Advertisement

We’re slowing things down, way down, and talking it out in this issue. A lot has happened since Batman #13 and in that time Death of the Family hasn’t exactly featured the family very much at all outside of an occasional cameo by Nightwing or Robin. So here we have an issue of Batman that gathers the whole gang together for a powwow. Whatever comes in issue #16 is guaranteed to be huge, but for now we, like the characters in #15, just need to assess this situation.

If you saw the preview posted in the Upcoming Comics article from Sunday, you know that the book starts out with the shot of Joker either emerging or fading into darkness…or perhaps the dark is only an extension of himself? It was a rather creepy image that couldn’t have been drawn, inked, and colored better than it was. It will likely be used in countless Batman Encyclopedias and Wiki articles to come. Before I get more into the interior I just want to say that I loved the cover to this issue. Both of them, actually as there was a variant also done by Capullo. These are easily two of my favorite covers of the past year with Batman #6 still being at the top of that list. However, as much as I’ve praised the artwork of this series time and time again– so much so that I’ve ran out of words for how good it looks– I actually have to wag my finger at a couple of panels this time around. The first and probably most obvious complaint is one you might have  had yourself from looking at the preview pages. It’s Batman’s gloves. Where did they go? Last issue we had the weirdly deployed trap of cables and chattering teeth that didn’t exactly make much sense but I went along with it. Now that the Joker has finished his incredibly long speech Batman is able to break free but it’s not clear how he does it. There’s a panel of Batman’s gloved hand and the cables coming loose and then the following panel shows Batman totally free and barehanded. Capullo’s always done action incredibly well but I can’t piece together what’s happened between these two panels. Batman slipped off the gloves and that somehow caused enough slack in the cables for him to escape?

The other problem would have to be with the team meet-up near the end. The facial expressions don’t match the dialogue well enough in some panels. I am always raving about the personality Capullo is able to convey through faces and posture, but some of these shots didn’t sit well with me. When Bruce exclaims “Dammit, you’re not understanding how he thinks!” he looks very placid and isn’t even facing Batgirl, who is screaming in his ear. The following panel with Nightwing’s furrowed brow didn’t complement the curt tone of “Go on. Now.” even though Damian’s saddened, shocked expression worked brilliantly with “Father…”

And lastly, the coloring in the flashback of the cave bothered me. Not the look of the flashback overall, that was great and had a spooky old 8mm film vibe to it. Again, I’ve always praised FCO and he does amazing work here especially with the eyes, but in the flashback to the cave it’s described by the text that something (I don’t want to spoil it) is found floating on the water. Well, the water in question is perfectly still looking and also an almost identical shade of brown as the walls and rocky ground of the cave seen on the previous page so it looked like Bruce was picking something up off the floor rather than from the surface of water. Even Bruce’s reflection in the water, to my eye made me think of a polished floor at first first. As if it were part of the finished batcave with nice smooth flooring I suppose was my reasoning at the time. I feel that there should have been a greater variation in color or perhaps some ripples in the water or perhaps some water should have been shown dripping from the object or Bruce’s fingers in  the following panels.

Do I sound a bit nitpicky there? Oh, yes. But that’s probably because the artwork has always been nothing short of perfect so when there is the tiniest of flaws they seem to jump right out. There are still more than enough stunning images to overshadow these complaints and it remains one of the best looking comic books you can buy. The flashback aboard Joker’s blimp, the opening and closing pages, oh, and the way Joker’s face twisted around his head after being punched was disturbing as all get-out and the first really imaginative use of the face-less gimmick we’ve seen in Batman so far (though it’s used to full effect in Batman & Robin #15 that also came out today). That entire scene on the bridge looked fantastic, it’s just that I don’t understand how Batman broke free. And to close-out the nitpicky section let me point out the Yoda speak of Batman on one page. “It’s the only way, beating to him his punchline.” What was that about?

Now, onto the actual story. I don’t know if it’s that Joker talks way too much in the New 52 or if it’s because he’s in multiple books every Wednesday giving pretty much the same speech but it’s starting to try my patience. Especially when we have to hear Bruce explain it all again to the rest of his team later on. We get it, Joker’s going after the Bat-family because he thinks they make Batman weak. Got it. Now how about we actually see him do that for a change.

Nightwing! He got blown up in the last issue! Yeah, but this was never addressed again and that really irritates me. Seeing him caught in that explosion in the previous issue was very shocking and added to the weight of Joker’s threat against the batfamily. To see Grayson here without a band-aid or even a scratch on him has wiped away any sort of worry I had for the allies. I can’t suspend my disbelief as easily now. The feeling that anyone can die at any moment is gone and I’m thinking no one will die at all in this and the “death” of the family will indeed be a symbolic death of the group as a cooperative whole. This is addressed by Batman in his speech to the team when he states that Joker is indeed trying to drive a wedge between them all. If he wants them to destroy themselves then that would be classic Joker.

So let’s see…what am I leaving out? Since this is without a doubt the most popular Bat-title I try to cover everything that comes to mind when I read it. The opening bridge scene was highly entertaining, I especially enjoyed the appearance of Harvey Bullock and his interaction with Joker which you can see in the preview images online. I wish the GCPD would’ve been useful at all, but again they prove to be completely worthless. There is one scene that I definitely don’t want to spoil that had some really surprising and creepy imagery that I loved.

Spoiler
The dream sequence. With faceless Alfred. Nobody colors an eyeball quite like FCO
I wish that Batman’s recovery after the bridge had been explained at all. The jump from to Batman is okay and Joker totally got away was abrupt but didn’t restrict my enjoyment of the book. The overlong discussion with the team and the disappointing surprise revelation, however, did.
Spoiler
We already did the Batman has a blindspot thing in Court of Owls. Do we really need to go through it again here? I’m surprised when Bruce was going on and on about how it would be impossible for Joker to enter that Jason didn’t chime in “But you had all the defenses at max just a few months ago and all the Owl guys got in. You also didn’t even think that they existed.” Still I liked that Snyder added some extra significance to the giant Joker card that’s inside the Batcave. That’s a pretty interesting way to give that trophy a purpose in the batcave. Many of these “trophies” aren’t really trophies at all but reminders of past failures so that they don’t happen again. It only makes sense that such a large piece of Joker memorabilia would be there to remind Batman never to give his enemies an opening like that ever again. And as for the Arkham take-over…I’ll reserve judgment on that until this all plays out. It sounds pretty ludicrous at the moment that Joker had time to kill every mob lieutenant in Gotham and hijack an entire penitentiary. How’s he have the time for all of this? We’ve yet to even see Joker use a mode of transportation. At least we saw Heath Ledger’s Joker hop in a car from time to time.
Still, it’s an overall great read. A must-read, actually because it’s the one book that’s driving the Death of the Family forward and pretty much every bat-title is involved in that.

The Backup

Riddler’s here and you’ll be happy to know he doesn’t have tattoos or a mohawk. More importantly, Snyder and Tynion captured the key aspect of Riddler’s personality. There’s one thing that has to be kept firmly in mind when characterizing the Riddler otherwise your Riddler story sucks: ARROGANCE. He has to be arrogant. It’s the Riddler’s very foundation. The reason he has this compulsion to leave clues behind is because he’s absolutely certain that you’re too stupid to figure them out.

Now I won’t go into too much detail about what happens here because I don’t want to spoil things for you, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Riddler was handled well and it was fascinating to see Joker stroke his ego in an attempt to gain his allegiance. Jock’s style is certainly interesting. Everything seems to have a jagged edge and I think his Joker looks better here than it ever has. You can really tell that the face is starting to rot now. Jock’s Riddler looks like the Riddler should again and that was a relief. I know I wasn’t the only one who hated the tattooed, mohawked design from Batman #1.

Spoiler
I will say that I wasn’t completely clear on the horse, but I think that’ll all make more sense after we see what’s actually going on in issue #16. Why were they carrying it instead of just walking it through the hall or was it Joker just being a jerk and making them carry it? If that’s the case it is kind of funny. Also, even though it’s totally in-character for Joker to have shot that cop who dropped the horse, it’s also probably bad for his plan. Somehow, and it’s still hard for me to swallow, the Joker has these guards coming in to work and then going home each day under the threat that if they don’t he will kill their family. Well, what happens when one of the guards doesn’t come home to his family? This makes me wonder how long Joker has been up to this exactly. It couldn’t have been long because he had yet to conquer Arkham in Detective Comics #14.
I’ll reserve judgement on Joker’s grand plan with Riddler and where this issue concludes until next time. It’s still too soon to call but I like the direction it’s heading. I’m still waiting to find out why Joker continues to dress like a maintenance man and why he cut off his face. The face thing was sort of addressed in Suicide Squad #15 today, but I really hope that wasn’t the real explanation.
Spoiler
It was something like, now that I don’t have a face I have nothing about me that is human or weak. Kind of hard to believe that when anytime he gets punched (which is every tie-in so far) the face slides over his eyes and blinds him. That’s sort of a big weakness. Plus there’s infection to worry about. Right now the face-off thing still feels like shock-value and little else so I’m anxiously awaiting the Batman series’ explanation.

These backups are pretty enjoyable. I like the idea of Joker rounding up the best of the rogues for some big celebration. I’m hoping it’s the Joker’s idea of a Friar’s Club Roast but I suppose that’s been done before. Then again, judging by the

Spoiler
horses
I’d say that Joker is probably taking the whole King’s court thing literally. Either way, the guessing is fun. You know it’s a good comic and worth buying when you lose time speculating about what could possibly come next.

Overall

Another great issue that’s sure to be one of the main highlights of December, it just doesn’t reach the heights of the issues that came before it. There are moments that feel very tedious to those of us who have been reading all of the tie-ins in addition to Snyder’s Batman and there’s one moment that made me wonder if Batman had learned anything at all from his encounter with the Court of Owls. The opening and closing pages are very haunting, the fight on the bridge was cool, the artwork is as rich as ever, and it features one of the best back-up stories so far. Issue #15 is a necessary breather before things get really crazy and judging by the way this issue ends, issue #16 is definitely going to be something special. At least it better be to live up to the hype!

Sorry it took a day for this review to go live. I came back late last night and stretched it out to be an extra long article so it would hopefully be worth the wait and give you plenty to discuss, agree or disagree.

SCORE: 8/10

Advertisement