They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but this is pretty damn cool.

I played with that thing for quite a while before I ever started reading the actual comic. That was a very fun idea for a cover so kudos to whoever came up with it. However, Snyder, Capullo, and DC better expect their twitter and facebook pages to be overrun with fan images like mine in the coming days!

There are multiple covers available for this one and all of them are pretty sweet. Those going to the NY Comic-Con will get an exclusive cover all their own, there’s the variant cover by Aaron Kuder which hides Joker’s face behind a balloon, the cover that I showed in my picture up above, the much hyped cover of Joker touching up his face in the mirror, and a digital combo pack variant that’s the mirror cover with a different color scheme. There are many to choose from and it’s tough to pick a favorite. But you’re not here to talk about the cover, are you?

He’s baaaack

Batman #13 is the story of a guy who returns from vacation only to find out nobody wanted him to come home. He’s not happy about that so he tries to remind everyone just what they’ve been missing.

Part one of Death of the Family makes it clear that this saga is all about paying homage to every classic Joker story ever told. Some major moments in Joker history are touched upon here, but I won’t spoil them for you. There are also great cameos by members of the “soon to be dead” batfamily but I won’t tell you who. And in regards to the fears I voiced in my Upcoming Comics article about whether Snyder could write a darkly funny yet charismatic Joker, I’ve put those aside. He does do the multiple letterssssss thinnnng a bit too often but he also made the Joker funny, cunning, and frightening enough that I can now overlook it (as long as he continues to use it sparingly, of course. We can understand Joker is deranged without stressing every other consonant).

With the same art team as ever working on this book you can expect it to look just as beautiful as always. This series has the atmosphere of a grittier episode of Batman: The Animated Series with gloomy colors and far more shadows. I really have to salute Jonathan Glapion here. This is a comic that relies very, very heavily on the use of shadows and if you visit Glapion’s Youtube page you can see just how hard this man works. Everyone on this art team brings their A-game and I think it’s pretty evident by now that Glapion, Capullo, and FCO are incapable of delivering an ugly book.

As for the story, the whole thing opens up with hard rain and bad omens. The first quarter of the book in particular is perfectly paced and builds a wonderful sense of tension. It seems that Snyder and his team’s main goal with this issue was to reestablish Joker as DC’s greatest villain. Well, mission accomplished! Joker’s reemergence plays out like a scary movie in which all the attractive campers are picked off one by one. But although it’s a brilliantly handled horror scene, it didn’t feel quite right to me. In horror films there’s always a large group of dumb people who are slaughtered by a monster that tears through them like tissue paper. Joker is definitely a seemingly unstoppable monster, that I can agree with, but the individuals he preys on here should not be as dumb or incapable as the teenagers of slasher flicks.

Spoiler
The moment I’m speaking of is one that you might have seen in the online preview that went up on the web Monday night. Joker enters the crowded police precinct, shuts down the lights, and cracks every single copper’s neck. It didn’t make the Joker look like an unstoppable force so much as it made the GCPD look like the most incompetent police force in the world. I think King Tut from the 1960’s Batman TV Series could have tore through this precinct in the same amount of time. There were at least seven fully equipped cops in that room and not one of them other than Gordon bothered to get out a flashlight? Nobody fired a shot out of fear or rage? Nobody tried to run for the exit or call for help? I understand that Joker is supposed to be so scary that someone might freeze, but an entire room full of trained police officers? Gotham police officers who are trained to fight crime in the most dangerous city in the world? They all just stood in the dark waiting to die while Joker, who can somehow see perfectly in the dark and even recognize every cop by name, laughs and taunts Gordon. What is it about being inside police headquarters that makes the Joker godlike? Even in Nolan’s The Dark Knight a bomb went off, blasting every cop in the building to the floor while the Joker stayed perfectly upright and perfectly conscious. And I’m sure many will feel I’m over reacting because it was a cool scene and it was just a bunch of nameless characters, but you have to admit that at the very least Gordon should have had more balls than this. Joker shouldn’t turn Gordon of all people into a trembling mess only capable of saying “he told a joke!” after the madman flees the scene. The Joker shouldn’t even be that physically formidable. Crack one neck, sure! But get more creative after that. Trick one of the more frightened cops into shooting toward the Joker’s voice only to kill one of his fellow officers! Do something that involves more trickery than this. More brilliance than brute strength. Also, didn’t Snyder already do the Joker lights on/lights off gag in Black Mirror?

Everything that followed that scene I found quite good. There’s some great detective work going on, great nods to classic stories, and seeing the reaction of Batman and all of his allies to Joker’s return really gets you excited about what’s to come. Witnessing all of your heroes bracing themselves for something truly terrible drives the point home that Joker is their greatest fear. Everything. Everything from when Batman learns about Joker’s return to the moment Batman puts together a big piece of the puzzle (I’m trying hard not to spoil anything) is fantastic. So good that I can guarantee this comic will be read and re-read by many of you and it’s that sort of re-readability that makes a great comic. It only faltered for me again in that final scene and (again) I’ll put that in some big spoiler tags.

Spoiler
Remember in Batman: The Dark Knight #11 when Batman ran at a villain’s hideout in broad daylight only to take a shotgun blast to the chest and fall into a trap? Or in one of the earlier Detective Comics issues when Batman is given a clue to an abandoned building and walks right into a trap? A moment like that happens here. When Batman figures out that Joker wants him to return where it all began at Ace Chemical, he finds a figure dressed in the full Red Hood attire at the opposite end of a catwalk. The Joker wanted him here and the Red Hood character is standing right out in the open. All signs point to it being a trap, but still Batman charges ahead and gets hit with a giant mallet contraption that’s been attached to the ceiling somehow. Even though I love seeing Batman in death traps and can’t wait to see him try and escape in the next issue, it’s so much more satisfying when he doesn’t end up in these situations out of stupidity.

And while we’re in spoiler tags I’ll bring up another major point that will be heavily discussed. The final shot is of Joker ready to attack Alfred inside of Wayne Manor. Is he attacking Alfred because we’re acknowledging Batman Inc. again in the greater Batman continuity and Joker would go after Batman’s financier or is Snyder finally making it clear once and for all that Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman? I’ve always loved the idea that Joker knows who Batman is but doesn’t care while Batman doesn’t know who Joker is but he would give almost anything to find out. However, I’ve also always loved that Joker’s knowledge of Batman’s identity was left ambiguous.

The Backup

The backup story added very little and felt like a wasted opportunity for answers. In fact, it felt like a complete waste of time. I can go into specifics, but it will take spoilers.

Spoiler
The main story shows that Joker dressed Harley up as a Red Hood decoy. We know this because we saw the decoy Red Hood costume, we saw Harley take the helmet off, and we saw that her face was perfectly intact. She also seemed to be well aware of what the Joker’s upcoming horrific plan was. The backup shows us a Harley who is completely oblivious to everything that is going on and the entire premise of the short story is that Joker is playing a prank on her. He makes it seem like he’s going to lop off her face and each page tries to build tension toward this terrifying moment…but we the readers already know that he won’t do it. We’re already well aware that he’s just going to dress her up as the Red Hood. There’s no real tension nor surprise at the punchline because we just saw how this ends up. If they wanted to do a Joker/Harley Quinn story, why not show how Harley got away from Suicide Squad? Or how Joker contacted her in the first place? Why not give some answers as to why Joker cut off his own face or offer up some sort of teaser as to what’s to come in the future rather than…whatever this was?

Paying Homage

Another interesting discussion to have is whether or not paying homage to so many wonderful Joker stories is a brilliant way to tell a definitive Joker story of Snyder’s own or lazy writing. I’m on the side of homage being a good thing. I had a lot of fun reading this issue and look forward to seeing Joker revisit his most memorable crimes in gruesome new ways. It’s also a great way to firmly state that some of the fan favorite stories still count in the New 52 continuity. Snyder has even stated on twitter that he’ll be using Joker Fish in a future story! And best of all, the new readers and kids just reading Batman comics for the first time will read this then go on the inter-webs and find fans discussing The Man Who Laughs, Batman #251, or Detective Comics #475 and they’ll go track those original works down. That’s a great thing. What’s a bit more questionable is the similarities in this book’s final pages and the Grant Morrison story The Clown at Midnight.

Spoiler
Joker has evolved into a newer more horrific personality? He’s making Harley think he’s going to slice her face? It’s all too similar.
Was he paying homage to Morrison’s far more recent Joker tale or was it just coincidence? A “great minds think alike” sort of thing?

 Where Does It Go From Here?

You’ve noticed by now that I don’t just say if a book is good or bad, I also ramble on about some topics that I think comic readers could have fun discussing. This book is FULL of such topics. One of the biggest, most thought provoking things that fans will be talking about is how exactly Death of the Family can conclude in a satisfying way. Should Joker try to kill every member of the Batfamily and fail every time thus proving to him once and for all that they don’t make Batman weak? Should Joker kill one or two or maybe even every member of the Batfamily? That’s not likely. Almost all of these characters are in a series of their own that sells very well. Death doesn’t hold any value at all for me in Batman comics anymore. That ended the moment they brought Jason Todd back from the dead. What I hope is done with this arc was said best by reader Shoeverine in the comments section of this week’s Upcoming Comics article:

I hope the Joker’s plan isn’t to kill the individual members of the bat-family, so much as kill the “family” aspect of them all. I hope he has some deeper intentions where he defeats them mentally and emotionally, forcing them to behave in ways that surprise themselves, with the ultimate goal of destroying their relationships with one another… creating a divide between them all that will become… the “death of the family…”

All I’ll add is that I want Joker to not only explain why he cut off his own face (and have a better reason than doing it just because he’s crazy) but to get his face put back on by the time this is all over. As freaky as the leatherface look is, I don’t want it to be a permanent thing. Clowns are scary enough and the Joker image is iconic whereas this only stirs up Leatherface comparisons and the fact that The Simpsons already did it.

Overall

Good or bad, this was going to be this week’s most talked about comic, Batman or not (I felt like writing a review was a bit pointless since this is a comic that everyone is going to buy no matter what). Thankfully it’s not only good, but it has enough really cool moments that I’m able to overlook many of the flaws, especially the rather unnecessary backup story. It’s evident that a lot of love for the Batman mythology went into making this book and because of that I’m pretty forgiving of the few things that didn’t sit well with me. Issue #13 has a fun cover, a scary atmosphere, cool cameos by members of the batfamily, and it’s a great jumping on point for new readers. Most importantly though, it’s going to get people excited about Batman and spark intense fan discussion. This is a must-buy but I went back and forth on giving it either an 8.5 or a 9/10. Not that the scores really matter much, they’re pretty arbitrary. Gordon, Batman and the cops were nerfed and the backup was disappointing but there are so many amazing Joker moments in this that I can’t NOT love it. (and my apologies if there were some odd typos in this. I’ve only slept about 3 hours in the past two days and probably shouldn’t be writing such lengthy Bat-essays)

SCORE: 9/10