Batman Volume 3: Death of the Family
Medium: comic
Year: 2012
Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller: Greg Capullo
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Keywords: superhero
Format: Batman #13-17
Series: << Batman >>
Website category: Batman
Review date: 11 December 2021
Once again, this graphic novel is only collecting the core Batman issues from a sprawling DC crossover of Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Catwoman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Suicide Squad and Teen Titans. I don't even like the core story, though, so I definitely won't be reading the whole thing.
It's a Joker story and I admire the strength of its portrayal of him. It's one-sided and only interested in the character as a terrifying psycho without ever truly making him a clown, but never mind. He terrifies Gordon. He makes Batman irrational. He's scary, he's disgusting and recently he let someone cut his face off. (It's a bad look for him, by the way. It's serial killer chic, yes, and something new, but personally I tend to find faces more expressive than non-faces.) It's impressive and memorable, though.
The only bit that feels wrong is that early scene where he's the Terminator, single-handedly killing an entire police station. No gas. No clever tricks. Uh-huh. It fits Snyder's chosen characterisation for him, but personally I think it actually damages the character to make him Evil Superman. If you think about it, he's the anti-Batman. They're both pretty much the pinnacle of DC heroes/villains, scaring even their own allies, and both of them do it without superpowers. That said, though, Snyder's been thinking about the Joker's motivations and his mad logic. That's the best thing here, actually. There are lots of insights, which you can ignore if you like since the character's a fruitcake who'll believe something different tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the plot flails around. The Joker kills some cops. Then he re-enacts classic Bat-stories (adding pointless changes) and kills more people. Harley Quinn is briefly involved. He targets Batman's friends. There's a confrontation on a bridge. He takes over Arkham Asylum. He drags in some famous faces (Riddler, Penguin, Two-Face). Then he gets the whole Bat-family at his mercy, which he then pisses away on a cop-out finale. (Snyder could easily have killed a Robin or two in the New 52, but even without that, there were lots of non-fatal ways of making this ending less rubbish.)
Theoretically, I like Snyder's approach to the Bat-family. I like the scene where everyone challenges Batman on his bizarre secrecy, for instance. Unfortunately, though, I was cheering for the Joker and hoping that he'd kill the costumed hangers-on. Furthermore, his plan would have been more meaningful under Grant Morrison, before the New 52, when Batman was a loner in name only and the Bat-family really was a family.
The continuity is distracting. The New 52 was a reboot, except when it wasn't. It's confusing. There are references here to The Killing Joke, The Man Who Laughs and A Death in the Family. (Also, more subtly, to The Dark Knight Returns with "darling".) However, the references are "wrong", whatever that means. PREVIOUSLY: Barbara Gordon was crippled in The Killing Joke and became Oracle. SUDDENLY: she's able-bodied again and she's Batgirl. What kind of retcon is this? The Killing Joke both happened and didn't happen? Also, do I care? Not even slightly, and it doesn't matter anyway, since the New 52 would itself soon get rebooted in DC Rebirth... but it's pulling me out of the book and making me think about pointless fan issues. (Also, it makes the DC universe less inclusive.)
Similarly, this Bat-family includes the Jason Todd who was famously killed by the Joker in A Death in the Family (1988), then resurrected in Under the Hood (2005). Snyder's Joker mentions this. The past happened! No, it didn't happen! Oh, sod it. Admittedly, though, I wouldn't have cared if Snyder and the New 52 hadn't both deliberately drawn my attention to the continuity snarl.
Also, the Joker's dialogue is written in a font that's not easy to read. He talks a lot.
In fairness, I should reserve judgement. This Joker's story continues in volume 7: Endgame. This is a spectacular portrayal of Batman's ultimate foe, in which he does terrible things that will have fanboys calling this an classic Joker story. Its individual chapters are strong. Its use of Harley Quinn is memorable. It's also a mess.