"The Punchline": In the darkness, Batman wakes to the sound of the Joker's voice, speaking to him of something coming, the faint, pale gleam of it fading into Batman's hazy vision. The Joker explains how both of them had, at one time, been faced w
- Because we have an understanding. I'll bet you've said it to them these past few days, haven't you? "You don't understand him." Sure you have, because the ugly truth of it is, Batsss *sigh* is that you love me more than them.
- — Joker
Synopsis for "The Punchline"
In the darkness, Batman wakes to the sound of the Joker's voice, speaking to him of something coming, the faint, pale gleam of it fading into Batman's hazy vision. The Joker explains how both of them had, at one time, been faced with this image. Eventually, Batman's vision clears enough to see that the approaching shape is the skeleton of a bat - and that face of bone and tooth - it is his real face, the Joker says, the one under the mask. Just as the bat nearly hits Batman in the face, Joker turns on the lights.
Batman is disturbed by the scene that has been laid out before him. While he is still trapped in his makeshift throne, his allies and adoptive children have been bound, gagged, and assembled around a banquet table in one of the tunnels of the Batcave, each with a bag over his or her head. In front of each is a covered dinner platter. Accompanying them at the table is the two-headed lion cub, whose birth portended the Joker's return. Joker, dressed in his finest suit, promises that they are all fine, though he has spent the last several hours telling them what their father figure really thinks of them. Angrily, Batman struggles against his bonds, but Joker warns him not to. The smell of gasoline is strong in the air, and the Joker has doused each of these sidekicks, and the flint affixed to the bottom of Batman's throne would certainly set them all to burning if he were to stand up - which is exactly what the Joker thinks he should do. After all, if Batman was being true to his feelings; how he tires of them weakening him, he should let them burn.
Before that, though, it is time to eat. Teasingly, Joker traces his finger over the little handles on the dinner platters' lids, reminding Batman of the missing butler, Alfred. Worried, Batman demands to know where his old friend is. The Joker laughs, promising that Alfred is around and ready for service. Instead of lifting the lid, Joker gestures to an opening in the wall, from which Alfred - alive, but affected by Joker Venom - emerges. Joker has him remove the bags from each of the bat-children's heads, revealing that each one's face has been covered with bloody bandages. Grinning, Joker explains that he has dressed them for the party by undressing them of the faces that only Batman ever sees - their identities.
Cuddling the little mutated lion cub to his breast affectionately, Joker lifts the lids from the dinner platters, revealing the bloody, faces that he cut from them all, resting in beds of ice. Each of them looks down at their own faces with horror as Joker explains that it was a labour of love - the short work of a half hour, to cut, pull, and preserve each one. All of this - even the removal of his own face - has been meant to show that beneath their surface, each of these children is nothing but softness and tenderness. Under his skin, though, there was just more grinning. And, under Batman's face is only bat.
Through gritted teeth, Batman growls that he hates nothing more on the earth than the Joker - but his host begs to differ. For example, he asks, why has Batman never tried to discover who he was, before the accident that created him? Why, after all he has done, has Batman never tried to kill him? Uncomfortably, Batman claims that there has never been any DNA to link the Joker to anyone, and further, to kill him would mean that the Joker would win. The Joker disagrees, however, suggesting that the excuse is merely what Batman tells himself. How the Joker really wins, is by staying alive to kill again.
Truly, the reason Batman doesn't just kill him, he claims, is because the two of them have an understanding. Batman wants the Joker to kill his family. He leaves his doors unlocked, hoping he will take them. Now, that is what he plans to do, all to fulfill what he believes is Batman's secret desire; to be alone with his Joker. Lighting a match, Joker warns that it is time for Batman to admit the truth. He can either remain in denial and let the Joker kill them, or admit the truth, and kill them himself, by trying to stand up and igniting gasoline with the flint on his chair.
With little choice, Batman kicks backwards in his chair, shooting sparks that set the table and its guests ablaze. quickly untangling himself from his bonds, Batman explains that the Joker should have known that he would know his own caves better than anyone. Firing a propulsion blast upward, the impact breaks through the cave's ceiling and the cold waters of the Gotham River spill into the cavern, dousing the flames.
Angrily, the Joker makes a run for it, while Batman sees to his son Damian. As his father peels off the bloody bandages on his face, Damian asks to know how badly the Joker damaged him, but with the bandages gone, it turns out that his face is still intact. It had all been part of a sick joke. After Batman releases the others, Nightwing urges him to go after the Joker and let them take care of themselves. Once he is gone, though, they realize that something strange is going on with the little lion cub. Before they can do anything about it, a bomb implanted under the animal's skin explodes with Joker Gas, and all of them are affected.
Chasing his foe, Batman is ambushed in the caves by the Joker, wielding an axe and complaining of how his joke was ruined. Angrily, Batman yanks the weapon away from him, and shoves him to the ground, warning that there will be no more of this. Unperturbed, Joker slips a crowbar out from his sleeve, and tries again, only to be beaten down again. Once again, Batman warns that there will be no more anything between them. However, the Joker makes another play, explaining that the Bat-family has been affected by a particularly strong variant of Joker Toxin, and they are all tearing each other apart. Taking the crowbar up in his own hand, Batman clubs Joker in the head. Confused, Joker refuses to accept that Batman would simply let his family die. Batman responds that he has faith in them; that they make him stronger. Joker reacts with disbelief, and in his frustration, he resorts to simply spraying Batman's face with acid, and making a run for it.
He doesn't get far, though, as he nearly falls to his death in an unexpected chasm. He is saved by Batman, who warns that he will not die by accident tonight. Everything that happens between them from this point on will be of Batman's deciding. He suggests that tonight, he will finally do what he never could - kill the Joker. He can do it now, because he has shattered the illusion between them. He did what the Joker would never do. Joker had turned back in the cave, rather than go further, because he didn't want to know who his playmate was. But, Batman has changed the game. While Joker was away over the past year, he finally decided to look into who he really was before the accident. Joker believes that he is lying, but Batman leans in and promises to whisper the Joker's real name right into his ear.
Meanwhile, the Bat-family slowly begins to overcome the toxin, thanks to intervention from Alfred, whose own affliction has worn off.
As Batman leans in, Joker refuses to hear what he has to say, sending a shock into his captor's mouth, and leaping backward into the chasm. As he falls, the mask that was his face loosens and drifts off after him, leaving Batman alone in his cave. Tossing aside his cowl, Batman bends down to pick up the little black diary that the Joker had claimed hid all of the secrets he had learned about Batman and his family. Every page of it is blank; just another joke.
In the morning, Bruce opens the curtains, flooding Alfred's bedroom with light, much to the old man's discomfort. Though each of the others has recovered physically, the refined toxin Joker used contained a radioactive isotope that seems to have served no purpose as an ingredient. It should not prove harmful. In any case, Bruce has invited all of them back to the manor, and they should be there soon. Dryly, he hands Alfred a small bell, and encourages him to ring it, should he need food, drink, or a real drink. Grumpily, Alfred suggests that he go to hell.
As he prepares to leave, Bruce hesitates. He confides that, a long time ago, he went to visit the Joker at Arkham Asylum, as Bruce Wayne. He had managed to get separated from his guide for long enough to confront the Joker in his cell, and show him the playing card he had left behind in the Batcave. At that time, the Joker had looked at him, but he hadn't seen him. His addled mind would never have allowed him to really know who the Batman was. It didn't want to know. He didn't care to know. It would have ruined his fun.
As the day goes on, it becomes clear that none of Bruce's friends and children are interested in talking to him, as they have all made excuses. Finally, Dick answers his phone, but only to admit that he isn't coming either. He won't say what the Joker said to him, stating only that it doesn't matter, and accepting Bruce's apology.
Alone in the Batcave, Bruce sits at his computer, where the Joker's identity remains unknown to him, and examines the isotope he discovered. It is Dubnium, previously known as Hahnium. One final joke: Hahnium's element symbol is "Ha."
Appearing in "The Punchline"
- Batman (Flashback and main story)
- Joker (Apparent Death) (Flashback and main story)
- Two-Headed Lion Cub
- Batboat (Mentioned only)
- Dubnium is a real element. Its original name, Hahnium, was what the Americans called it while it was in the process of being discovered.
- This issue is reprinted in Batman: Death of the Family, The Joker: Death of the Family, Batman and Robin: Death of the Family and The Joker: 80 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime: The Deluxe Edition.
- Batman Recommended Reading
- Batman (Volume 1)
- Batman (Volume 2)
- Batman (Volume 3)
- Batman and Robin (Volume 1)
- Batman and Robin (Volume 2)
- Batman Confidential (Volume 1)
- Batman: Gotham Knights (Volume 1)
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (Volume 1)
- Batman: Shadow of the Bat (Volume 1)
- Batman: Streets of Gotham (Volume 1)
- Batman Incorporated (Volume 1)
- Batman Incorporated (Volume 2)
- Batman/Superman (Volume 1)
- Batman/Superman (Volume 2)
- Batman: The Dark Knight (Volume 1)
- Batman: The Dark Knight (Volume 2)
- The Brave and the Bold (Volume 1)
- Detective Comics (Volume 1)
- Detective Comics (Volume 2)
- Superman/Batman (Volume 1)
- World's Finest (Volume 1)