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Punchline: The Secret Origin of DC’s New Joker Partner

Joker gets a new lieutenant, and Punchline is much scarier than Harley Quinn ever was.

Photo: DC Comics

In the Before Time, a pandemic and a global shutdown ago, the Batman comics were hurtling towards a huge anniversary issue with a new creative team and a hot new character sending back issue prices through the roof. Punchline was introduced in a cameo in James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez’s Batman #89, and the issue immediately flew off the shelves. Then she showed up in Hell Arisen #3 from Tynion and Steve Epting, and that issue also sold like hotcakes. So without knowing much about the character besides a terrific design from Jimenez, Joker’s new second in command is already moving books. But when you learn more about who she is, you start to get an idea of just how important she may be to the comics and to the world. 

“In the world we’re living in right now, we’re seeing a lot of young people who get radicalized to really dangerous ideologies online,” says Tynion in a chat about Punchline’s origin story in The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular (available June 10). “Imagine a world in which the Joker exists and [the] people out there who think that the Joker’s brand of chaos actually does reveal the insanity of how the world is built,” he continues. “…people who would really attach themselves to that ideology and what it would twist them into and how that would affect the people in their lives as they are lost to this very dangerous ideology that doesn’t add up.”

The story reveals Punchline as a terrifying reflection of some very real world circumstances. But, of course, she’s also a comic book character inhabiting a developed, lived-in universe. She looks cool and is conceptually terrifying, but she’s also a pragmatic solution to a practical problem: “I wanted Joker to have henchmen,” Tynion says. “I wanted him to have a robust Joker gang, because the Joker of the last decade in comics has been a very solitary figure, has been very much a one man operating alone and I wanted to get back to the larger group.” A character like Punchline would let Joker delegate pieces of a much larger plan to someone without diluting who he is in a way that harms the story. 

And naturally, by setting Punchline up as Joker’s number two, she’s also being set up as a foil for Harley Quinn. “Harley knows that the Joker will put on any mask for any person and manipulate them in any way, and Punchline hasn’t quite learned that,” Tynion tells us. “So Punchline is still fully enthralled with the Joker and they’re still right in the midst of it all.” 

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This is a sharp contrast to Harley, who fell in love with a different mask of Joker’s, but recognizes that mask for what it is: pure nihilism. Punchline hasn’t seen that yet, and her fanaticism and its foundation on Joker’s quicksand personality will lead to some real conflict. “There are actually two big Harley/Punchline beats,” Tynion says. “One is coming up much sooner in the comics, which is the first meeting between Harley and Punchline, which starts in the next issue, in Batman #92…but then in Joker War, we’re going to see the real knock down, drag out fight between Harley Quinn and Punchline, and that is going to be a brutal one.”

Tynion was roundly praised for his depiction of the Joker in Hell Arisen, the character who pierced Lex Luthor’s veil of righteousness to drive him away from serving Perpetua, the mad goddess of the dark multiverse. It’s that insight that makes the Joker such a great villain. 

“That’s part of the fun of the Joker is that he can see the thing that’s going to hurt you the most and he can play that like an instrument,” Tynion says. “That’s what I love writing.” 

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That nihilism and insight was on display even when Tynion first got his hands on the Joker, back during Death of the Family during Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s early run on New 52 Batman. Tynion wrote the backups to those issues working with Jock, sending the Joker around to Batman’s rogues gallery to drive each of them mad. “He knows exactly where to stick the knife. He knows exactly their insecurity that cuts right to a person’s core and the way he is able to manipulate those insecurities and play people is the thing that makes him scary, and he enjoys doing it,” Tynion says of those stories.

But Punchline, a Harley brawl, and the Joker’s entertaining, if unnerving, psychosis aren’t all that Tynion has brewing for Batman readers. “I’m really excited to introduce the world to Clownhunter,” Tynion tells us, “who’s a new character we’re introducing in Joker War, who we’re going to see not only in the Joker War story, but I’m excited for the places he’ll be showing up next in Batman and in some one shots and other stuff.” Come Joker War, we’ll see if Clownhunter lands the same way Joker’s Punchline does. 

For more on Joker War, Punchline, Batman, or DC’s plans post Batman #100, stick with Den of Geek!