Let me just say right now that while I’m going to try and hide as many spoilers as I can, if you’re definitely going to buy this comic no matter if I give a 1/10 or a 10/10 then you should just hold off on reading any reviews until after you’ve read the comic for yourself. If you see a reviewer say they were shocked by issue #17 then you know someone died and if you see a reviewer state that they are underwhelmed then you’ll know that no one was killed in Death of the Family at all. So don’t spoil the surprise for yourself. With that said, here…
Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Batman #17 is a good comic, but I’m willing to bet that it will disappoint a lot of people. Why’s that? Because it simply had too much hype built around it. For 5 months and across 23 comics (yeah, that’s right) Death of the Family has been marketed as being the next great Joker story. A classic in the making! Its author took to twitter and declared that every upcoming issue would be even more shocking than the last. And after all the dread, excitement, and fan theories over what could possibly be the earth shattering moment that concludes such a classic-in-the-making we are left with a good, but very traditional Batman ending. Is it worth getting upset over? Yes. You’re not getting the payoff from all of that hype and many of the burning questions aren’t answered in a satisfactory way. Is it still an enjoyable read? Yes. IF you adjust your expectations and view it not as the end of a major event, but as the conclusion of just another dark and twisted Joker tale.
The story begins with a really beautifully drawn two page spread by Capullo, Glapion, and FCO that shows the very thing we’ve all been talking about for the past month: the dinner party with all those mysterious platters. It’s also a bit of overkill in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre similarities. First Joker adopts the Leatherface look, and now this.
There’s a great deal of suspense in these opening pages as we wait to find out the fate of Alfred and what’s on the platters. We’ve all been whining like Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en for the past month and Snyder and Capullo prolong that feeling to great effect in the book’s intro.
I quickly noticed that Batman didn’t have a platter of his own and I found that rather annoying. After a platter was placed in his lap at the end of Batman #16 it was easy to assume that each member of the Bat-family would have their own plate. Not the case. Another thing all of you will quickly notice is that we are in a cave. What cave? THE cave? That little two headed kitty cat is there too and of course, there’s Joker. Capullo does a fine job of drawing his face all the more rotten. It’s beginning to curl up around the edges now and we can see every raw sinew underneath. Perhaps more importantly, Joker is finally wearing his trademark purple suit! Do we get an explanation as to why Joker was dressed like a mechanic for every other issue? No. And that was aggravating. I’m sure that author Scott Snyder has touched upon this in interviews, but I’m not concerned with his intentions, I want to see how it comes across in the finished product and not addressing the Joe’s Garage uniform is bothersome. It’s surprising that we never had a scene in which any character brought it up. I mean, it’s kind of odd that the Joker is wearing a tool belt and what The Venture Bros. might call a “speed suit”. I always expected there to be a moment where Batman would search for a “Joe’s Garage” in Gotham, go there, and find some sort of clue to Joker’s next plot but there was nothing.
Besides the clothes Joker has been wearing throughout this arc, easily the most important detail of the New 52 Joker’s look is the Leatherface mask. Why on earth did Joker cut off his face and vanish for an entire year? The Joker has always been so vain before…Never mind that he would die from infection and would be incapable of pronouncing Bs and Ps, why would he do such a thing? This was an important element of the story for me and I really needed a good excuse other than “Joker’s crazy and he does crazy things!” otherwise that move was done for shock value alone. While Joker’s face removal is addressed on a single page in this book and it goes beyond him just being crazy I didn’t find it to be a satisfactory explanation. At all. It touched upon something that I had suspected but it didn’t spend enough time on the subject. It was thrown in as an afterthought before moving on to the age old debate of “Why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker?” The reason behind why Joker would cut his face off and then wait a year is never addressed. If he wants to cut off his fact to make this small point in a dramatic way here, fine. And if you want to say that the Joker needed a year’s worth of preparation to do all of the things he did to the Bat-Family in the crossover, I could even buy that. But why wouldn’t he scheme for a year and THEN cut off his face? On second thought, no. No. This whole faceless angle was stupid and unless it’s dealt with more in the epilogue issues that follow #17 then I say it was done for shock value in the New 52 debut on Tony Daniel’s title only and Death of the Family would’ve been a far stronger story without it.
Wow, I rambled there for a bit about the face thing, eh? Speaking of rambling, this comic is also quite wordy. Although it’s totally in Joker’s character to talk a lot I have to admit that I”m kind of sick of him explaining himself and soliloquizing about his role in the comics in some meta way. After 23 issues of Death of the Family, enough is enough. I wanted answers for the story that was presented over the course of his event, not to see the characters spell out their relationship without any hint of subtlety.
But that sounds harsh. I did enjoy myself reading this book! There’s definitely a lot of entertaining stuff here. The big problem is that there’s no payoff. There are several occasions of “Did this really just happen?!” No. “What about this?!” No. And if you’ve been looking forward to a big world changing moment then you’re definitely going to feel like you’ve been jerked around. But really, what Snyder did here wasn’t about shuffling around our idea of what the Batman mythology is, what he did was reinforce it if anything and I liked those aspects. I’ll talk more in detail about this, but I’ll have to do it in the spoiler section.
So what was under the platter all along were some fake faces? The Joker was willing enough to cut off his own face and wait a year to make a point about how he’s the Joker through and through but he didn’t touch the faces of any of the bat-family even when his plan was to torch them all along? Which is it? Does he hate having the Batfamily around because he thinks they’re weakening Batman or does he want them to stay alive so that he can keep putting them in danger and playout the never ending battle between him and Batman?
Were they fake faces or the faces of other people made up to look like the Bat family?
If anything, I feel that the real Joker would never have cut off his face to make this point. Again, he’s vain. He would’ve cut off the faces of the Batfamily. He’d not change his own mug. It’s a masterpiece.
The bomb inside the cat’s head was like the bomb inside of the henchman’s stomach in The Dark Knight. Also, Capullo drew the Joker with Ledger-style scars on his cheeks. I really loved the expressionless face Capullo gave Joker in that scene. He nailed it.
One of the worst things about this issue was the way the batfamily pulled together and staved off the Joker’s latest toxin by force of will alone. What? Since when does that happen? Rather than having an intense moment where Batman must save them we get this really corny moment in which they all push through the poison by their love for each other or something.
I loved that Joker freaked out at the prospect of knowing his own identity. I loved that.
I was more than pleased that Snyder included the acid flower. Back when he first announced this story about a year ago he asked on Twitter about what some Joker elements were that fans wanted to see and my first thought was that I needed that acid flower back. He even squeezed in the electric buzzer.
I hated that he fell into the bottom of the cave in a cliched “He’s probably dead, but we can’t find the body ending.” Not only is it essentially the same ending as Court of Owls, but it passes the buck to another writer. What? Now we have to do another return of the Joker crossover event next year?!
How is it that Batman and everyone is cool right now? They don’t know for a fact that the Joker is dead. It’s not satisfying to know that Joker is still out there. We all know he’s not dead.
The idea of having Batman know Joker’s identity all along freaked me out. I would’ve went ballistic over that. It needs to be the one mystery Batman can never solve and I’ll stand by that till the day I die. So seeing the monitor in the cave at the end read “Identity Unknown” was fantastic.
I enjoyed the scene at Arkham Asylum because seeing a Joker that can’t comprehend that Batman would have an identity beyond the cape and cowl reinforces what we’ve always believed about their dynamic. I hate that scene, however because it makes Bruce look like an idiot. So the card in the cave turned out to be left on the bottom of Batman’s boot or something. Still, he had no way of knowing that and at the time it made for reasonable and convincing evidence that Joker had indeed been inside the Batcave. Is this reason enough to confront the Joker about it in a “I know you know, and I don’t care.” moment? No. Because while it’s good evidence that Joker made it into the cave, it doesn’t prove that he ever made it inside of Wayne Manor.
Having the bat-family be all pissy toward Bruce is pretty weak. I expected them to be angrier than simply canceling dinner plans via text message. But the worst thing about the scene in which everyone cancels on Bruce is this: They wouldn’t even come to visit Alfred? We all thought Alfred had at least been blinded? We can’t come over for dinner at least to check in on the butler who treated you all like his children?
The Theory I had That I liked the Best
Before I was surprised by an advance copy of Batman #17 I was working on an article about all the different theories I had for what could possibly be underneath the domes of those platters and how I felt that the Death of the Family story could possibly end in a satisfying way. Once I had the actual comic in my hand I scrapped the article but still thought I would include the idea I had that I liked the best just for fun. Obviously you can skip past this bit since it’s basically some fan-fiction BS. I even put it in spoiler tags.
I fought a lot between giving it a 7.5 or an 8. It didn’t feel right to give it anything higher or lower than that. The artwork is too damn good looking, the tension in the opening pages is fantastic, and the moments that are good are VERY good. But when a storyteller begins a tale he’s making a promise that they can guide us all the way through the forest and Snyder doesn’t seem to do endings very well. Much like Stephen King, one of Scott Snyder’s major inspirations, his stories are more about the journey than the conclusion. Compounding this is the fact that the story was overly marketed as an instant-classic and an earth shattering event. It was overblown as a major crossover event when it should have just been a great Joker story. Imagine how much The Killing Joke would’ve sucked if it was inflated by 20 more comics featuring characters who had no bearing on an ending that was Batman and Joker laughing together, totally out of character. It wouldn’t have been a classic.
Expectations were simply too high for this book! Death of the Family is a good and very creepy Joker story with an unnecessary detail about Joker cutting off his face. It shouldn’t have been sold to us as anything more than that. Appreciate it for what it is.