I just finished what might have been the best Joker story I’ll ever read.
First, a few non-spoiler thoughts on what writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascencia have accomplished in BATMAN #17, the finale of the “Death of the Family” story. The Joker’s giant chess game against Batman ends in a way that’s damn nearly perfect on every level, reframing their eternal battle in a genius and even bittersweet way that proves yet again that even if Batman is the one who lives longer, The Joker is the one who’ll always win. This is yet another A+ effort from Snyder and his team.
So if you’re still with me and haven’t read the issue yet, please stop reading this review and go get the issue and come back when you can. I’ll be waiting.
Ready for spoilers?
What was The Joker’s goal from the outset? To prove to Batman that the family is bringing him down. Making him weak. Diluting his brand. Dragging him away from the purity of the symbol that once saved him. (And there’s almost a meta element to that, too, with some readers feeling that all the characters and continuities in the comics these days are a little too complex for comfort.) And while many of us, including Batman and his family, figured The Joker’s plan was simply to kill the family to prove his point, the reality was infinitely more calculated and cruel.
BATMAN #17 Cover by Greg Capullo
(Click on the image to purchase this issue!)
Yes, he kidnapped the family and played with their minds and gassed them with Joker toxin so they’d tear each other apart. But here’s the kicker. He knew they’d never really tear each other apart. He didn’t want them to tear each other apart. What The Joker wanted was for everyone to survive, so that a renewed Bruce would think he was proving The Joker wrong yet again by embracing his family with more openness and optimism than ever before... while the family itself, exhausted from yet another physically and emotionally devastating day of being dragged through hell by the madman’s battle with their father figure, would need to pull away.
Murdering them would only have made Batman stronger and more focused than ever. Leaving them alive but having them keep their distance from Bruce of their own accord will break his heart. The Joker still proves his point while accomplishing it in a way we never could have predicted.
And the way The Joker literally uses science to get the last laugh against Batman is brilliant. Bruce survives this chess match, but The Joker wins it by a light year.
And what can be said of this art team that hasn’t already? Capullo’s Joker got more ghastly each issue, culminating in the inhuman devil we see here. From the most terrifying costumed moments to the emotional bits sold by Capullo’s expressive faces, this book looks like aces from top to bottom. FCO’s colors, especially the splotches of “blood” seeping through the bandages covering the family’s faces, are particularly noteworthy here, with Glapion’s inks precisely lifting all the right lines to perfection. Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt up the emotion and urgency with solid lettering as always.
Wow! I’m still reeling from this one. I keep throwing the word “genius” around, but it’s true. This story finds an original angle for showing us why The Joker is the greatest comic book villain of all time, with Snyder crafting what might be the mightiest victory he’ll ever win against The Batman. Hell, despite the death and depravity of the previous issues, there’s even a certain degree of decency in The Joker’s victory here. Mercy was his tool of manipulation this time, and I look forward to seeing how Bruce and Batman move forward from this one. Massive thanks as always to Snyder and his team for reminding us what makes these characters work in ways that are original and inspired. - John Bierly