SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #28, by Tom King and Mikel Janin, on sale now.
At its core, the “War of Jokes and Riddles” storyline in Rebirth's Batman has been all about antithesis -- whether it’s the organic opposition of jokes and riddles, or the thematic motifs of bats and cats, it’s an arc full of things meeting their equal-but-opposite reactions.
So, with that in mind, it was really only a matter of time before the DC Universe’s best hired guns would collide into one another in Gotham. Like an unstoppable force barreling headlong into an immovable object, Deathstroke and Deadshot, have decidedly come to blows for the first time in Rebirth Batman’s newly minted early continuity.
But bragging rights aren’t the most important takeaway on the table as the confusingly named snipers duke it out from gargoyle to gargoyle -- it turns out that the bad blood between Floyd Lawton and Slade Wilson may have had a bigger hand in the genesis of Batman as we know him today than anyone would have expected....And they definitely weren’t the only ones to make an impression in those early days.
An important thing to remember about the “War of Jokes and Riddles” is that it’s happening almost entirely in flashback. Sure, it’s an extended flashback, but the characters we’re seeing in the story are not actually the same versions of the characters as we know them in the present tense. As occasionally confusing as this might be, it’s actually a huge asset to the overall reconstruction of continuity and history that Rebirth has been working towards.
Consider yourself lucky if you don’t remember the truncated, nonsense timeline Batman found himself working within after the New 52 relaunch. Four Robins in less than a decade? Yikes.
So, continuity wise, the “War of Jokes and Riddles” is doing some real legwork in decompressing events that were seeded out through both the New 52 and the pre-New 52 continuity, like Snyder and Capullo’s “Zero Year” plot, giving us time to spend some time in Batman’s earliest days as a crime fighter.
This, of course, poses a bit of a problem when you bring people like Deadshot and Deathstroke into the mix. Men who, for all intents and purposes, were some of the most skilled mercenaries in the world long before Bruce Wayne vowed to spend his life warring on criminals. In this, his first meeting with them, Batman is decidedly outclassed in just about every way a person can be -- worse yet, both Wilson and Lawton were more interested in killing each other than they were going after Batman himself, a damned be any innocents who happen to get in their way.
Tom King specifically dates the conflict by allowing Bruce a line about being “a year away from kicking a tree” -- a callout to an iconic panel in Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
The point being: this is not a Batman who is prepared to deal with the likes of Deathstroke and Deadshot independently, much less simultaneously.
The human cost of Deadshot and Deathstroke’s grudge match is something we learn Bruce still wrestles with, to this day. All told, over a hundred innocent people were caught in the crossfire as Batman tried and failed to bring them both in.