Death of the Family was one of the most anticipated crossovers of 2012. When DC Comics rebooted its universe with the New 52, Detective Comics #1 featured a story where the Joker and the Batman faced off early in their career, but then DC did something very unexpected, they shelved the Joker. The Joker willing let the Batman capture him and was sent to Arkham Asylum, where he met up with the Dollmaker. Within the walls the Joker asked Dollmaker to do something grotesque, remove his face Nicholas Cage style! Joker pins his removed mug to the wall and escapes, not to be seen for an entire year, until Detective Comics #12 back in October! What a great time of the year to start such a macabre story! Death of the Family would then run throughout most of the Bat-books including: Detective Comics, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Catwoman, Suicide Squad, and Teen Titans, with the main story taking place in Scott Snyder‘s and Greg Capullo‘s Batman.
Warning Spoilage Ahead!
Scott Snyder has a
talent to deliver terror and unease throughout his stories. His work on the New 52’s Batman and Swamp Thing and in Vertigo‘s American Vampire is close to unparalleled, with Jeff Lemire being his strongest opponent in the field. In the pages of Batman #13 the Joker lays siege to the GCPD to recover his face, in this assault he murders 19 police officers with ease and taunts Commissioner Gordon like no other can! The Joker has been written on many different levels, always psychotic, but Snyder’s take brings our favorite prince of crime to a whole new level. The game has begun and Batman is on his trail. Clues lead the Dark Knight to A.C.E. Chemicals where Batman faces down a figure dressed in the Joker’s old persona, the Red Hood. Revealing this pretender to be Harley Quinn, Batman demands to know where the Joker is, only to bring Quinn to tears who tells Batman that the Joker is not the same person that she used to know. Very creepy. Snyder than flashes to Wayne Manor to the doorbell ringing and Alfred answering the door, who’s there? None other than the Joker who attacks Pennyworth with a hammer! This is the last time we see Alfred until the finale in Batman #17. Snyder does a wonderful job making you believe that the Joker has murdered Alfred throughout the crossover. The other plot point is that everyone is convinced that the Joker knows the identities of all the family, but Batman does his best to quell their fears saying that he doesn’t believe the Joker does. Bruce is convinced that Alfred’s capture is only because of Bruce Wayne’s involvement with Batman Inc and he will not harm him. The other books involved in the crossover all lead up to the entire family being kidnapped by the Joker. I didn’t have the time or the cash to take on every single issue so I stuck to my favorites of the Bat family, Nightwing and Batgirl. I really was interested in reading Batgirl due to the classic story ‘The Killing Joke‘ by Alan Moore, where Joker had shot and crippled Barbara was left in tact as cannon in the New 52. What changed for the reboot is that she never became Oracle, but instead recovered from her injuries and remains Batgirl. This side story by DC great Gail Simone is my favorite supporting story of the crossover. I also read Nightwing on a regular basis, but this tie-in was not that strong, mostly being a device to allow Dick to be captured like the rest of the family in order for the the Joker’s plan to work. Like I said before, Alfred’s disappearance creates a real element of unease throughout all of the books. Each creator ends their tie-in with the Joker capturing each one of the Bat-family and showing them a covered platter with blood leaking from under the cover. I was convinced that it was Alfred the entire time, but I wondered if DC would really let Snyder murder everyone’s favorite butler, a character that has such an influence over Bruce Wayne and the Batman comics in general. I was very convinced that with Snyder’s success that perhaps DC had given him the go ahead, but I will get to that in a second.
What I really enjoyed in the story was Joker’s take-over of Arkham Asylum. This move showed the power that the Joker has over all of Batman’s rogue gallery, he may not be the strongest but he is most definitely the smartest and the scariest of all the baddies. The other rogues all know this and respect that about the Clown. The Joker creates a farce of castle royalty at Arkham, placing each of Batman’s villains as different roles in “his kingdom”. The Joker of course playing the jester to Batman’s king. The support stories in each issue of Batman shows how the Joker recruited/forced each of the rogues to his cause, these stories also written by Snyder are the best parts of the event. The Joker holds Batman on such a pedestal, describing his family as deterrents to Batman’s greatness, his friends make him weak and by removing them from the picture the Joker is convinced that he will make Batman stronger! So what or who was under the platter that the Joker had presented to everyone? Each of their faces, or so he wanted them to believe! The Batman captured and placed at a table with all of his friends, whose faces are wrapped in bandages. Snyder finally reveals his twist as a drugged Alfred makes his way out of the shadows with a wide grin on his face. I don’t think I was ready for it to be Alfred on those platters served up to the family, I am not sure how I would of reacted, but I was VERY eager to get my hands on issue #17 before it got spoiled for me. I think the ending is a little lackluster, only because Snyder reveals that it’s not Alfred platted up, but also that each of the sidekicks’ faces are not really on the plates as well! The Joker is crazy enough to do it, so why does Snyder throw in this extra twist only to make it not true? I believe its to see if Batman would lose his cool when presented with the situation, as the Joker had booby-trapped each of the seats at the table to go up in flames if Bats decided to stand up. Batman of course is one step ahead of the Joker pulling the ceiling down revealing a reservoir of water conveniently above them, dousing the fire. Batman pursues the escaping psychopath into the caves, but the Joker has one more card up his sleeve, his creepy cat thing explodes Joker gas into the room with the family, but this is an extra-strong dose of the gas causing everyone to fight among themselves! But Batman has faith that they can overcome this assault and continues his chase, the Joker would not get away this time. Perhaps the only insight into the Joker’s identity and past is within the pages of The Killing Joke, this “embarrassing” past comes into play at the end of the story as Batman holds the Joker over a chasm telling him that he would take this chance to wipe the Joker out of existence, to break his rule this time. Snyder makes the right choice here, even though teasing throughout the story that Batman was considering ending the Joker’s life to save others, Snyder makes the Joker choose his own fate. The Joker distraught that Batman “knows” his true identity, shocks Batman in the face with his “hand-shocker” causing Batman to drop him of the cliff. The last we see is the Joker’s sewed on face floating into nothing, and Batman still not truly knowing who the Joker truly is. Is this the last we will see of the clown? Of course not, the Joker is the Yang to Batman’s Ying, the two will always be locked in eternal battle.
So is this a story that will stand with all of the other great Batman tales? Perhaps. I give Death of the Family, 4 outta 5 stars. Scott Snyder delivers a truly tense and terrifying tale straight up to issue #17 and does a great job guiding the writers of all the tie-ins to lead up to the climatic scene in the finale. I like the theme that the Joker believes that all of Batman’s friends make him weak but truly they make him strong, no man is an island. The idea of the Batman is such a dark, sad story that without people like Dick Grayson, he would get lost in that darkness, possibly, eventually letting it overcome him. Greg Capullo’s version of the Joker is truly disgusting and disturbing, an element of the story that also takes this terrifying tale to a new level. Like I stated the ending is a little underwhelming, but Snyder’s ability to make us all believe that he had killed off Alfred throughout the entire crossover is applauded. The Joker always shows up big when he goes up against the Batman, and I am looking forward to their next encounter!
Death of the Family spans the following books, I suggest you check it out:
Stay tooned 😛