Thursday, 14 February 2013

Batman #17 review

Last month's Batman Family titles pointed towards a tragic conclusion to the Death of the Family crossover, as the Joker - apparently a fan of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? -brandished a dome-covered silver platter, some unseen atrocity beneath.

This wrap-up opens with the revelation that there's no single plate, but one for each of the four Robins and Batgirl. They're sat around a dinner table in the Batcave, bound, hoods covering their heads.

The Joker summons Bruce Wayne's kidnapped butler, Alfred. He's been 'Joker-fied' into the Clown Prince of Crime's own manservant. Alfred removes the cowls, to display bloodstained bandages covering the young heroes. Joker lifts the lid on the plates to show they've been 'face-scalped'.

And so on. I've an earlier cut of this review with much more of the back and forth, but it's all a bit 'and then ... and then'. Short version - the Batman and Joker fight, but the Joker falls to his quotemarks death after Batman rattles him by revealing that he's deduced his real identity. The Batman Family members look doomed at various points, but fortune favours the brave. Batman wins, but the Joker wins really.

This issue can be divided into a series of 'oh no' and 'phew' moments. If someone's face looks to have been cut off, be assured it's just a spot of Joker fakery. If someone gets 'Jokerised', don't worry, it's a previously unheard-of temporary transformation.

So if you wish to be teased, this is the book for you. Hints that one member of the family wouldn't be making it out alive aren't borne out - marketing hype and DC's track record had fan expectations going one way, but the story finally goes another. The Death of the Family proves to be a thematic title rather than a literal one. No one dies, but the trust which the Robins and Batgirl had in Batman is shattered - Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, Red Robin and Robin, none of them can face Bruce as he tends to Alfred's recovery because the villain whispered Bad Things to them.

Um, okay. The young folk did just learn (Batman #15) that years ago, the Joker may have gotten into the Batcave, and so could have worked out their secret identities, and certain that it wasn't true, Bruce never warned them. Which was stupid of him. But still, when you've lived and worked with a man for years, why the heck would you believe the twisted whisperings of his greatest foe, a lunatic with everything to gain by sowing dissent? It makes for a dramatically downbeat ending, but in terms of the characters, it makes no sense.

Then there are the big awful events of Scott Snyder's script that prove to have no consequence - since when has it been possible for someone to be cured after being Jokerfied, for example? How can a spray burn through Batman's mask - it's actually steaming - without leaving a mark on Bruce Wayne?

And in terms of out-of-nowhere story points, since when has the Joker's real name been such a big deal to him? Even if he has forgotten who he was, why would Batman muttering it to him - of course, the reader doesn't hear - send him even pottier than usual? And how can it be true that Gotham Police have never gotten their hands on Joker DNA? Batman is forever punching the Joker, how hot a boil wash do those bat-gauntlets get?

The worst moment in this issue is Bruce's announcing to Alfred that years ago, just after taking in Dick, he confronted the Joker in Arkham Asylum as Bruce Wayne, making it obvious he was Batman. Sure, the Joker didn't seem to be in a state to notice, or care, but taking the risk rather dents the notion that Batman is the smartest hero out there.

There is one scene this issue I really like, Bruce's nursing of Alfred; Bruce's concern for his own father figure, Alfred's annoyance at being waited on ... it's a tender, wonderfully human scene. I appreciate the true reason Bruce gives for not killing the Joker, beyond 'it's my code'. And credit to Snyder for the final two pages, which are pretty darned clever. I don't know if the science referenced works, but as a clever coda, it's good. Yet to get to those moments we have to wade through page after page of the Joker wittering on about his special relationship with the Batman, and cast members with Plastic Man-like physiologies, able to shake off any horror perpetrated on them..

The leering, fly-ridden Joker of artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, cuddling a two-headed cat, continues to revolt, while the first shot of the transformed Alfred is truly creepy. They convey the horror of Batman's partners even through bandages via body language and eyes. And back at Wayne Manor, the aforementioned Bruce/Alfred emotion is nicely conveyed. The reveal that Damian - and therefore, everyone else - has kept his face is underplayed, but it's one off-panel from Capullo in a generally effective piece of storytelling.

So that's Death of the Family. The tension levels have been high, but the incredulity factor has been off the scale; the message of this story is that the Joker can do anything he wants, bring down anyone with just a word or two in their ear. Batman can't beat him, but never mind, because the Joker's only playing. Sure, Gotham's citizens, police and prison officers get mutilated and murdered, but the Batman Family, despite the whole point of Joker's plan being to remove them, are safe. We've been given thrills, but they've been cheap ones, shocks for the sake of shocks. As for the emotional fallout, it's implausible.

In 17 issues we've had two storylines, one centring on the Court of Owls, the other on the Joker. There's been a done-in-one featuring new character Harper Row and she's getting another go-round next month, before Snyder begins a Riddler storyline. I hope it will be short and tight, rather than rambling and packed with cheap fan service. Based on the evidence so far, I'm not putting money on it.

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For a splendid meditation on Batman's attitude towards killing the Joker, pop across to Colin Smith's always thought-provoking Too Busy Thinking About My Comics. 

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for commenting on new blog and being the first watcher! Seriously, Joker must always have a mattress or something because that guy falls so many times to end his appearances in something. Someone must coin the phrase: Joker Fall, where a villian repeatedly falls to his death but is back to normal later on.

    But yeah, I did enjoy it though I get people's problems with it. I'll continue reading it into the future with excitment as always. The next three issues appear to be pretty small, so this should be a good relaxing break before Riddler appears.

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    1. Ah, so it's three issues, I must be remembering an earlier announced schedule. I really do wish Scott Snyder would settle into shorter stories for awhile, with smaller stakes but more room for subplots and soap.

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  2. This issue was like a condenced "evertything I dislike about the New DC" put together. Long, unending storylines, gore, a lot of gore, so much of it that we don't even notice it anymore (Joker has his face pilled off... what the fuck is that?), the grim 'n gritty of the late 80's with the cinic aproach of the early 00's (nothing from 2013 to be seen), the urge to give a shocking revelation every other two panels, even when we all know it can't be THAT TERRIBLE anyway because Sanit Status Quo Must Be Mantained... yes, we could blame all mainstream comics of this sins, but nowhere are they all together and running as wild as in DC this days... and Snyder is one of the very few good writers they have!!

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    1. Yes, I think I'd like to go back and lose the New 52 tone of almost-relentless grimness. Favourite comics have been ruined, favourite characters have been twisted or vanished altogether, and the good books could have been launched anyway. Bah etc.

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  3. Snyder's work has been the biggest disappointment of the nu52. Longer than overlong storylines, overextended & overly self-important crossovers, "surprise revelations" that are immediately retracted...(and don't forget his Swamp Thing has so far been 17 issues and an annual of the same ongoing story).

    Frankly, much of Snyder's run has the whiff of his trying to outdo Morrison's run, but failing. Every issue doesn't need to be an omnipotent conspiracy against Batman's very soul...can't he just occasionally fight a mugger or bank robber?

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    1. Oh Snell, don't get me started on The Rot, it's going on and on and on, 34-plus issues if you count Jeff LeMire's Animal Man. And still the conclusion doesn't wrap things up.

      What's extra scary is that Scott teaches writing - are we going to get a whole generation of story stretchers?

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  4. As Snell points out, isn't this something like the third omnipotent conspiracy Batman has faced in the last few years? There have been others under other writers, but this is Snyder's third after the Jim Gordon jr and Owls stuff.

    I did flick through this in the store, though, and laughed at the face bit as "classic Ultimate Marvel", but don't understand the last few pages because everyone not trusting Batman suddenly means at some point they would have had to start trusting him again from the last time they stopped trusting him, which happens in a lot of books because writers are constantly pulling "Batman plays his cards close to his chest" moves on characters and the readers - these characters know the drill by now and this seemed unconvincing.

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    1. Nice one on not buying the issue, I'm a daft sod - I really hoped for a satisfying finish. Still, at least I didn't harp on yet again about the need for decent comic book editing.

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  5. I enjoyed this issue, quite a bit, even with the problems it posed from a story and even continuity stand point. I just find it hard to believe that Joker has done this much to this group of people in only five years, including one year of vacation.

    But as for the DNA, I think it isn't that the Gotham PD didn't have Joker's DNA, but rather that they didn't have a match for it in their databases, so no identification could be made, no matches found, except to the Joker.

    I have to agree with the conspiracies thing, though. I think maybe Bruce and Company need to fight a few bank robbers and car jackers for a bit before the next big event happens.

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    1. Hi Hector, I find it impossible to believe that the Joker has done so much to the Batman Family in - so Scott said on last week's Comics Vine podcast - about a week; so many schemes and kidnappings and killings ... It beggars belief.

      On the DNA, interesting point, but Batman says 'there's never been any DNA to link you to...' which sounds as if there was never any DNA to check against what's in the system, rather than the DNA they got not matching anything.

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  6. Hello Martin:- Another fine review in your series on Mr Snyder's Batman run. Thank you. You've absolutely nailed the recurrent problems with plotting, and you've done so in that calm, fair tone that I very much admire.

    I'll be doing my own chin-stroking about this issue over the next few days. It's certainly a fascinating book, though often not in an enjoyable way. As you discuss, the plot certainly doesn't stand up to the slightest measure of scrutiny. Since you've not added the thought this time, perhaps I might step into the breach and wonder who's editing these books?

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    1. Thank you Colin, I'm so looking forward to reading your views over at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics - I know you'll have some fresh insights.

      Meanwhile, well, you said it and I'm not arguing!

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  7. Just to reiterate what one commenter said in regards to the Joker DNA stuff, yeah, they've surely got oodles of the stuff, but no previous conviction and DNA from whoever he was before he was Joker. If he was just Joe Smoe, never committed nuthin' before he became Joker, of course they wouldn't be able to use DNA to find out his original identity.

    Also, Snyder teaches writing?!? That's messed up. He needs an editor.

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    1. Ah, gotcha Isaac - I'm reading the comments backwards. I owe you and Hector a fizzy pop!

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  8. My biggest complaint is that Damian didn't die. He should have and he didn't die. As for the whole "over done plot", actually, if you read JUST the Snyder run, not the tie ins, it's not a bad story. Put away the expectations that DC created (and maybe there was suppose to be someone dying but editorial axed it) and just read the Snyder story.. it's really not bad. It's a story about Batman and Joker, their relationship and how it all impacts the Bat family as a whole. The tie-ins by in large were silly (though we got some pretty art out of it and the Batgirl/James Jr story is the most compelling of all the tie-ins). It's hilarious that Batwoman is not once considered or even mentioned as part of the family, yet she's constantly kept as part of the family, but that's just an aside thought.

    All in all, Joker talks about trying to kill Batman's proteges to make him stronger, but never accomplishes it.. why? Because ultimately Joker is in love with Batman (and doesn't care who is in the suit, as we saw). I think it's an interesting concept and while the Death of a Family series as a whole didn't pan out the way it was advertised, do can you blame the writers for the advertisements that they probably had nothing to do with? Not really.

    Death of the Family does, however, need to have some MAJOR repercussions to really matter. We see Nightwing is apparently leaving Gotham (good, he should have never been there to begin with), we should see Red Hood and Red Robin trying to distance themselves more from Bruce.. and Batman and Robin needs to be axed or have the title changed since they should NOT be a team anymore. Sever all those ties. Babs should probably stay in Gotham especially since it hasn't felt that she's been very close to Bruce in a long, long time, so no biggie. It'd be interesting too if Alfred and Bruce have friction.

    All in all though, Death of the Family really wasn't that long (take out the irrelevant tie-ins that really didn't matter) and it's a 5 issue arc, that's NOT long at all. Jonathan Hickman, whom everyone fawns over, takes vastly longer to tell a story than Snyder and nobody complains (Hickman's entire FF run was one longggggggggggggggggg never ending arc with very little resolution).

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    1. I shall do that, Jan, reread the five issues of Batman on their own. As for repercussions, I've this week bought Nightwing for the first time since the first couple of issues, and am intrigued to see how things move on. A city move at least sounds like major repercussions.

      And yes indeedy, Hickman just goes on and on and on - I've already packed in his two Avengers books.

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  9. As for why Bruce told Joker he was Batman...

    Joker already knew, or could have known if he wanted to. Joker had already been in the cave. That was explained in issue 15. Joker could have easily found out, if he hadn't already connected the pieces to who Batman is. Bruce going to the Asylum was a smart move, because it was testing WHY Joker hasn't taken action against Bruce Wayne or Alfred or Dick even when he could have. And the visit confirms Bruce's theory: Joker doesn't care.

    As for why Batman didn't tell the family that Joker could know their secret identities up until Batman 15...

    Same reason why he didn't tell them (besides Dick) that Alfred was taken. He didn't want them to act emotionally. Because Joker takes advantage of those situations. If they knew Joker knew who they were, they would be extra protective of those close to them, as opposed to being as objective as possible when crime fighting, and Joker would take advantage of that fact. Telling them that the Joker COULD know would make them even more paranoid. It wouldn't help them at all.

    As for them being cured of being "Jokerized"...

    I think the first issue of Morrison's main Batman run, found in the first issue of the Batman and Son graphic novel, has Gordon recovering from being Jokerized. So there is precedent. He's in a hospital, sure, but then we get into ambiguity and nitpicking behind how someone is cured. The point is that a cure is possible.

    As for Batman's face not being affected by Joker's acid burning through his mask...

    I would just go and say this is a nitpick, but that would be a cop-out, wouldn't it? But really, responding genuinely would come off as a nitpick of your criticism here. I would just say it's Batman we're talking here. Or, Batman's costume, rather. It's meant to take a lot of things, Joker's acid included. Realistically, Joker wouldn't be able to talk effectively with his face off, just as, realistically, the acid should burn his face, just as, realistically, Clayface shouldn't be animate. But it's comics. It's Batman. There's a reasonable explanation for why Batman's face isn't burnt out there, but it doesn't need to be explained. Because it isn't important.

    The rest of the family not caring for Alfred while he's recovering, however, was a misstep. The reason behind that should have been explored, and it may in the future. But as it stands, it's certainly something to criticize.

    Enjoyed your review, though obviously I disagree with it. Just found this blog after being directed from Colin Smith's review, and I'll definitely be reading further entries and reviews. Thanks for reading.

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    1. Hi Heisenheimer, thanks for stopping by, and for the thoughtful comments. Some very fair points there. I likely would go a little easier on the book were it not for the disporportionate amount of praise being heaped on this run. The structural things that bug me, the (what I consider) cheats, all could be fixed with a little editorial intervention and more thought on the part of Snyder.

      I thought the question of whether Joker had been in the cave was meant to be ambiguous - or do you read it as Bruce outright lying to his associates when he said J hadn't been in there? Whatever the case, going into his cell maskless seems a risk too many; certainly the Joker could fake a non-reaction.

      But yes, different opinions. I'm genuinely pleased people are getting a Batman they enjoy, even though it's not quite my cup of tea.

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    2. I think Batman knew Joker didn't go in the cave, or at least, he believed Joker didn't go into the cave, because the evidence basically shows that Joker didn't. That's what he told the family.

      But regardless, Batman also knows Joker had the opportunity to go into the cave. Whether or not he actually did was left somewhat ambiguous, but the fact he could have wasn't. If Joker wanted to know, he would know. I think that's the point and the reason behind why Bruce went to Arkham. He wouldn't be telling the Joker anything the Joker wouldn't already know if he wanted to. Is it risky? Probably. But dealing with the Joker in general is risky business. Also, this is a younger Bruce Wayne we're talking about here. And Snyder tends to write him a bit more flawed then he was Pre-NEW 52. And besides any of that, considering Joker could have known if he wanted to, I would say it's worth the risk, so Bruce gains an idea of how the psychotic mind behind the Joker operates. Not only so Batman can fight him effectively, but also so he can get one step closer to figuring out the Joker. Cracking a puzzle, so to speak.

      But I guess it comes down to whether or not one thinks the risk is too great. I can certainly understand your thoughts on these things, though, and I honestly appreciate your perspective. Thanks for the response.

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    3. Seriously, thank you - it's great to get another perspective.

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