In the history of Batman, there have been numerous unforgettable names that each created something unique and memorable. From Frank Miller (Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns) to Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale (The Long Halloween) and Alan Moore (The Killing Joke) Batman’s authors were always as good as they come and they easily make it to most of our lists here at 101Comics.
In this company of authors comes Scott Snyder to contribute to a long history of amazing stories. Snyder, not a novice writer himself, having a portfolio of great work and cooperation with various publications such as American Vampire published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, Wytches published by Image Comics and, Iron Man Noir published by Marvel are just a few of his highly regarded titles.
Snyder’s Batman: Death of the Family comes right after his run of the Court of Owls and focuses in the return of Batman’s archnemesis the Joker after his year-long absence of the DC Universe just after he “lost” his face at the hands of the Dollmaker at his time in Arkham Asylum in Detective Comics #1.
The story arc runs for 23-issues and spans in a number of comic titles of Batman allies/family members such as Batman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Batman & Robin, Detective Comics, Teen Titans, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Suicide Squad.
Joker’s Return to Gotham City
Ever the male Diva, Joker knows how to make a great entrance and even though he usually makes other people dirty their hands for his deeds this is not the case this time.
Snyder probably captures a side of Joker that we have never seen before. Knowing that this face removal was a mark for a new beginning for Joker makes it easier to digest but never did we suspect that Joker’s cruelty and madness can grow any larger. Yet, they did.
Joker’s return to Gotham is marked with his visit at the GCPD, the police station where Commissioner Gordon is present. Suffice to say that the visit ends in a bloodbath with Gordon left alive in the middle of a nineteen dead police officers.
At the entirety of the above story and the killing spree Joker brought us into, it is clear that Joker has plans that he is not immediately sharing with us. Snyder makes it clear that he is not there to just kill Gordon, that would be easy in his situation, but he is out for something much greater.
Mentioning his family, his secrets and what probably made us shiver at the back of our necks mentioning that he sometimes lays under Gordon’s bed at his house when he sleeps and hearing what he says at night made all the difference in making this scene from an action scene to a horror scene.
Throughout the comic book story, we get glimpses of past stories. A history that repeats itself. Joker resurrects past stories and events that happened decades ago. His transformation at ACE Chemical factory, the Gotham Reservoir poisoning, the death of Jason Todd that took place in the comic with a similar name “A Death in the Family” and more. It seems that he is bored with the current Batman and wants to bring out the old one. The one that was strong, tireless and ruthless when needed to be, thus he targets the people that he believes are responsible for his weakness.
Snyder keeps us on our toes with his story and the art of Greg Capullo make it even better. If at any point of your comic reading history you’ve wanted to have nightmares by reading a comic (I don’t know why you would want to) this is the one.
Throughout the arc, we understand what makes Joker the archnemesis Batman will never beat. Joker’s “superhuman” strength is messing with peoples minds and this is not something that Batman can easily deal with. In this case, Joker is not just messing with Batman’s mind but his friends and family too which makes it even harder.
He abducts Alfred Pennyworth and then taunts Batman at Gotham Bridge where he confesses part of his plan. Joker knows everything. He knows the secret identities of all Batman’s friends and if that’s not enough he tells them that Batman is the one that is going to kill them.
What follows is a crazy adventure through the nightmare factory. Batman enters Arkham Asylum after figuring out Joker’s plan. Joker, as usual, is there and waiting but this time he is not alone. Batman goes through his old enemies one by one after Joker set them free. Scare Crow, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface as a small taste set there to remind Batman of his old self and if they are not enough Joker has something even more spectacular set up for the finale. Penguin, Two-face, Riddler, and Joker await him at the very end.
After Joker shows a video of Batman’s team, Batman lets himself be captured and with the help of a small electric charge in the brain he goes unconscious just to find himself back in the Batcave a little while later, surrounded by his friends, all tied up and with bloodied hoodies.
One of the reasons we loved this comic is the questions that it makes us ask. Why does Batman doesn’t simply kill Joker? Is it really because of his moral compass or is there something more than what we’ve been reading all these years?
With the conclusion of Death of the Family, we finally get answers to some of these questions.
Joker lived for his encounters with Batman, he never really cared for the man under the mask or what he does during the day. Batman was his fuel for existence and maybe at a deep level even considered himself the only friend or family Batman ever had and wanted to “help” him by destroying those that held him hostage from his true self.
Maybe in a subconscious level, Batman himself thought of Joker something as an adversary to admire. Or someone that kept his senses sharp in a town full of dull criminals and thugs Joker was something different and maybe that’s the reason he did not kill him when he had the chance.
In a way, there was a relationship that somehow kept both of them in shape and when one of them disappeared for a whole year Batman did became soft and relied on others.