Writer: Tini Howard and Blake Howard
Art: Gleb Melnikov
Colors: Luis Guerrero
Letters: Becca Carey
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: February 28th, 2023
Punchline has taken over The Royal Flush Gang, started a major drug enterprise in Gotham City and framed Catwoman for releasing toxic chemicals over several city blocks. And she’s just getting started! In Punchline: The Gotham Game #5, Punchline and The Royal Flush Gang battle Black Mask, The Ventriloquist (and Scarface) and a legion of thugs armed to the teeth, who made a surprise ambush on Punchline’s base of operations and are determined to take her out permanently. But Punchline, being a consummate death dealer, always has one more card up her sleeve to turn things back in her favor.
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Punchline: The Gotham Game #5 is the penultimate issue of the mini-series. I’ve been impressed with the mini-series so far. When I picked up the first issue, I thought Punchline was just a Harley Quinn knockoff, but over these 5 issues, writers Tini and Blake Howard have made Punchline the antithesis of Harley Quinn. Where Harley is chaotic and fun, Punchline is coldly logical and vicious. If you get on Harley’s bad side (especially these days), you have a 50/50 chance of surviving. If you cross Punchline, you’re as dead as Krypton. Punchline is 100% focused on her goals and will gladly mow down anyone in her way. This issue continues the battle from last issue, as Punchline and her Royal Flush Gang fight for survival against Black Mask and his army. I love the fact that Black Mask and his men said nothing, they just launched an attack. No announcing their plans, no extra words, just gunfire and action. The fighting is wonderfully vicious. You won’t believe what happens to The Ventriloquist. What makes it even more shocking is the casual way one of the Royal Flush Gang does it, it’s almost like The Ventriloquist and Scarface were a mosquito that needed to be batted away. It’s the kind of brutal moment that has you both horrified and chuckling a bit.
Because come on, who doesn’t want to see something bad happen to The Ventriloquist? I’ve always found him to be one of the most pointless members of Batman’s rogues gallery. The King and Queen of Hearts (AKA Rex and Regina Quintain) have literally been the heart of the book, and they get a lot of “screen time” here. The two are a blast together, a married couple who, though they’ve been married several years, seem like they’re forever in a honeymoon period. They’re supportive of each other, they’re powerful and always have a fun repartee between them. They’re the perfect counterpoint to Punchline’s cold heartless manner. I’d love to see the pair get their own series once this mini-series is over. Nightwing and Bluebird also make an appearance and get some great scenes as they sneak into the bottom level of Punchline’s base to rescue Bluebird’s brother while the battle is raging above. There’s a shocking double-whammy at the end of the issue, a one-two punch of a cliffhanger that makes me wonder how everything will be wrapped up next issue.
Gleb Melnikov and Luis Guerrero’s art on Punchline: The Gotham Game #5 make the action scenes come to life. I especially loved one of the splash pages, where Punchline and The Royal Flush Gang battle Black Mask’s thugs in all directions. One of the Royal Flush Gang flies around on a magic carpet-style playing car, slinging razor-sharp playing cards in all directions as Punchline and the King and Queen of Hearts simultaneously take out thugs on the ground below. There’s a wonderful dark atmosphere throughout the book, lots of shadows, and the only bright moments of the book are the scenes with Nightwing and Bluebird, which is very symbolic of the characters.
Punchline: The Gotham Game #5 is filled with action from the first page to the last. Punchline continues being one of the most fascinating and vicious villains currently in Batman’s rogues gallery. Watching her methodically seize control of The Royal Flush Gang and taking on the crime bosses of Gotham has been amazing, and after this issue’s cliffhanger, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Recommended.