Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Death of the Family Finale: Batman #17 (and the arc as a whole)

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I'm going to try to review this without spoilers and then do a spoiler-laden one beneath it because there is a lot to say here.

This arc has been building up to this finale for five months and (somehow) 23 issues of books. I'm just going to say right now: If the history books decide that this isn't a classic, it is because of the ocean of utter insanity that was the tie-in stories.

If this had been limited to Nightwing and Batgirl, this could have been more streamlined and less... bad.

But between the Batman & Robin tie-in that made Damian look incompetent, the Detective Comics tie-in that had no actual connection to the story but had the label slapped on anyway, the Red Hood & The Outlaws-Teen Titans crossover/tie-in that made no sense and kept losing focus, the Suicide Squad tie-in that was good for all of maybe six pages, and the pile of steaming garbage that was the Catwoman tie-in, I honestly have gained nothing besides the fact that Joker has somehow obtained the time-travel device Hermoine Granger had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and is now using it to appear in multiple places in the span of a few hours.

The only other explanation would be that Joker has decoy versions of himself running around. When this thing is consolidated into a graphic novel, it needs to just be the main title because these tie-ins drag this thing down tremendously.

As to the finale itself: It's good. It's really good. If you take the main title for itself, it could well be a all-time story. BUT it will not take a position as one of the greatest Batman stories of ever.

Just all kinds of creepy here.
The art might. Heck, Greg Capullo's work on this issue alone is absolutely immaculate. It was both enjoyable and sickening to see the progressively rotting slab of flesh that Joker has attached to his head in all its disturbing glory.

The panels hearken back to the era of 1980s Batman, and the flow of the first and last few pages will give you a Killing Joke/Dark Knight Returns kind of feeling.

And the story itself, taken strictly from the Joker vs. Batman dynamic is on par with those legendary tales. The biggest problem with this story is that it leaves too much unanswered and the events that lead between the epic start and epic conclusion had some holes in them.

Overall, while I would say the core title of this event deserves a place in the pantheon of must-read Batman titles, it's just a hair below The Killing Joke, which remains, for me, as the gold standard of Batman stories.

What are these issues? Look below for my spoiler-filled thoughts, both positive and negative.

Here we go.
I'm really not sure why it is that Joker goes through all this trouble to find the Bat-family members when he didn't do anything to them. He's making a grand point about his face and why he cut it off, but then why do a big reveal that you cut their faces off, only to have them be fake faces?

I will give credit to the foresight that both the heroes and the fake faces wore masks, implying to an unsuspecting reader that the faces are fake, but the question remains, why?

Also, I'm not sure why Joker went through the dramatic face routine only to have the Family kill itself using his mind-controlling Joker gas. I mean, I get that he couldn't unleash it on them when he and Batman were there, but why did he tell Batman about it? Did he want Batman to leave the fight and get them, to choose strong or weak? Because that defeats the purpose of what he said he wanted to prove.

That said, I like the twist, I love how they beat it together, and I love that Batman finally grew to trust them all to solve their problems without getting involved and being their savior. I just don't see the logical connection between all three given the point Joker was making throughout the story.

I do love that Batman had a reason for knowing that the Joker wasn't targeting everyone's identities. And it really is one of the few times where it's shown that Joker really doesn't want to know Batman's identity. It's also great how Joker freaks when Batman threatens that he knows who Joker was.

Kudos to Capullo again on his flashback Joker, where he was still scarred on his face like the Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger variations of the character. There were nice callbacks everywhere, from the 80s paneling, to the scars, to the old-school joy buzzer and acid-spitting flower.

I also like that the Family has trouble facing Bruce and aren't coming around him immediately after the fight ends.

Lastly, kind of a nitpick, but does anyone know why Joker wore a mechanic's uniform for so many issues? It's probably not supposed to be a huge detail, but the tie-ins used it to death as well so I would have liked some explanation of that.

Overall, there is a lot to like here and the overall story is great, but there are just enough chinks in the armor to prevent it from hitting its ultimate potential. I still see "The Court of Owls" as Scott Snyder's best Batman arc, and the "Night of the Owls" crossover as generally stronger than DOTF thanks to none of the tie-ins really sucking. But the core story here is great, and Snyder's part may place him somewhere in the #3-#5 range of best Joker stories. Definitely something you'll want to own.

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