Comicscape: Batman #17 (Mania.com)

By:Joel Rickenbach
Date: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Source: MANIA.com

Welcome to the all-new Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week is solely devoted to the conclusion of the Death of the Family arc currently running through the Batman family of books. Enjoy!


 

Batman #17 (by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo) I'm still pondering this arc as a whole. Those who dislike it will tell you it's ultimately hollow, and didn't really change all that much. A lot of secrets and misdirection for nothing. Those who loved it will say it's layered and subtle. Something that will leave emotional and psychological scars for some time to come. I can see both sides of this argument, but ultimately the question boils down to- “Is it worth reading?” and the answer is definitely a “yes.” Spoilers below!


This story was destined to be a victim of hype, from DC and fans alike. To a point where what's going on in the book may be a bit obscured. The arc is called “Death of the Family” for a reason-- The Joker believes Batman's extended family of crime fighters are making him soft. Underneath they are not made of the same stuff as the bat or himself. How he plans to prove this to Batman, or what his scheme to separate them is, involves a lot of cat and mouse, and a fly in the ointment that may or not be coincidence. To be honest, I'm not concerned with all the elaborate set-ups, and horror-like window dressing-- The giant mallets, the tapestry of bodies, the eternally dancing victims, the Camelot court-- some of it is very cool (I loved the flaming horse!), but ultimately those gags are irrelevant to what the Joker is really trying to accomplish. He's trying to drive a wedge between Batman and his family, If Bruce is sitting at an empty table next Thanksgiving, then mission accomplished. The “how” involves trust, the “why”, and this is the creepy bit, involves love.


The Joker is in love with Batman, and he's not afraid to admit it. It's a well traveled idea that Batman and The Joker “need” each other, or at the very least make each other what and who they are, but this is the first time I recall The Joker just outwardly wearing his heart (possibly literally) on his sleeve, and just in time for Valentine's Day! With those unrequited affections out in the open, The Joker's desire to push the bat family into the realm of your estranged Aunt from Reseda, who you never call and avoid at family gatherings, makes sense. That's the “why” (or at least as Joker tells it), but the “how” is a bit more convoluted. The most powerful weapon Mr. J has at his disposal is not his patented toxin, or a loaded gun, but one that can plant a seed that grows stronger with each tick of the mind- doubt. His chilling revelation, the "wedge", is that he knows the identities of Batman's wards, and Batman has been aware of that fact for some time. The distrust from the family comes quickly, but the real twist is Batman having doubts himself. Some time ago, after a memorable tussle with The Joker, Batman returned to his cave and found a joker card lying on the floor. Did the Joker follow him and compromise everything, or was it a remnant from their fight the night before that he didn't realize found its way back with him? Batman has plenty of evidence to prove The Joker didn't actually break in- doing so would include many impossibilities, but even with all the logical proof, the seed of doubt is still there, growing. 


All of this culminates in Batman #17, with a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style dinner table scene. The impact of this scene really hinges on whether or not you've read all the tie-in books. Readers have been teased with the abduction of the bat family, and what's under those silver platters The Joker is obsessed with. If you've read just the core Batman title, the platters really don't mean anything to you, if you've read the other bat books then you are most likely dying to know. What's ultimately underneath is immediately seen as a typical Joker gag to the reader, we (unfortunately) know there is no way what's presented before us is true, and it's here that the book will suffer a lot of criticism for its hype versus payoff. As much as I love this arc (and it's growing as I write this), I cannot defend the choices made. Personally, I'm fine with it, because I never bought into the hype, but many fans thought they were going to get a monumental revelation, only to be left cold (literally). As I mentioned earlier, I think the reaction to this scene has clouded a lot of the really engaging stuff that follows. The Joker ramps up the romance further by claiming Batman actually loves him more than his sidekicks, in fact, they are actually just sacrificial lambs for Joker to slaughter, and for Batman to avenge. The climax of the issue deals a lot with identity. Joker's big play has been the knowledge of the bat family's identities, however unproven. What Batman has learned throughout all of this is The Joker is actually not obsessed with their true identities, but rather their masks. He even wears a mask of his own face, and knowing who is beneath Batman's cowl would actually destroy this fantasy world he has created. To boil the Batman down to a regular person is unthinkable. Of this he has proof: Years ago, after he found the card in the batcave, he visited Arkham Asylum as Bruce Wayne. Unmasked, he confronted the Joker with the card, and the clown prince's cold, glazed over eyes had no interest. Maybe he was heavily sedated, maybe his mind was in another place, or maybe he just can't bear the thought of destroying the fantasy that keeps him relevant. Batman also uses identity to turn the tables on the Joker in the end, and it's a rather brilliant moment. 


I would bet that many readers will come around to this arc after a second reading, particularly in trade where you will get the story all at once. It's easy to get distracted by the hype, and one you get past that there is still some bombast to obscure the true intentions of the story. It's by no means perfect, my biggest nitpick would be many of Batman's reactions. There's far too many instances of "You monster!", or a simple "No!". Batman should have the ultimate poker face, but he often comes across as a rookie, and that's an advantage you don't want to give away. Also, there needs to be a moratorium on the Joker putting tiny trace amounts of a substance in his concoctions that are actually clues. It's used multiple times here, although the last one is pretty great. The ending to this arc definitely sets up repercussions in the bat family of books, how long that will be the status quo remains to be scene, but outside the books we have a story that demands attention. How it settles in the annals of Batman lore is up to time, and those who spend it reading.


Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.




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