The Joker has spread his gnashers into many of the Bat books over the past couple of months, and we have been treated to an incredibly physical, personal and psychological journey. The family have been tortured, and all have had their pysches explored and broken, leaving a cloche covering the remains. One has appeared for every family member taken down and this is the focus of every Bat discussion. However I think it is incredibly important to highlight the brilliance of the writers and artists involved in the tie in series, as they have produced a complete eight-course meal for us to salivate over. The Joker has already described his disgust at Batman being soft and dependant on his family. He wants to return the King to his throne and destroy the family. He resents each and every one of the so call dependants and this focuses his mission. I shall review each character’s interactions with Joker before discussing what he has prepared for dinner.
Catwoman – Selina Kyle
Joker picks on Catwoman because he wants to test her loyalty and, more importantly, her love for Batman. He tries to kill her in multiple ways and wants to know how dependant she has become on being rescued by Bruce. She manages quite well to escape with the multiple ways Joker tries to kill her, though he is intending on replicating the adages of a cat with nine lives and multiple ways to skin a cat. He stops trying to kill her when he realises that she is not in love with him, and not part of his family. I do find this somewhat ironic, given that she seems to be the only Bat member who has been retconned, and no longer knows Bruce is Batman and is merely lustful for him. The highlight of this issue lies in the fact that Selina discovers that Joker is in love with Batman, not her. This annoys Joker and he leaves her alone, allowing her to escape relatively intact.
Joker comes for Harley in a strange way. We know he has changed and not like the Joker Harley fell for, but this was an interesting issue. There was little affection towards her on Jokers part and he was very brutal to her. I imagined this was because she has moved on to a new life and romantic entanglements. He has become stripped of emotion, relying on pure instinct, which is what he does to her hyenas. Jokers wants Harley to follow suit, and break her because he created her in the first place. There are multiple attempts to make her feel unwanted and not adored, especially when he tries to convince her she is one of many previous Harley’s. Lucky for her she escapes, though in a relatively barbaric way, signifying her release from the mesmerising psyche of the Joker. Not that Joker really seems to care, his mind is clearly elsewhere.
Red Hood – Jason Todd
Now Jason has developed into a good guy, well kinda. He walks that fine line between pursuing a moral good and using excessive violence to achieve it. He appears to be less resentful of Batman and more forthcoming to his ways of crime fighting. Whether his recent reconciliation at the manor is indicative of this or the combined hatred of the Joker, remains to be seen. After all he did die at the hands of the Joker, and was brutally beaten with a crowbar. Back in the zero issue of Red Hood and the outlaws, we were given another viewpoint to the origin to Jason. In the heinous plan to destroy Bruce’s mentality, the Joker created a Robin for him: Jason Todd. He destroyed this young boys life and put him on track to be discovered by Batman and become his protégé. Hence the impact caused when Joker killed him. It is a rather unfeasible retcon of continuity but it is an interesting angle for Joker to play with. After all Jason has no dependence on Bruce, and Joker has no other psychological story with him, aside from the fact he killed him! He appears to be toying with Jason but he does not bite. Todd is too resilient for his games and even when he realises the truth, it does not shift his focus. We enter an end game with Tim;
Red Robin – Tim Drake
Both Tim and Jason are removed from their teams and are worried both will not manage without them. They provide interesting stories in the crossover issues in handling the Joker’s hoodlums and plans. Tim’s confrontation comes with the Joker wearing his wings. He sees Tim as a perfect little Robin because he was closest to emulating Bruce. Tim has been retconned into a very agile and acrobatic fighter like his predecessors, but he was always very clever. Tim was a detective, like Bruce, and found out his real identity. Combing these attributes we have a “perfect little Robin” whose needs surpassed what Batman had to offer, and left him. The arrogance of Tim infuriates Joker and how he used Bruce for personal gain, only to toss him aside when done.
Joker has them both incarcerated and makes them fight each other in order to save their fathers. This irks me somewhat because Tim’s father died in Identity crisis, which was a genuinely emotional and sad a death that has been written in comics, but has now been retconned out of existence. Jason does not remember his father fondly, and it makes you wonder why he would be willing to fight for his life. I guess it’s the classic son looking up to the continually disappointing father plot. It is an interesting dichotomy even though it is a little tenuous. Both former Robins fight but it was never a game that they would play for long. They turn on Joker and Jason tries to kill him, only to reveal a chemical gas that knocks both of them out.
Both characters realise that Joker knows their names and their families. Jason hates Joker because he killed him and Joker is angry his murder has been essentially nullified. Tim is hated because his arrogance and abuse of Batman has left Bruce weak. Joker tricks them both and then brings out two cloches, one for each little Robin. It is worth noting that Joker has played with Jason’s red hood mask and has red paint on his hands afterwards. Something is afoul but this has yet to be revealed.
Nightwing – Dick Grayson
The Joker does not like Dick. He clearly knows his identity and goes about resurrecting and killing members of Haley’s circus. There is a symbolic death of a clown that paints his face like the Joker. He uses Raya, a romantic interest of Grayson’s to attack him dressed like Nightwing, analogous to Nightwing dressing like Batman. Unfortunately he is unable to prevent her death, and finds the invitation to the circus carved in her belly. Joker hates Grayson because he was another that turned away from the Bat and left him to return to the circus, from whence he came. He has a similar story to Tim, but Joker uses Nightwing’s faith in people as a psychological torment. The Joker somehow resurrects members of Haley’s circus, those who he once trusted to fight him. This is an analogy for Bruce placing his faith in Dick, but having him leave and Bats being left alone. There is a physical confrontation between Dick and the Joker, but a resurrected child of Haley’s circus delivers a concussive blow to Nightwing. He then awakes to another cloche.
Batgirl – Barbara Gordon
Barbara has a lot to prove. She is back to being Batgirl and has regained the use of her legs, which Joker took from her. Joker re-enacts sequences of events from this previous torment to torture Barbara and make her angry. This leads her to consider her morals and code regarding murder. Her nightmares of the event and thoughts of killing Joker are put to the test. These issues serve as catharsis for Barbara. She becomes more violent than she has ever been and makes a decision that may change her forever. The Joker has her mother kidnapped and attempts to marry Batgirl using the wedding ring from her mother’s finger, which he has recently amputated. The hostage situation prevents Batgirl from killing the Joker. This stops her from completing her catharsis, but in her mind, she has already decided: It is time for his death. Her brother James, prevents her from fulfilling her nightmare, by rescuing their mother and giving Barbara to the Joker on a plate.
Joker does not like Batgirl weighing down on Batman, and wasting her emotions on him. The marriage proposal is a diversion to take Barbara away from Batman and devote attention to the Joker. The question Joker asks is whether she will be faithful to him. Will she cheat on Batman with the Joker? Can the Joker distract Barbara’s attention from Bruce? The Joker knows the question is a rhetorical one and attempts to find solace in chopping her arms and legs off. These comic issues are exceptional because out of all the family, Barbara has one of the biggest mental barriers to overcome. It was Joker that took her mobility and she has been incarcerated for so long. Her mental anguish is excellently portrayed by Gail Simone and Ed Benes. Barbara has come a very long way since the Killing Joke, physically and mentally but she will also have to come to terms with what is under the cloche.
Robin – Damien Wayne
Damien has had minimal interaction with the Joker, compared to the others. He is Bruce’s flesh and blood: he represents the ultimate hurdle preventing Batman from reaching greatness. The Joker brilliantly highlights the greatest fears of a Robin and Batman himself: That they may one day be responsible for one another’s death. Damien’s decision to kill in the past weighs heavily in these issues as he is faced with the fact he may have to kill again. This time would be much worse as he may have to kill his father. There is no room for a prince in the kingdom of the Bat. Damien shall not become his father. Damien fights a Joker controlled Batman and soon realises that the battle can only end in death. It will be his life or Batman’s. We see his story come full circle, as the boy who murdered at the beginning of the series, decides he cannot kill again. He refuses to disappoint Bruce again and would rather die by his hands. In an amazingly touching scene the ten year old buy accepts his fate, follows in his fathers footsteps and refuses to kill. The maturity displayed in his deliberations is incredible and it takes Joker by surprise. Joker ends the fight and relays his disappointment in Damien. Joker may gas Damien like all the others, but he very much loses this battle. Unfortunately the war continues with yet another cloche.
Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth
Since the first couple of issues we have yet to see the return of these two characters. Gordon was treated to a chemical reaction making his blood run thin, as he bleeds his heart out for Gotham city. Alfred was brutally attacked in the first issue and we have semblances of his fate from audiotapes. Alfred has become blind as a bat, by having ammonia dashed on his eyes. We know the Joker has Alfred, but Gordon is supposedly in a hospital. What relevance these two characters will have remains to be seen, but I fear Alfred may have an important part. After all Joker needs a good butler for his final meal.
Batman – Bruce Wayne
There are some fundamental truths to Batman and the Joker, which have been revealed since issue 1:
- The Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman
- Batman is the King of Gotham and the Joker his jester.
- Batman has become weak and dependant on others, as they drain his energy and attention away from him.
- Joker wants to run Gotham with Bruce its saviour. Their relationship is the only worthy one. The owls should have been easier to defeat.
The Joker is an angry man. He is more violent than he has ever been, cleverer than he has ever been and more focused than he has ever been. He is performing his own dirty work, despite having many goons. He voluntarily allowed his face to removed a year ago, in order to lay low and gain information on the Bat family. His love for Batman is a strong as ever, as demonstrated by the only time Joker’s pupils dilate; when he sees Bruce. There is a very interesting theme that runs through these books. When a family relies on you, then you cannot give all your attention to any one person. This makes you weak and you will be vulnerable to loss. The King has spread himself thin and now is too weak for the Joker.
There is an amazing analogy in an early issue of Batman. Joker describes the criminal underworld as a religion and their God is Batman. They perform criminal acts on order for God to strike down upon them. They live in fear, but also in hope that Batman may save them. Gotham may be dependant on their saviour, but the criminals’ chance at redemption relies on Batman’s capturing them. These further validate Joker’s view that Batman is a Godking. This analogy is further elaborated upon when he describes Clayface, Mr Freeze, Scarecrow, Two-face, The Riddler and the Penguin as the Royal player, Groundskeeper, Physician, Judge, Strategist and Bishop of the Kingdom. Of course Joker is the court jester. The fact that no-one else understands Jokers plan, not even Edward Nygma, is testament to the fact that it is special and only for Batman and himself. The re-enactments of past crimes, the revelation of the calling playing card, the living tapestry, are all signs of intimacy between the two. The Joker wants to go back and relive their first date.
How do we relate the above themes to conclude the story? The King of the Castle and his soul mate must reign again, and that means the family must die. It is likely that there are some rotting body parts sitting under the cloches because of the blood and the flies. Who could be killed that would mean the death of the family? Clearly Bruce is the obvious option, but also Alfred could be intimately relatable to all the cast. This would appear an obvious option but because an Alfred mask has already been displayed in a nightmare Bruce has, this seems unlikely. The reactions of Penguin and Two-face are also quite key to this, as they would not recognise Alfred. I also cannot see them being surprised at seeing a random body part given the line of business they partake in. Gordon could be an option but his death would not be significant enough to all the family. Any member of the Bat family could be killed but once again, not a single person would signify the death of a family. I must also note that most members of the family are shown waking up to a cloche, indicating that this would not represent a death of those characters. The more I consider it, the less likely it is that someone will die, especially given that all the Bat titles appear to be continuing.
The cloche may represent disfigurement of the family members. We do have the Dollmaker, who may have gone to work on all of the family whilst they were unconscious. This would fit too but the body part would be difficult to work out. There maybe parts of Bruce on the cloche, which would represent the death of the family without his murder. We should not ignore the possibility of there being a clone of Bruce, especially since we have seen a possible younger brother, Thomas Wayne Jr, and a clone of his father in the form of Thomas Hurt. I also feel that there must be an element of scarring to Jason, as he has had some alterations made to his mask. This has yet to be revealed but I did notice that there is one cloche per character meaning that maybe all characters undergo a form of marking. If there was a cloning aspect to the plot, then it would take away from it’s importance, as the family would not die.
Finally the death of the Joker could imply a family tragedy. It would depend on how it was done and whether it was at the hands of Bruce. Can Bruce finally break his code and kill a man. Would the family really not forgive him to the point where it falls apart? I imagine most of them would accept that at this time, it was entirely justifiable. However killing the Joker is far too definite for a character that is as iconic as he is, and who has only just returned. There is also an option for a Joker imitator. The Joker has been more vicious of late and may be someone else with his face on. Though I find it hard to believe someone could imitate the Joker to the point where he mercilessly laughs whilst maiming and being maimed. This does not appear to be an option either.
This leads to my final point. Could the Death of the Family be a metaphorical ending? There may not be an actual death but something is revealed or happens that means the family would break apart. This would have to involve Bruce and it would mean he is to be disgraced. Maybe he did kill someone when he was younger, turning him into a hypocrite. This could be the big reveal. The death could also represent the revelation of names into the real world of everyone’s identity. This would mean a rapid change in image and history in order to continue being crime fighters. If Bruce was revealed as Batman then everyone would be at risk. I like this type of ending; it is not a dramatic violent ending but a metaphorical end of the family. A disgrace of the Wayne family name. What does Bruce pride himself more on? Being a Wayne or being Batman?
The fact that I have spent over three thousands words discussing this is evidence that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have created a phenomenal story. It is full of suspense and is all that we have all talked about for weeks. I am so impressed with Gail Simone, Peter Tomasi, Kyle Higgins and Scott Lobdell for producing stunning dialogues, personal to each character’s psychological drama with the Joker. It is the culmination of all these themes that is incredibly ambitious, but ultimately will cement Snyder and Capullo in Batman folklore. I cannot wait to read it and I am quite scared of what will be revealed. Ill see you on the other side.