Batman scribe Scott Snyder has earned a lot of good will among comic fans over his run on Detective Comics and now the New 52 core Batman book. When DC launched the New 52, Snyder and artist Greg Capullo weaved an amazing story of lost Gotham with the Court of the Owls, and after a brief filler issue, Snyder dived right into bringing the Joker back into Batman’s life after nearly a year of being missing. The Joker was last seen in Detective Comics back during the relaunch when he ripped his own face off, so Snyder would shake the Bat-family to its core with Death of the Family.
I love the Bat-family. Even before the New 52 and prior to Batman, Inc; I always liked the idea that Batman had this mini crime fighting franchise in Gotham with Robin and Nightwing helping out while Oracle was their dispatch/crime computer. That changed a bit with the New 52, but the family just got larger. There’s still Robin, but he’s now Damian Wayne, and Nightwing is still around. But you also have Barbara back as Batgirl, Tim as Red Robin, and they even brought back stupid Jason Todd as the Red Hood and black sheep of the family. So Snyder doing a story where the Joker wants to break up that family because he believes that they’re bad for Batman and him, and the Arkham crowd, are Batman’s real family that keeps him strong was something I was really interested in reading.
And Snyder delivered.
The Death of the Family story ran through all of the Bat-family books, but the core story was limited to Batman. The tie-in stories were just how those members of the family dealt with the Joker returning, and as you could expect Gail Simone’s series with Batgirl was amazing due to Barbara’s past history with the Joker. Each of the tie in story-lines ended with the Joker capturing that member of the family and teasing them with a covered dinner platter. As Joker kidnapped Alfred at the beginning of the story, I was wondering if Snyder would piss everyone off and have the Joker kill Alfred with his head being under that cover… What he did was a classic Joker gag and one of the best reveals in recent comics.
I must warn you that spoilers will begin now. So if you plan on reading Batman #17 this week, tread carefully.
The issue opens right where Batman #16 ended. The Joker has Batman strapped to an electric chair at the head of a table. On each side of the table sits the members of the family, each with their faces rapped in bloody bandages. The Joker tells Batman that they’ve each been anointed with gasoline and that there’s flint under his chair. So if he tries to bail out, they’ll all die in a fire. He reveals the cover from the dinner, and inside are the faces of each member of the family. Of course this really sets Batman off, but being Batman he has a way out because he’s smarter than the Joker.
It turns out the whole faces being ripped off thing was another Joker prank, and Batman is reunited with the family right before The Joker douses all of them with his gas, which causes the members of the family to start fighting it out with each other as Batman chases the Joker down.
What follows is a Batman/Joker confrontation and dialog that ranks right up there with the two’s final battle in The Dark Knight Returns. I don’t know if it was an intentional Sherlock Holmes reference or not, but they face each other right above a huge waterfall. As Batman is really beginning to get to the Joker and get under his skin, The Joker takes a swan dive off the waterfall as his face flutters in the wind. Capullo’s art in these panels with the Joker falling and his face fluttering off is pretty awesome.
In the end, the family is still together…if a bit scarred. Alfred is saved and Bruce is now the caretaker as he recovers. The whole truth on whether or not The Joker knew Batman’s true identity is dealt with, in a way that is perfect for The Joker.
Scott Snyder said recently on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast that he and Capullo are locked in for another year and a half on Batman. Hopefully DC will let them continue past that, as the dynamic duo is the best thing to happen to Batman in a long, long, time.