Book Review: Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye

Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye
Writers: Sam Johns, James Tynion IV, Alex Paknadel
Artists: Mirka Andolfo, Sweeney Boo, Rosi Kämpe, Belén Ortega, Mikel Janín, Vasco Georgiev
Color Artists: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Sweeney Boo, Alejandro Sánchez, Luis Guerrero, Jordie Bellaire, Rain Beredo
Letterers: Gabriela Downie, Ariana Maher, Becca Carey, Clayton Cowles
Review by Davydh Tidey

Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye is not a Joker story. It’s also not a Harley Quinn story. No. This book is like nothing that’s come before.

The character of Harley Quinn has grown in leaps and bounds in the last decade or so. Beginning as just a Joker fangirl with a crush, she’s now found her own life and own identity away from the man who created her. She’s firmly on the side of the angels now (well, most of the time), and has proven this many times over.

This does, however, leave DC with an inherent problem; some people liked Harley and Joker together. They found the chaos the two could cause fascinating, and they liked the Joker having a partner. So, how do you replace her?

The short answer is, you don’t. You make something new.

Psychopathy

Following the events of the “Joker War“, Alexis Kaye, aka Punchline, is being brought to trial for her crimes during the hostile takeover of Gotham City. She, and her aggressive social media campaign, would have you believe she was nothing more than a pawn in the Joker’s machinations, but her actions while incarcerated definitely say otherwise.

Not everything is going according to plan, though. Harper Row, aka Bluebird, is hot on Punchline’s trail, determined to prove her guilt once and for all…

Punchline’s a far more interesting character than she’s given credit for. Her actions have an agency behind them, and she’s not the same random chaotic element as the Joker or Harley Quinn. She’s cold, and she’s calculating. What may appear chaotic on the surface has a much deeper purpose. She has a plan, and everyone around her is just a player in her long game.

Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye is the perfect example of that, right down to the smallest detail. All the way back to her time in high school she’s been planning, and the people around her can’t help but be sucked into Punchline’s vortex.

Her manipulation is subtle but ever-present, it’s clearly on display just how intelligent she is at all times. She can switch on a dime from vulnerable and defenseless to ruthless and violent, depending on how she needs other characters to feel. We only see her genuinely fearful for one moment in the entire book, but she soon regains control anyway. She’s mastered her emotions and is a truly terrifying adversary in ways that even the Joker can’t be.

Sociopathy

The majority of the story in Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye is written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns, with an additional story by Alex Paknadel. Among all these writers we get 0 misses. These guys are all great authors, and they’re definitely flexing their creative muscles for this.

You would think, with this many creators in one book, that the story would suffer from the “too many cooks” syndrome, but this couldn’t be further from the case. What we get is a tightly focused story, telling any part that’s removed from Alexis very sparingly and always for a reason. It all comes back to her. Every single story element ends up as part of her plan and is accounted for, and this is a huge credit to the three authors. Very clever storytelling.

Mirka Andolfo, Sweeney Boo, Rosi Kämpe, Belén Ortega, Mikel Janín, and Vasco Georgiev provide the pencils and inks for the book, with Romulo Fajardo Jr., Alejandro Sánchez, Luis Guerrero, Jordie Bellaire, and Rain Beredo providing the color work. Obviously, this is a huge mix of artists at work, but the book doesn’t suffer for it in the slightest. There are no disjointed moments and the art flows together nicely even with the many contributors.

The only exception to this would be Sweeney Boo, whose art is so unique that it will always stand out. Thankfully, it didn’t take away from the quality of the book at all. That *particular* moment during her chapter made me cringe from sympathy pain so hard and I loved it. 

Conclusion

You may have noticed the subheadings. 

Think of Harley Quinn in the basest terms. It wouldn’t be unfair to describe her as a psychopath during her time with the Joker. Random acts of violence followed by periods of remorse or intense feelings/fixation on one person, she fits the general definition of victim-turned-accomplice well enough.

Punchline is the answer to, and the antithesis of, all of that. She’s a textbook sociopath. Cruel, cold, manipulative, and highly intelligent. She disregards other people as just pawns, making Alexis Kaye the mirror reflection of Harleen Quinzel. This alone is a terrifying prospect.

Punchline: The Trial of Alexis Kaye is as ground-floor an introduction as you could ask for, for the character. In my opinion, you really, really want to be following her moving forward. She’s destined for some very interesting things, and her current mini-series, Punchline: The Gotham Game, is only the beginning of her new agenda…

This excellent graphic novel collects Punchline #1, and stories from The Joker #1-15.

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment

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