HEAT VISION

Why DC's Punchline Is Poised to Be a Breakout Character

Punchline DC Entertainment Cover Detail
DC Entertainment/Mirka Andolfo
The star of a new comic feels like strong fodder for a live-action appearance in the future.

The Joker’s new girlfriend has won the hearts of Gotham, and it’s no laughing matter. In the aftermath of “Joker War,” which ran through the pages of Batman, the Joker has once again retreated into the shadows. But his legacy endures in the form of Alexis Kaye aka Punchline. Created by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez, Punchline first appeared in Batman No. 89 in April of this year. Described by Tynion IV as the anti-Harley Quinn, serious, scary and driven by a real bloodlust, Punchline immediately connected with fans, ironically in much the same way Harley Quinn did nearly 30 years ago.

Jimenez’s design, tailor-made for cosplayers, and her established feud with Harley during “Joker War” has made Punchline one of 2020’s breakout comic book characters. And it looks like her prevalence in the DC Universe is only just beginning.

Today, writers James Tynion IV and Sam Jones, alongside artist Mirka Andolfo, delve deeper into Punchline’s origins and future plans for Gotham in the one-shot, Punchline No. 1. In the issue, Alexis Kaye is revealed to have once been an ordinary high school student whose field trip to a news studio was interrupted by the Joker. Saved by Batman from becoming the Joker’s next victim, Alexis began to grow obsessed with the Joker, looking for purpose and meaning behind his crimes, trying to solve the joke she believed he was attempting to tell. In many ways, Alexis Kaye’s origin story mirrors that of one of Tynion' favorite characters, Tim Drake, the third Robin. Drake’s chance encounter with Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson) led to a well-intentioned obsession. Before even meeting the two heroes, Drake trained in martial arts and detective skills so that he could prove to be an ally when the chance came. In the aftermath of Jason Todd’s death, Drake saw a chance to help save the Batman by becoming the third Robin. Much like Drake, Kaye grew up surrounded by the myths of Gotham, but rather than find inspiration in her savior, like so many other of Batman’s allies, she found it in her would-be killer.

Punchline No. 1 brings back Harper Row and her brother Cullen, who played prominent roles in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run, and in maxi-series Batman & Robin Eternal. Both characters speak to the hold Punchline has gained on Gotham. Punchline’s trial for her crimes in “Joker War” have become a public circus, with Kaye claiming sanity and innocence, defending herself as just another victim of the Joker, drawn to him only because Gotham’s sense of justice is broken. Harper, who also occasionally moonlights as the superhero Bluebird, isn’t buying Kaye’s pleas. She sees another villain, one whose youth and media prowess make her dangerous to Gotham’s future. Cullen on the other hand, sympathizes with Punchline, seeing Alexis Kaye as just another victim of Gotham like he and his sister. He becomes obsessed with her podcast, recorded in the years leading up to “Joker War” and explaining her fascination with the Joker. It’s through Kaye’s first-person account of her transformation into Punchline that she really distinguishes herself as something other than the raven-haired counterpart to Harley Quinn. Harley saw the man she imagined to exist within the Joker, believing there was a humanity she could save and preserve. Alexis saw the idea she imagined to exist within the Joker, believing there to be a deeper meaning in his crimes rather than just chaos and evil.

With millions of Gothamites supporting her and rallying around her claim of innocence, Punchline has emerged as something of a martyr for the city, a woman who could have been any of them, a living embodiment of Gotham and Batman’s failures. Of course, Punchline isn’t like any of them, and as we saw in “Joker War” she’s far from innocent. The exertion of her influence is just the beginning of another joke that’s being set up for an event teased at the end of the issue to come in 2021.

The sales for Punchline’s appearances this year suggest that the focus on her character next year will only further cement her as a character who has tapped into the zeitgeist of comic book readers. And with more comic appearances planned, a live-action appearance can’t be too far off.

While it took Harley Quinn, who debuted in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 before making her way to comics, a decade to make her first live-action appearance in the short-lived Birds of Prey series on The WB, the prevalence of superhero media suggests a much quicker transition for Punchline. There’s a good chance Alexis Kaye could appear in HBO Max’s animated Harley Quinn series or in one of DC’s upcoming video games first, but there’s little doubt she’ll make a live-action appearance sooner rather than later. The CW’s Batwoman seems logical, given the show’s inclination to adapt more recent Batman characters. But of course, the thing that so many fans are hoping for, the white whale of Punchline’s media representation, is for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn to face-off against the character.

Unquestionably, Robbie’s Harley Quinn is one of the best parts of the DC Extended Universe, and the actor has repeatedly spoken about her desire to play the character for as long as possible. Following James Gunn’s, The Suicide Squad next year, assuming she lives (there’s no way she dies, right?), there will hopefully be future films or HBO Max miniseries starring Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Whether it’s a Birds of Prey sequel from Cathy Yan, that long-rumored Harley & Joker movie, or Gotham City Sirens, a showdown between Harleen Quinzel and Alexis Kaye in the DCEU would make for a hell of a punchline. And if Kaye is cast as well as Harley was, then fans may be in store for one of the most exiting rivalries to emerge in this new decade of superhero cinema, and that’s something to grin about.

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