Last week I wrote that I’d been disappointed by Detective Comics #13, John Layman and Jason Fabok’s opener of ‘Emperor Penguin’. Therefore I approached ‘Death of the Family’ with trepidation. I needn’t have. Absent since Detective Comics #1, the Joker’s return has been a long time coming, but well worth the wait.
Written by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman), with artwork by Ed Benes (Birds of Prey, Superman), this is one of the New 52 I’d completely ignored, up until now. However, to describe this as a prologue to ‘Death of the Family’ is somewhat improper. Although I’m sure regular readers of Batgirl will be somewhat pleased – the issue opens with her bleeding out after battling Knightfall – the story isn’t interrupted by this crossover event. It is a gripping read.
In an interview with USA Today, Simone stated “the Joker is the guy who haunts your nightmares…there genuinely is something terrifying about him” and promises “memorable” moments between the two when their paths cross.
And then, the one page appears which earns this the title of ‘prologue’. Being one page, it’s impossible to comment without spoiling.
There is an appearance by another well known sociopath however, having recently escaped Arkham, bearing gifts. Between this, Knightfall and Bene’s art, which is fantastic, I may well become a regular reader of this title. I’d been tempted to skip this but I’m glad I didn’t (I’m now also locked in for Catwoman #13 – another prelude to the Death of the Family storyline – written by Ann Nocenti, with artwork by Adriana Melo and Julio Ferreira).
However, this was the appetiser.
DC allowed Snyder the freedom to do something new and he produced The Court of Owls one of the better Batman stories in recent times. Tackling an iconic villain is another matter however – Snyder uses the history of the character to his advantage, rather than being crushed by the weight of it. Taking cues from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke and Christopher Nolan/Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Snyder has managed to get under the skin of DC’s greatest villain. Whilst Capullo had already proved himself a worthy Batman artist – this will propel him into the annals of time.
Snyder and Capullo’s Joker is charismatic, genuinely scary and referential to the greatest Joker stories. The redesign is dramatic, a twist on a well established theme, however it’s beautifully in keeping with the tone of the book. The strobe work only heightens tension and the senseless brutality. This is a Joker which will know your fear and exploit it – to 11. Having previously crippled Batgirl and killed Robin, one can only imagine what the Joker will do on his return to Gotham. It seems he has uncovered a secret or two in his absence.
The backup story, which is more of an additional scene, co-written by Snyder and Tynion IV with Jock on art, is a wonder. It demonstrates not only Gotham’s finest fear the Joker, although I’ve never enjoyed the character it introduces.
All in all this has set up an amazing Joker story. For once, believe the hype.
Batgirl and Batman #13 were released today October 10th, 2012. ‘Death of the Family’ continues next week, October 17th in Catwoman #13.