Warning: Contains spoilers so grand it may lead to the death of the blog!
It’s over. The death of the Family arc has come to an end. There is much to discuss. After the Night of the Owls, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo stood on top of the new 52 hill, as its Kings. The next challenge accepted was the Joker. I have never read a more incredible build to a book and a more credible set of tie in issues. The title, the history, good guy, the bad guy, the family, the writers and artists have so much depth, that it could only be incredible right?
As much as I complain about dialogue heavy books, in this case it is important. The Joker has had many a monologue and there has never been a moment where I wanted to hear it as much as now. This also applies to Bruce discussing his previous encounter with the Joker at Arkham. I have felt that Snyder has really grasped the babbling nonsensical rhetoric of the Joker, and the concise all action direction of Batman. The other characters are utilised less so but are written aptly. Snyder also captured Alfred’s relationship with Bruce paternalistically and devotedly, and is never more important than in this issue. The art is simply exquisite as always. Joker’s face is drawn as I imagine his mind is; fractured, rotting and falling apart. Capullo’s wonderful ability is never better demonstrated than when the Bat family, gas intoxicated, grinning eerily, are fighting whilst trying to unite together. Their faces do not match their emotional postures, where moments of comfort bear through, past the maniacal smiles. The creative team has a hold on us, and similar to Batman #13, makes us fearful. It is a stomach churning moment when we turn the page to the big cloche reveal. The page is as brilliant as it is disgusting: the footer of Joker cuddling a cub with the heart shaped, dismembered faces, panel above him. This issue and arc is an exceptional work of literature and graphic artwork.
My initial thought at the end of the book was that of an anti-climax and I put down the book disappointedly. I have been so invested in the characters and the story, that I was upset there was no permanent physical change. The cloche reveal was incredible but not real, Alfred was intoxicated but not harmed, and no one died. The reason stated for Joker’s face-off was to show his real love for Batman. He does not hide behind a mask and his eyes show the love he has for Bruce. Not like the family who live behind real masks, hiding their disdain for Batman, and leave him when they have nothing else to take. It is an interesting concept but I do not feel it really materialises in the issue. Ultimately Joker hates the family because he is jealous of the attention they receive from Batman, plain and simple. However he does give compelling evidence as to why Bruce loves him. The classic tome of why Batman does not kill: he cannot let himself enter that slippery descent or allow worse enemies to rise in Joker’s place. It is rather simplistic and as Joker explains himself, Bruce could murder him in secret and nobody would be any the wiser. It is not as if Gotham has stopped producing crazier antagonists just because Joker exists. I would take issue with this flawed logic of Bruce’s.
The Joker lives a life of bewilderment where he and Batman have “fun” adventures and express their love in terms of violence. There is no room for reality in this world and, to be honest, that would fit with that fact that the Joker is a psychopath. The story of Bruce visiting the Joker and professing to him his real life persona is immensely revealing. Real life does not interest the Joker and he cannot be woken from his dream. This is shown by his despair at Bruce trying to reveal Joker’s true identity to him in the caves. Bruce forsakes his role in the fantasy realm by actually finding out his identity in the first place, it is interesting how he alludes to this during the conversation. As a continuation to this we see that Joker’s little bat book is empty, he does not know the real names of the family. This is a clear lie because, according to the tie ins, he would have to know Dick worked at Haley’s circus, Barbara’s mother name and Jason’s identity in order to turn him into a Robin. This may be a continuity error or that it fits in nicely with the fact that Joker really does not care about real life.
The Death of the Family remains metaphorical and I am not sure why. There is some evidence that Joker spoke to Dick, while he was in the dark about Bruce. This revelation can be applied to the whole family. However there was no big event, not even the identity or the possibility that the Joker had been to the cave, which would explain the family’s breakdown. They have been through death and disability but remain at Bruce’s side, and I am pretty sure they would not break now because he has not killed the Joker. As crushing as the final few pages were to Bruce and to me, I was unconvinced at the family’s response.
As amazing as the comics have been, there has not been as big an impact as the iconic classic Joker books. This is certainly built upon incredible expectations, too high for the climax to fulfil. It is unfortunate, as the arc is incredible and I have rarely anticipated reading any other book as much as this. The idea of the joke has become a theme in this book and it links certain aspects of the plot. Joker will not kill Batman unless it is a perfect joke. All he ever does is torture people with a plan that is “funny”. The book may have been one big joke. There are plenty of “funny” moments that did not bear fruit, but amused the Joker: Alfred was not blinded, the identities were not leaked, Bruce did not kill his family, there was nothing under the cloches, the flaming horse made no sense, Jason’s face was not disfigured by the mask and I am sure the Riddler would have got it. The final joke was that the chemical element in Joker’s gas was abbreviated to Ha. This moment of genius was a joke on Bruce, a joke on the family and a joke on us. It was all one big joke. After all you should have seen the look on their faces!
“Whisper it right into your ear, darling”