Batman #17 brings to a close the first real battle involving the Joker since the New 52 debuted. Much has been made of the story – the way writer Scott Snyder has established a new Joker, a less over-the-top villain, but more sadistic and crueler than ever before. Joker is also smarter than he ever was, more cunning and even more dedicated to being the yin to his yang, Batman. Snyder has gone to great lengths to strengthen the Bat Family only now to tear them apart. The result of this is returning Batman to his isolated past. It seems Snyder is rebuilding Batman as well, at least on some level.
Joker has captured Batman and the Bat Family. The Dark Knight awakens, strapped to an electric chair and facing a long dinner table where Robin, Jason Todd, Nightwing and Batgirl are all latched to their chairs. Covering the faces of the Bat-Family are bloody bandages, and before them are serving trays. Joker launches into one of his soliloquies about his relationship with Batman. When he’s done, he removes the covers of each tray, exposing the sliced-off faces of the Bat Family.
Snyder takes a real risk in Batman #17 by leaning towards a more dialogue-heavy issue. Usually, the end of an arc is an action smash-up, but Snyder allows most of room to be used up by the Joker’s plan. He wants to destroy the Bat Family because they make the Batman weak. Batman only needs the Joker, and this is why he’s never killed him. It’s the most horrific example of co-dependency you’ve ever seen. In the end, the Joker is caught and the Bat Family discovers the faces were faked. Joker escapes, as he always does, though it’ll probably be some time before he returns.
In the end, the Joker wins, at least in part. The Bat Family, while all physically healthy, are a fractured group. Batman is more on his own now than ever before. It’s ironic, because he relies on the power of his group more so than ever before. Snyder has built Batman’s investment in his family up, only to have it ripped apart by his greatest enemy. This entire Joker story is a psychological dissection of everything we’ve known about Joker and Batman thus far. Snyder has restarted the game and its players. Something not easy to do after seventy-odd years of sparring.
The only thing I would wish for is more on the subplot about the Joker possibly having broken into the Batcave and knowing the identities of the entire Bat Family. Snyder resolves this with a nice nod to Denny O’Neil, but it doesn’t feel fully realized. For something that tears up the family this way, there should have been more than Bruce Wayne’s assumption in Arkham and a blank book. Perhaps Snyder is going to come back to it. I hope so. I think it deserves deeper investigation.
Greg Capullo’s art. Seriously. It’s almost too good to look at. Nobody penciling a Batman book right now comes close to Capullo’s Joker or his noir styled Batman. Through his ability with shading and his strong lines, Capullo’s Batman has a presence, a weight that others lack. The Joker is, for the first time in a long time, disturbing to look at. It takes a true master to make a largely dialogue-driven story pop off the page, but Capullo does it, panel after panel. The combination of Capullo and Snyder could go down in history alongside O’Neil and Adams or Lee and Kirby, it’s that level of greatness.
"Death Of The Family" will go down as one of the best Joker stories in history. Snyder and Capullo should be thanked by anyone who loves Batman.
(4.5 Story, 5 Art)