In which Liz and Taylor both have a read of the same comic and write about it. Sometimes they agree. Lots of times they don’t. This time, it’s Batman #14.
I should love this. Batman was my first favourite superhero, and looms large over the capes ‘n tights brigade still. Scott Snyder is the mind behind one of my favourite books, American Vampire, and wrote a Detective Comics run which I thought was a modern classic. Greg Capullo drew comics I didn’t read and made me wish they were more readable, then he came to Batman and in 6 issues made more compelling art than anyone (possibly excepting Travel Foreman) had done in recent DC history.
But the climax of Court of Owls (“I’m your BROTHER!!”) left me cold, and involved all too much talky talky stuff. It felt like a writer’s vision, one better expressed in a movie or a novel than in a comic book.
And now the Joker. Because despite the New 52 and the fresh takes we’re meant to believe are being created on all these decades old characters, this new Batman still has mad history with the Joker. Who has his face belted to his head thanks to another regrettable Batman storyline which everyone should just pretend didn’t happen. Which has made him darker, more deadly, more violent than ever before. It’s made him a neck-breaking shadow-master, a planner who has infiltrated and poisoned (literally) the lives of all his prey. It’s made him the perfect horror protagonist. Or rather, Snyder has. I’m not sure how much more mileage Snyder can get out of applying horror genre structures and techniques to Batman books. It worked great on Detective and the first half of Court of Owls. Now it’s a little tired.
But whoa, can you feel that? It’s the stakes-ometer being cranked up to 11 by the unseen hand of DC Editorial, and Snyder’s powerless. This is the BIGGEST Joker story ever! It’s the DEFINITIVE take on this ancient rivalry! Someone will DIE! I think I’d like this more if the script undercut the grandiosity of these claims, if the story wasn’t crammed with word balloons intended to add to the mood but instead deflating it. If we weren’t re-working the “Batman has to do this alone” motif once again. If the Bat-Family weren’t so uniformly under-characterised due to their new histories and sub-par title books, such that I agree with Joker that they’re holding Batman back, but since we know they’ll still come out on top I just resent Bruce for his poor judgment, them for their inadequacy, and feel that Joker’s wasting his time. He’s the pathetic guy at the bar who is actually right about everything, but powerless to do anything but obnoxiously rant about it.
And who wants to read about that guy?
Hi. My name is Liz, and I am a Bataholic.
It all started when some kids my age gave me some Frank Miller books after school. I succumbed to peer-pressure and the addiction spiralled out of control from there. Between now and then I’ve read just about every Batman comic I could get my hands on, and still cannot get enough of that Gotham-y goodness. Don’t say ‘no’ to Batman, kids, or you will totally look like a loser.
The Batman I’ve been pushing on everyone lately is Scott Snyder’s current run, in which recent steam-gathering has finally exploded in the pages of Batman #13. As the momentum carries on full-throttle into #14 this week, I can say that this, my friends, is the good stuff.
Death of the Family is the story arc we’ve been waiting for since the New 52 Batman began: the return of the Joker. After getting his face sliced off in the pages of Detective and having gone missing (presumed dead) for a full year, the Joker has come home to Gotham, and it’s immediately apparent that he hasn’t spent his vacation time wind-surfing and sipping Margaritas.
The first issue of this arc was a creepy thrill-ride, full of hold-your-breath, white-knuckle moments and ending with a gasp. It accomplished a lot, and packed plenty of story and setup into its pages. My only gripe about issue #13 is that it may have benefited from coming out as an over-sized issue, though the creators made excellent use of the space they had and still pulled it off rather seamlessly. Issue #14 is just as fantastic, and ends with another jaw-dropper. Largely, all of this is due to Scott Snyder’s take on the Joker.
The Joker has always been a tricky character to get right; he’s Batman’s nemesis, and we’re meant to fear and revile him, but there’s also an element of tragicomedy essential to him that, if done wrong, comes off as silly and well… not scary. Violent? Sure. Crazy? Sure. But not scary. Many writers, even some very good writers, have been unable to pull it off.
Back before the New 52 kicked off, Snyder ripped the rug out from under everyone when his Black Mirror storyline (starring Gotham’s cheeriest-ever Boy Wonder Dick Grayson) turned into a pitch-black nightmare. Court of Owls, particularly the mind-melting psychotropic mirror-maze issue, is some of the freakiest mainstream comics I’ve seen in a while. Snyder writes good horror, and horrifying is what this Joker is. Snyder’s Joker is a bogeyman, the monster under the bed, crawling up out of the dark to reveal that he’d been there all along. He’s more deranged, more methodical and more physically gruesome than ever before. Let’s not short-change Greg Capullo either; the Joker’s introduction is film-worthy its atmosphere of suspense, and then when you finally get an eyeful…
I groove on books like this. I love to be scared. I love to come to the last page of a book and be left with cliffhanger anxiety. What I especially love is that reading these issues made me so bat-crazy that I wanted to reread as much Batman as possible, immediately. I went on a rampage, ripping graphic novels off the shelves and crouching in front of comic-boxes, flinging issues of Nightwing hither and thither and reading War Games from start to finish without coming up for air.
If Death of the Family stays as good as it’s been, this is a story I’ll be foisting on people for years to come, as I am wont to do with books I love. It’s got all the ingredients (so far at least) that make for a Batman/Joker classic, and an example of why I got hooked on this stuff in the first place.