Robert J. Sodaro is an American born writer, editor, and digital graphic artist, who loves writing about comics, movies, and literature.
When is a punchline not a punchline?
Back in November of 2020 DC Comics published a one-shot comic entitled Punchline. The comic was written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns and illustrated by Merka Andolfo. According to additional credits, the character of Punchline, was created by Tynion and Jorge Jimenez.
A bit of a backstory
Briefly, the story begins some years ago and revolves around the trauma suffered by a young high schooler named Alexis Kaye when she and her class were touring a local TV station when the Joker crashed the station in order to broadcast yet another one of his crazed psychopathic attacks on the citizenry of Gotham. During the assault Joker kills the station manager and then drafts Alexis to deliver his message to the people of Gotham — and that incident is what sets her off on descent into madness.
Party of the 1st part
The story itself jumps around between the attack, a trial in which Alexis’ mental competency is being determined, and complexity in some crime (or crimes, it is never made clear) in which she participated with the Joker (or on her own), and a pair of young adults who are apparently following Alexis’ story on her audio blog. All of this is interspersed with scenes of the Batman, the Joker, and Arkham Asylum. The story is told in a random, stream-of-consciousness manner that weaves in and out of Alexis’ memories as she attempts to explain to her listeners that nothing she did was actually her fault.
Punchline & Harley Quinn
A bit of a mess
All throughout the story it seems as if the writers are attempting to craft her as the new Harley Quinn including casting her as his new lover (all the while completely ignoring the very real age gap between the two characters) or his previous (similar) connection to Harley. (This writer isn’t completely familiar with Quinn’s recent history, so this part simply eludes us.) Ultimately, the entirety of the 48-page special appears to be a prelude to what is supposed to happen next. All of which left this reader feeling — empty — as if the entirety of the comic was just some elaborate set-up to a much longer, and much more complex storyline that will take multiple issues to reach any sort of actual storyline, if ever.
Enter the Joker
And now, for a different Punchline
Now, while we told you at the beginning that this was a tale of two Punchlines, we weren’t just pranking you, here comes the second punchline. As it turns out back in 2005 Indie Comicbook Creator, Ray Felix, the multi-talented creator behind Bronx Heroes had previously created a character named Punchline and showed it off to a well-known, long-established professional in the industry in the hopes of landing a gig with DC, which never materialized. Then in 2010, Felix included her in a background scene in his comic, A World Without Superheroes first annual. In 2012 Punchline appeared again, this time in the Bronx Heroes, convention coloring book under The Women of Bronx Heroes.
Bronx Heroes' Punchline
This Punchline came first
Then as news of a Punchline DC comic was surfacing, he rushed to publish Punchline Clown Detective under his Bronx Heroes imprint, which he did two months prior to the release of the DC knockoff. Needless to say, he not only got issues #s 1 & 2 out, but actually wrote, penciled, inked, and lettered four issues; compiling all four into a graphic novel which he also published. In the first issue of Felix’s Punchline, we learn that there’s a new drug called “The Laughing Dragon” on the streets of New York City and a string of dead bodies all tied to the drug.
Time for a new Punchline
The drug’s effects are so compelling that the city’s elite and its teenage ravers will do anything to score a taste of the Dragon. The NYPD can’t seem to get a lead on where it is coming from, or how to stop its spread, so they defer to the expertise of an unorthodox expert. Detective Punchline, a former circus performer and ex-MMA fighter, who along with her sidekick Ms. American Pie are looking into it in their own unique fashion. These two heroines, very deliberately, make their way through the city’s underworld — kicking ass and taking names — as they hunt down the source of the drug. Unlike the haphazard nature of the DC comic, Felix’s story is more coherently told giving us a complete tale of Punchline’s backstory, as well as how she and Ms. American Pie not only track down who is distributing the drug and why but deliver their own brand of justice to the guilty.
And now, A graphic Novel
Stealing the joke
In another vein, the visual similarities between the two Punchlines are striking, and nearly identical. Felix tells us that he believes he knows how his character wound up as a DC comic, and went on to relate how a number of his script elements wound up in various DC comics over the past few of years.
Punchline from the inside
The Story's not yet over
For the record, this isn’t the first time that Felix has butted heads with DC (and Marvel) Comics. Back in 2010 to 2014 Felix found himself involved in a lawsuit against both of the “Big Two” comicbook publishers when they sued him over his use over the use of the word “Superhero” which the two companies claimed to have copyrighted. Felix stood strong and eventually won his legal battle and is now allowed to use the word in the title of his long-running series A World Without Superheroes, where he presents a bleaker, more desolate worldview than is found in most of the mainstream titles of the other two publishers. In any event, Felix continues to stand up to larger companies in his ongoing pursuit to continue publishing comics, and heroes according to his own vision.
Ray Felix v DC
The show must go on!
As we pen this article, Felix tells us that Punchline #s 5–8 are nearly done, and will be published as a paperback trade.
A chat with Ray Felix
Follow this link to listen to an interview with Ray Felix as he talks about the evolution of Punchline.
A sketch of Punchline by Ray Felix.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Robert J Sodaro
Ray Felix on January 04, 2021:
It’s sad that DC needs to use 15 year old scripts to World build. If they had bought the script from me 15 years ago, Punchline could have been a classic villain. This new version that they’ve reimagined is hollow. The saying goes, “often imitated, never replicated”.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 04, 2021:
Very interesting read. I am glad Felix stood up for his rights to the story and got in first, as well as the use of the term “superheroes.”