up for a redemption story but we’ve seen this many times over the years. Hopefully this one might offer something different and go the other way.

What lifts the comic above average is James Stokoe’s art. It is very rare these days to get stylized art in DC A-list character book. Most books deliver the DC house style which is very clean and recognisable. Stokoe has a more of a cartooning style with his Joker and Harley being borderline demonic and Batman looking just as terrifying. His pencils are stratchy and the use of a red and blue colour pallette adds to the nightmare. Hopefully this will need to some more mainstream DC work.

A carbon copy Gotham origin story that’s raised by the art.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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