Batman: Death of the Family

Dodano: 12 July 2013

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The author of the article is Łukasz Chmielewski. You can learn more about the author here.

Scott Snyder is an author who’s really hard to classify. You are starting to admire him and suddenly he resorts to cheap writing tricks that reek of a Marvel mutant-comics soap opera. You are set to think his storylines are bunk and there he surprises with a masterpiece of plotting. Likewise with Batman: Death of the Family.

 

PEARLS IN MUD 

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            The story became well-known right after the shooting at the Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises premiere. I suspect Snyder felt especially ill at ease when he heard about the moron who considered himself a Joker and had decided to kill random people—for a moment the publication of the story hung in the balance. It’s likely if it had been presented in a medium considered more important by the public than comics, we would have waited longer for it to be unveiled.

            The writer announced it was to be the ‘ultimate’ story of Batman/Joker relationship. Ultimate meaning not the final standoff that would end this acquaintance once and for all but the Snyder’s opus magnum where he would include everything he had to say about the conflict between the Bat and the psychopathic clown.

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            What is Death of the Family about? About how the Joker returns to Gotham City after a year’s absence. He more or less has no face*, which is supposed to make him even scarier. He devoted his sabbatical to planning and carrying out a diabolical project: proving to the Bat they are meant to be and no-one else, including Batman’s quasi-family, matters. It doesn’t end there: the Joker is the only one to fully understand his dark nemesis and he is the  Batman’s biggest fan. Not a hugely surprising plot, but in cases like these one needs to wait for the execution. Even more so, because Snyder proved as the Detective Comics and Batman showrunner that he knows how to create an atmosphere and his ideas can be quite original. The endings tend to be worse (vide a disappointing finale of the eleven-part Night of the Owls that may have been taken from Dynasty). Here, it is just the opposite.

            The Joker’s big comeback begins with a police station massacre which, obviously, only James Gordon survives. Unfortunately, the scene (which was hyped in teasers and interviews as a masterpiece of plotting) falls short of the expectations: it’s long-winded, too brief and doesn’t even begin to feel epic.

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            Later the story has its ups and downs but when the writer introduces mind control via a chemical compound created by the Joker and then his taking over the Arkham Asylum and the Bat Cave, you can start to wonder if you aren’t reading a comic book made in the 60s or 70s, so brain-numbing the tricks feel**. Of course, other than that we have the atmosphere, the macabre and it’s plain to see Snyder is a true horror fan. Many will like it, especially since the ties between the Dark Knight and horror stories have always been stronger than in the case of other superheroes. Still, the whole intricate scheme and its execution look like something pulled straight out of Saw films where we might see Jigsaw doing equally absurd things. Technically impossible (even on the pages of a comic book), they are to show the Joker’s criminal genius, yet they elicit an ironic smile and a ‘don’t play with me, Scottie boy’ comment through clenched teeth.

             Yet, despite all those shortcomings and tacky twists, artistically this series is a success. Why? Without revealing plot details, the story shows that the whole Bat Family is hardly a family, just a bunch of freaks who in fact don’t trust their mentor. It’s true he is arrogant and cocky from time to time, but it seems he would never lose faith in any of those close to him. This mechanism doesn’t work both ways, though, hence the story title. The Dark Knight has always fared best when on his own, helped only by Alfred Pennyworth, and that is what Snyder strongly suggests. Unfortunately, DC Comics is rolling in it thanks to the adventures of the Bat’s helpers and they won’t let this curious status quo last too long. Kudos to the writer for trying.

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            I am also under the impression that this storyline is going to enter the Batman canon because of two final panels, which let Snyder prove how unclassifiable he is. There is something in them that brings to mind the ending of The Killing Joke by Moore and Bolland—they’re not as brilliant, but come very close. Short, simple, laconic, but so ingenious and striking that it gives the reader the chills.

            It’s interesting that if this storyline was assessed apart from the Batman continuum, despite its numerous shortcomings, it would actually be one of the most gripping Bat stories ever.

            Most of all, however, Death of the Family is worth buying for Greg Capullo’s artwork. The artist initially thought of as Todd McFarlane copycat has long surpassed the Canadian puppet master in terms of technique and concepts. Capullo is absolutely perfect and the only problem with his talent is an irritating penchant for drawing characters with eyes half-closed, enough to remind you of Robert Downey Jr. or Lindsay Lohan . Why such a dab hand draws Bruce Wayne and others this way remains a mystery.

            For some time Scott Snyder has been seen by Batman fans as a miracle worker, the man who gave the beloved character a new lease of life. At times those paeans are actually annoying since Snyder is not of the same calibre as a few classic writers who shaped the story of the Bat. At times his output seems overhyped. But, looking at what has been happening in Batman comic books for a few years, it is easy to forgive his slightly flat-footed dialogues and his affinity for cheap plot twists: now he is really one of the best, most inventive creators working for the Big Two. Which does not necessarily mean superhero comics are in great shape.

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* Someone in DC Comics decided a psychopath with a humongous grin is not scary enough, hence the ridiculous plot point with his losing skin on his face.

** The mind-control idea was last used in the ridiculous crossover Joker’s Last Laugh.

„Batman” Vol. 3: „Death of the Family” HC

Writer: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV

Pencillers: Greg Capullo, Jock

Inkers: Jonathan Glapion, Jock

Letterers: Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt, Sal Cipriano

Colorists: FCO Plascencia, Jock

Publisher: DC Comics (w ramach New 52)

Collects: „Batman” (Vol. 2) #13-17

Cover Date: 15.10.2013

Pages: 176

Format: HC, color

Distribution: libraries / local comic book shops / Internet

Price: US $24.99

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