Note: Spoilers ahead for Death of the Family (Batman #13-17). Seriously. Spoilers almost immediately ahead. Just saying.
At long last Death of the Family, the months long story arc that saw the return of the Joker, concluded with last week’s Batman #17 – and nobody even died.
They don’t make a show called Walking with Dinosaurs made up of dinosaurs standing around and/or running, they don’t make movies called Star Wars about Star Peace and they don’t write stories called Death of the Family wherein ain’t nobody dead – until now. My bullshit meter is overloading.
Or is it?
Death of the Family is something of a contradiction in that it is both one of the best arcs to come out of the New 52 and one of the best Joker stories ever written but it is also one of the most bloated, soggy, mediocre crossover events in recent history.
The main narrative, told throughout five issues of Scott Snyder’s Batman, was nothing short of phenomenal, but those five issues of Batman were five out of 23 issues of Death of the Family spanning nine titles, and of those 18 extra books less than two were worth reading. So, while Snyder’s tale is top notch, what readers ended up with is over twenty issues of a massive, heavily marketed, big-ticket event, and with 22 issues of buildup expectations for an earthmoving conclusion were high. The hype was there, the ads were there, the theories were rampant – the Joker was literally wearing his own severed face strapped to his head with fish hooks and belts! The end of Death of the Family was destined to be bigger and louder than a loco-locomotive (wearing a severed face).
And then it wasn’t.
And that’s the joke.
The 18 extraneous issues of Death of the Family did little more than hinder Snyder’s main thread (which I would personally advise reading without the contributions of the rest of the Bat family). All they really did was invoke a profound sense of wonder, as in “I profoundly wonder how all this nonsense is happening at once.” But boy oh boy did those 18 issues, a majority of Death of the Family, serve to buildup expectations for that conclusion. Which is what made it all the more mind boggling, all the more shocking and all the more scarring when the vibrant, twisted battle cry that was supposed to be Batman #17 turned out to be a quiet, intimate whimper.
Would it have been balls to the wall insane if the Joker had actually cut off all of Batman’s bro’s faces? Yes. I literally would have gotten a commemorative tattoo on my own face. But at the end of the day, horror and specifics aside, it would have been exactly expected – and the Joker is anything but.
There was no murder or mortal disfigurement. There was only a statement and it may have cut deeper than any crowbar or buzzer the Joker has wielded thus far.
“You love me more than them.”
A grand accusation considering all that the Joker has put Batman through and all that Batman and his various sidekicks have been through together. But at the end of the day it’s a statement that creeps and crawls and lingers, because at the end of the day, whether or not he’s inarguably right, the Joker isn’t entirely wrong.
Why hasn’t Batman done away with the Joker? Why does keeping the Joker alive outweigh the potential of the Joker murdering a member of the Bat Family? And why are all of Batman’s excuses for leaving the Joker alive so flimsy?
The conclusion to Death of the Family is aptly titled “The Punch Line,” and it’s a knee-slapper, because as the dust clears a week later I can’t shake the feeling that maybe Death of the Family had more than one villain.
Also it’s hard to shake because I totally thought the Joker had caught off everybody’s faces and I was all like “Oh my God, LOL WTF? Joker just cut off everybody’s faces!” And I was thinking that maybe everybody could switch faces and Nightwing could wear Robin’s face and Red Robin could wear Red Hood’s face and Red Hood could wear Nightwing’s face and Robin could wear Red Robin’s face and Batgirl could just wear her own face cause there is only one girl! But then the Joker was all like “psyche! I’m JKing, it’s kind of my deal LOL!”
And then I was all like “Oh man, Joker just Punk’d the shit out of Batman! Those weren’t his bro’s faces those were just other people’s faces.”