Mar 31, 2015

[Comics] Batman: Death of the Family

I pretty much gave up on DC Comics at the New 52 kicked off since the resulting stories felt rather strange to me. As much as the characters all had familiar elements from their respective histories more or less maintained in the new continuity, there were just too many quirks and changes that made things all feel a bit more unusual than I was fully comfortable with. but time and again I dip back into the DC world in order to catch up on major stories.

And thus we come to Batman: Death of the Family, a special crossover event that covers the various Batman-related comic book titles. Naturally the title is reminiscent of of Batman: A Death in the Family, where Jason Todd originally died. In fact, when looking for this story I kept getting the two mixed up and so I kept going back to the older story.

But after a good number of comiXology sales, I finally managed to collect all the different stories that comprise this particular crossover story and got through reading all of them a few weeks ago. The result is quite the ambitious and yet somewhat confusing collection of stories all meant to have a single focus. I think they stretched themselves a little thin, but they had some great moments.

Synopsis: Batman: Death of the Family is a 23-issue crossover comic book story arc centered around the Batman titles with Scott Snyder as pretty much the primary architect of this storyline.. To be specific, the story covers Batman, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Catwoman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Suicide Squad, and Teen Titans. The core story was covered in Batman #13-17.

The Joker has been away from Gotham for about a year now and not even Batman has been able to keep tabs on his whereabouts. For the most part, he's completely disappeared from everyone's radar. But all that changes when the Joker attacks the GCPD and retrieves his face, which had been surgically removed by the Dollmaker at his request. He manages to kill 19 police officers in the process but luckily (?) Commission Gordon survives. His next threat involves Mayor Hardy and a televised threat that he'll kill the mayor. Batman quickly gets on the case and attempts to weed out the Joker's plan as it becomes more and more clear that he is revisiting the locations of his past crimes when he first appeared in Gotham.

But at the same time, the Joker begins to strike out against known associates of Batman beginning with the kidnapping of Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. As the Bat Family fears that the Joker may have determine their secret identities, one by one they find themselves facing off with the Joker himself. His main thrust is that all of them have diminished the Batman somehow and the only way the Joker will get back the Batman he thinks the world needs is by dealing with each of them in his unique fashion.

The main Batman arc penned by Snyder is absolutely brilliant. He demonstrates a rather nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between Batman and the Joker, or at least manages to capture it quite well in this story. These issues are the highlight of the whole arc and the image of the joker with his face loosely attached to his head makes for quite the chilling image.

The tie-in comics come out being of highly varying degrees of quality and the end result feels a little disappointing when you take them all together. Detective Comics, Batman and Robin and Batgirl are pretty much the stronger titles with the other books following a basic format of the involved member of the Bat Family being tormented by the Joker and eventually kidnapped. Batgirl's arc also followed this formula, but at the same time it was a great re-exploration of how the Joker crippled Barbara Gordon during the events of The Killing Joke.

The big finale for this story in Batman #17 was pretty intense and quite the fitting culmination of this whole event. Given the Joker's belief that the Bat Family has made Batman weak coupled with his unique take on the world, his master plan isn't as simple as merely killing them all. Instead he subjects them to trap after trap which test them physically, mentally and emotionally. As much as it's easy to dismiss the Joker as a rather silly villain, this is one of those stories that stress what a cunning and calculating villain he can be, although his logic appears like insanity to most of us.

Batman: Death of the Family isn't the best Batman story and we could have done without a lot of the tie-in action. The core adventure is absolutely solid though and totally worth reading. As a whole, the arc gets 3.5 Joker homages to himself out of a possible 5.


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