Mr H. And Alex Discuss: Batman: Death Of The Family
What started as Mr H and Alex talking about their Batman #49 minireviews quickly evolved into a full blown discussion about Scott Snyder‘s entire run on Batman from the outset of the New 52 all the way through to the fiftieth issue. Originally conceived as a single post, they quickly realized something: Mr H and Alex have a lot to say about this run, so they’ll be tackling it an arc at a time.
Welcome back Bat-Fans! This is the next part of our epic expose where we dissect Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo‘s historic run on the Caped Crusader. This time we discuss the return of the most evil villain of them all: The Joker.
There will be spoilers so if you haven’t read this story yet and you want to avoid spoilers, we’d advise you stop here.
Mr. H: When we last left off, we were discussing the newest threat to the Batman and his universe: The Court of Owls. This time we discuss a much more familiar face. The Joker makes his incredible return to the streets of Gotham, but it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. There have been many versions of the Clown Prince of Crime over the years, but this time we got something truly terrifying. Even though it was solicited we were getting the return of the Joker for months in advance, this was no ordinary return. This time it was different and much more menacing. When the New 52 started, the Dollmaker actually surgically removed the face from the Joker voluntarily. Joker then disappeared and thought gone. Until now. This story opens with Gotham PD under attack by a murderous assailant. Through the dialogue and taunting we know it’s the Joker killing the officers one by one while Gordon can do nothing but watch helplessly. This time instead of a normal Joker plot that’s over the top we got something vile and reminiscent of a horror movie. Snyder opted to make the Joker, Batman‘s own boogeyman. It worked masterfully. This time the joke is on everyone. There is no joke…
Alex: It really was a Joker like nothing we’ve ever seen before, both visually and psychologically. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave us a bloody evil looking character who was legitimately terrifying under Capullo‘s design on the page. There were so many stunning panels of him wearing his own face as a mask… did you see the image of the retired make-up artist Rick Baker as this version on the Joker? It gives you an idea of just how twisted the man is when you see a physical representation of him.
Mr. H: That artwork right there is the stuff of nightmares sir. It’s completely apt though. Snyder wrote the Joker in this story as an unstoppable force here to wreak havoc on all of Gotham and Batman in particular. This arc had a lot of OMG moments and the first one for me had to be at the end of issue #13 when Alfred opens the door to Wayne Manor and is attacked by the Joker brandishing a hammer. Right there I knew this was no ordinary Joker revenge tale. He wasn’t going after Gotham or using some super elaborate scheme to get Batman‘s attention. He just took the fight head on to Batman‘s front door. More importantly Bruce Wayne‘s front door. That made me think, does he know Bruce‘s secret? (We’ll examine that point more later) Now for as well as Snyder writes him, mega props to Greg Capullo who truly breathes horrifying new life to the manic clown through his most talented pen. In particular I love that each time the Joker returns it’s in a different form. He is the ultimate showman after all, so it’s fitting he’d want to “spice” things up. I think the creative team watched a lot of old Michael Myers Halloween style slasher movies when creating this arc, because we get a menacing Joker in a garage mechanics jumpsuit with the name tag “Joe” on it. Very few writers have the ability to make Joker extremely scary. Alan Moore, Bruce Timm and now Scott Snyder. This arc was masterful. What did you think about Joker‘s makeover Alex?
Alex: I loved it, honestly. I think that Snyder has written a Joker that’s more than the typical crazy killer/dangerously funny criminal (although those interpretations do have their place), he’s a genuinely terrifying enemy for Batman. I’m going to go on record and say that Capullo and Snyder‘s Joker is probably my favourite version of the character. I’m going to go on record and say that this is, without doubt, the best comic book Joker this side of the new millennium.
Mr. H: I have to agree with you there sir. This is the best rendition of Joker in comic book form for the new millennium. Snyder seems to just get him. The madness and the obsession with Batman is so apparent. Little nuances like how the Joker‘s pupils dilate when Batman is near him. We are told by the narrator that it’s out of love. In his twisted way the Joker loves Batman, and is a very jealous and vengeful lover. He HATES the Bat-Family. He makes it well known too. Specifically the way he ties into their pasts, the tragedy of Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd. It’s all fair game here. I also like how Snyder makes the Joker represent Bruce‘s worst fears. The fact that he’s so scared of the Joker deep down that Bruce won’t allow himself to admit that Joker has been in the Batcave and literally left his calling card. Even the Bat-Family tries to make this known to Bruce but he can’t believe it. Unlike how Morrison portrays Batman, it’s not disbelief out of arrogance, it’s that he can’t bring himself to believe that the Joker has been there, because if he has he’ll do it again. It plays on Batman‘s fear and insecurity on such a primal level. This is a sort of emotional humbling we haven’t seen Bruce go through while in the cowl before. Any time you can take such an iconic character into unchartered, I’m all for it.
Alex: Yeah, I agree completely. Like you said, this Batman is extremely humanized in comparison to others, and as the reader we can completely understand why he’s terrified of what the Joker will do the next time he’s in the cave because Snyder‘s Joker is bloody scary. But by having the Joker visit the cave, Snyder shows that this is an incredibly smart man despite his craziness if he can bypass the cave’s security measures, and with him claiming to know the Bat-family’s secret identities? Talk about shaking Bruce to the core.
Mr.H: Exactly. It’s a brilliant plan too because it puts seeds of doubt in all of Bruce‘s allies that the great Batman, just might not have it all figured out this time. They are at their most vulnerable, which is something we don’t see very often. Snyder upped Joker‘s cunning and ferocity to the 9th degree here. At the same time he upped Batman‘s resolve.
Alex: I’ve always thought that the Joker’s end goal is to push Batman into killing him, not to kill Batman. I think that this was the closest he’s ever come to achieving that up to this point.
Mr. H: When they did the supper scene in Arkham. I thought omg, Bruce is going to kill him this time. What an amazing sequence it was too, the whole Arkham scene in general. With all of Batman‘s villains and playing small roles in Joker‘s production, the guards not able to stop dancing without electrocution and the freaking flaming horse! How cool was that? As I explained above the Joker views himself and Batman as eternal dance partners. A dance of death but a dance nonetheless. I honestly couldn’t see why the Joker wasn’t killed this time, but Snyder explains it perfectly. He believes that Gotham is a Hell tailored to each individual. So Bruce was afraid that if he killed Joker, then he would get back something much worse in return. I thought that was brilliant.
Alex: I was genuinely expecting this to be the historic story where Batman snaps and kills somebody for the first time since the early stories (and even then, that was accidental and has since been retconned). With Death Of The Family I was genuinely waiting for Joker to die. But, obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead what we got was a story where Batman lost. This is an arc where Batman is completely beaten by the Joker. You could, if you were being very generous, call the arc a draw… but then you probably haven’t read the same arc we did. Joker is unique in that despite possibly figuring out who Bruce Wayne is he doesn’t care who Batman is under the mask, in his mind Batman is his other half, not Bruce Wayne. He loves Batman.
Mr. H: I’ll close by saying this sir, you’re right it was a Pyrrhic victory for Bruce. Nothing to be proud of. The Joker finally beat him, and now he’s left behind with the pieces. The level of mistrust that is present in the Bat-Family from that point on leaves a big crater. Batman is never the same from that point. It’s all due to a maniacally machevelain plan by Joker, but even more importantly some amazingly epic writing by Scott Snyder.
That’s it for this week folks. Next week Mr. H and Alex will be talking about the Zero Year so tune in next week at the same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!