Expectations can run rampant when it comes to conclusions. There are those who want a payoff, those who want real change and others who simply want things to wrap up nicely. Writer Scott Snyder has proven he can deliver a masterpiece of a conclusion with his The Black Mirror storyline from Detective Comics in 2011. That means extra expectations are placed in this work, so…is it good?
Batman #17 (DC Comics)
For those of you just joining us, The Joker has kidnapped the Bat family and Batman has willingly given himself up to save them. Prior to this issue, Joker reappeared in Gotham and one of his first acts was to enter the police department, kill the lights and proceed to kill a huge number of cops. Since then he’s gone after Damian, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Alfred and Jason Todd all the while telling Batman he’s doing this because they weaken Batman. He wants Batman to be as strong as he was when he was going rogue when they first met. He’s also professed his love for Batman; so, in essence, this is the perfect Valentine’s Day comic!
Look who’s come to dinner.
The setup for this issue is something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Joker serves as madman and host while the victims are bound at a dinner table. Eerily there are covered plates in front of each person. Most of the issue is Joker talking about subjects that have little to no meaning on the surface. Unless you look at everything as layers, it reads as the testimony of a madman which makes everything sound good, but ultimately it’s not really about anything. You remain captivated though, because you’re expecting a huge payoff. What drives this issue is the knowledge that this story is called “Death of the Family” which means Joker is going to do something that really drives this “family” apart. Or so I hoped.
Alfred when he doesn’t use his fake tan lotion.
The most intriguing thing Joker brings up is the age old question, why not just kill the Joker and be done with him? Joker thinks the answer is that Batman loves Joker, or at the very least needs him. And using his insane logic this means Batman wants his family to die.
That’s not a tear, that’s a water droplet! Don’t judge him!
Love the cracked mask.
There are two reasons many folks will either be annoyed with this issue or down right hate it. I’m sure most folks will not mind these two points and pass this off as a masterpiece, but hear me out.
Note that there are SPOILERS in the next two paragraphs.
First off, A huge part of the horror in this issue comes when Joker makes everyone at the table believe he’s cut their faces off. He even shows them their faces as they sit in a dish of ice. Of course this is all a joke and he never did such a thing. Obviously Snyder can’t have the Bat family running around from now on without faces, but it reads like a cheat. Considering this storyline started with Joker killing many cops, I was under the impression he’s a lot more dangerous in this New 52 iteration. Instead what we find in this issue is he hasn’t changed much at all and is more interested in schemes and psychological torment than anything else. Chalk this up to an expectation that was let down, but this face thing doesn’t make sense on a few levels. First off, Joker says he cut his own face off to show Batman he’s just flesh and blood. Yet it’s simply a ruse when he did it to the Bat family. Why? On top of that, how the hell did he get perfect representations of their faces in these dishes? The Dollmaker isn’t that good, is he?
The second issue I take with this conclusion is that there really is no explanation for why there is a “death of the family.” The events that kill this family don’t happen in the pages, but presumably occurred when Joker had whispered things into the Bat family members’ ears. Of course Bruce is aware something is up, but nobody will fess up and tell him. It’s frustrating that this morsel is being saved for a later story and makes this entire story arc read as if it were a setup to something else rather than an event.
Love the rusty burn of the mask.
The main problem I had with this issue and the story as a whole, at least in the last three issues, is that it spent more time reiterating the fact that Joker loves Batman than accomplishing anything else. It got to the point where I wanted the story to tell me more or at least move on, but it didn’t want to. It’s a clever idea and an intriguing one, but aside from this story serving as an “I love you” from Joker there was no other payoff. This might have been a case where fewer issues were needed; I’m not sure.
New 52 Joker had facial scars like in the Dark Knight!
Artist Greg Capullo is probably one of the best artists working today. He’s shown time and time again during his run on Batman that he can cram tons of detail into a single panel. This is important not only because Snyder likes to fill his pages with dialogue, but also because of the new limit comics have by running only 20 pages. This issue ran 31 pages, but really it’s more like 48 considering how great the art is composed and detailed.
Because these characters haven’t learned the heroic lesson that you MUST tell your peers all the details or it’ll bite you in the ass.
Final Score: 7.5
- Every panel is gorgeous
- Some interesting points are made
- Not the most satisfying conclusion
- The “death” of this family occurs off-page
Considering how strong The Black Mirror was, expectations for this story arc were a tad higher than if that story was never written. That said, Snyder has given us a new chapter in the Joker vs. Batman storyline that not only changes things, a rare thing in comics, but satisfies on a few levels. How this new dynamic will deliver new stories in the future is still unclear, but here’s hoping we get something new out of this dry stone. Unfortunately the conclusion and story as a whole isn’t a home run, but it’s still entertaining and worth a read.
Is It Good?
Yes. It squeaks by with great art and some—yes, some—good story beats.
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