The main story is really predictable and it’s sort of a waste of a good character design, but the black humor of the backup makes up for the book’s shortcomings to make for a pretty entertaining read.

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It won’t take you long to figure out who the Merry Maker is and I imagine that unsurprising moment will be discussed the most about this issue. I think we all got excited when we saw Merry Maker show up in the last issue. It was such a cool design! The old Renaissance doctor uniform complete with plague mask, talk about creepy. And let’s face it, it’s HARD to come up with a unique character design for a hero or a villain nowadays. Just about everything has been done to death. For him to show up on the final page of the last issue and then get taken down so easily in the very next issue…Honestly the most disappointing thing for me isn’t the Merry Maker’s identity, it’s his goal is as a villain. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just that I wish that something more had been done with such a cool looking character. I guess Darth Maul would be a pretty good example. Scary, bad ass looking guy– went out like a punk.

Even though I would’ve liked a bigger story from such a neat looking new baddie I must say that I do appreciate the way John Layman structures his books. I’ve been reading “Chew” lately as well and he really seems to like layering one plot on top of another and then dart in and out between the different story lines. It makes for a pretty busy world and it works quite well for Batman. What I’m saying is that he hasn’t forgotten about the Emperor Penguin thing, so be on the lookout for that. Also, pay close attention to Fabok’s pencils and you’ll spot another Batman villain we haven’t seen too much of in the New 52 make a cameo!

The art, as always is terrific. Fabok is producing brilliant stuff and Layman is giving him some big two page spreads so Fabok can be used to his full potential as well. The only things that didn’t look quite right were the way a body had no flesh remaining on its skull but the rest of the corpse was colored to look quite healthy and the other thing would be how Bullock was drawn in one scene. He’s turning his head and the perspective…something about it didn’t look quite right. I’m also not feeling the hat as much after seeing Tony Daniel give the character a more modern update during his run. It’s something worth discussing. Should Bullock still be wearing the fedora? Just today I was reading Legends of the Dark Knight and the Slam Bradley character looked like a dead ringer for Bullock anytime he put his hat on so perhaps the fedora is a key Bullock feature that we should hang on to even if it’s a bit anachronistic  Seriously, when will we finally get a generation that successfully brings that style back? My generation tried it most recently and failed. Sorry, but we failed! It still looks stupid on us. I think I read somewhere that the hat vanished from male fashion due to JFK. When the young, attractive president was seen everywhere showing off his full head of hair the male public started doing the very same and we haven’t gone back since.

Back to the comic and back to the back-up! This superbly drawn short by Layman and Andy Clarke is the real highlight. It serves as an epilogue to the Merry Maker story, going deeper into the character’s history to give us better insight to his motives and also to give Andy Clarke a chance to draw a very menacing Joker and another surprise cameo. He also gets to draw a stunning Merry Maker in full costume which looks just as cool as Fabok’s, proving that it’s not just Fabok’s terrific pencils that made the villain look great, it’s just a solid design all around. There are some funny moments in this short story, but there’s also some rather creepy shots as well. The backup will haunt you and is definitely worth a read.

Issue #17 was far too predictable to really be fully enjoyed but it’s still a well drawn issue that ties up all of the League of Smiles stuff nicely. And while the main feature isn’t very memorable or exciting, the backup story is well done and totally saved this comic in my opinion. And in case you were wondering, this issue isn’t an official part of the Death of the Family crossover and doesn’t effect the outcome of Batman #17 at all.

SCORE: 7/10

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