Since taking over with the New 52, writer Scott Snyder has given Batman reason to doubt and fear Gotham City, he’s handed a new and lethal villain to the rogues gallery in Owl Man and, with the same nemesis, added a possible branch to the Wayne Family. Not bad for thirteen issues. So, what does one of the greatest writers to ever pen a Batman story do for an encore? The Joker. Snyder has decided to take on the greatest villain in the history of comic books. You have to be careful when you add your line to the immortal verse about the clown prince of crime. If you screw it up, if you drop the ball, then Bat-fans will never forgive you.
Thankfully, we have nothing to worry about. Batman #13, which is only the intro to Snyder’s "Death Of The Family" story arc, is superb. The Joker is not only back, he’s more maniacal, twisted and off the rails then ever before. Snyder was working against a steep hill, too. The last time we saw the Joker was in Detective Comics when then-writer Tony Daniel had Dollmaker cut Joker’s face off. The whole thing was poorly executed and left most Bat-fans screaming for Daniel’s head. Well, Snyder has found a way to incorporate that bad idea into this and make it work.
Batman #13 works simply because Snyder allows Joker to go completely over the edge. The very first time we see him is in the GCPD building. Joker strides in, shuts the power down, and begins beating cops to death while trying out “new material”. Finally, he turns his attention to Commissioner Gordon, in an exchange that makes Jim Gordon seem small and afraid. When Joker walks out of the building with his old face, his new insanity is well established. Snyder uses issue #13 to dig deep into the emotional impact of the Joker. The story not only about his descent into a deeper madness, but also how he motivates fear in everyone, even Batman.
As issue #13 comes to a close, you will be rattled to the core, especially if you’re a Bat-fan. Snyder gives no real glimpse of the Joker’s end game, but he dangles enough clues to let you know it’s going to be bad. The worst of it is the back and forth between Harley Quinn and the Dark Knight. Quinn is so terrified of the new Joker that she collapses in tears before Batman. That scene alone will peak your need to know what comes next. It’s the first totally compelling Joker story in a long, long time.
Then there’s Greg Capullo, who absolutely brings his 'A' game to the issue. Every single page is a small work of art. His rendition of the Joker at the end is truly disturbing, as is his use of darkness to generate real fear. When the Joker is walking through GCPD it’s as much a visual experience as a written one. In one panel, a cop drugged by Joker’s venom stumbles to the Batman and begs for his help, then dies. The visuals Capullo generates for this are crushing. This is easily the best issue Capullo has penciled in his career thus far.
Batman #13 only has 22 pages but within them writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have redefined an icon and returned the grandeur and terror that rightfully belongs to the greatest villain in the history of the sequential art medium.