Batman 13

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 13 originally released October 10th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.

Drew: Bruce Wayne knows those closest to him can be taken away. It’s an idea that was violently embedded in his mind as a child, and has driven every waking moment of his life since. A person driven to such lengths obviously values the closeness of others, yet it’s one of the bitterest ironies of Batman that his goal of stopping violence actually puts the people around him in greater danger. Bruce has been reminded of this all too often, as Jason was killed and Barbara paralyzed, but he can’t help but rely on others; as Batman Incorporated  recently pointed out, Alfred was there from the start. That reliance is often one of Bruce’s greatest assets — he could not have defeated the Court of Owls without them — but it’s also one of his greatest liabilities. Fortunately, very few criminals have the express goal of harming Batman emotionally, but of course, the Joker isn’t just any criminal.

Batman 13 begins with a list of bad omens (and no, it’s not just the issue number), which Bullock is sure the Gotham newspapers will cite after whatever calamity the city faces next. It turns out, they don’t have to wait long for that calamity, as the Joker shows up at the GCPD to collect his face. He kills several cops, and terrorizes Gordon, leaving only a cryptic message that Batman has his calling card. As Bruce tries to make sense of Joker’s sudden return — he’s been absent from Gotham for a year now — Joker takes to the airwaves to threaten the mayor (and to kill the son of his first ever victim). At city hall, Batman and the GCPD have the mayor locked up tight, but Bruce deduces moments too late that the actual target is the GCPD, which the Joker poisons with a modified frown-enducing Joker toxin. The toxin is laced with a chemical trace which leads Bruce back to Ace Chemical, where Batman first confronted the Red Hood. Bruce finds the Joker there, only — SURPRISE! — it’s not the Joker after, all. Bruce is locked in a vat filling with chemicals while the Joker threatens Alfred at Wayne Manor.

OH MAN is there a lot going on in this issue. Snyder manages to introduce most of the key supporting characters in a short teleconference, even giving little glimpses into their personalities. Alfred is worried about Bruce, Dick is worried about Barbara, Barbara is worried about her Dad, Damian isn’t worried about anybody, and Tim is worried about the clues. It’s a breezy introduction to the supporting players, giving a vague sense of their motivations along with their names. It’s a natural entry point for new readers; if you know someone that hasn’t been reading this title, now is the time to get them hooked.

With all of those characters introduced so efficiently, the rest of the issue can stay focused on Bruce and Jim. With the benefit of narration, we know exactly what’s going on inside Bruce’s head, but for Gordon, our entire understanding of what he’s thinking is worn on his face. Fortunately, Greg Capullo is more than up to the task, showing abject terror in Gordon’s otherwise stoic facade.

Actually, maybe he's just mid-sneeze

It’s a classic movie move, showing us a character’s reaction so we know how to feel, but rarely is a reaction shot so visceral. We haven’t even seen the Joker yet, but we know he’s BAD. Perhaps that goes without saying, but without a strong sense of exactly what type of Joker we’re dealing with here, Gordon tells us all we need to know.

Actually, the entire art team deserves praise for this gorgeous issue — especially the blackout sequence at the GCPD. It’s a bravura sequence lit only intermittently by Gordon’s flashlight, and is utterly sold by Jonathan Glapion’s inks and FCO Plascencia’s colors. We don’t always get around to praising letter work, but Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt have crafted a distinctive style for the Joker’s dialogue, which is absolutely essential in the clarity of that sequence.

Ultimately, the horror of that opening scene is designed to demonstrate just how high the stakes are with the Joker — this is not a version of the character that messes around. That way, when he threatens everyone Batman cares about, we know there’s a real danger. Alfred isn’t often counted amongst Batman’s closest allies (at least, not by villains), and while it’s shocking that the Joker somehow knew to target him, the real shock is the thought of losing Alfred. This isn’t to say that I actually think anyone is in danger here, but think about how much more shocking it would be if Alfred were killed than anybody else. If Dick or Babs died, Jason would probably be cool with it. If Tim died, Damian would probably be cool with it (and vice versa). If Jason died, everybody would probably be cool with it…again. But Alfred? Everybody loves Alfred. He’s arguably more central to the Batfamily than Batman. His death very well could mean the death of the family. Consider the stakes raised.

Patrick, I could talk about this for days — I didn’t even mention the devastating Harley Quinn backup — but I should turn it over before I do. Geez, this issue is so dense, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Patrick, I know you were drawn to different elements of this issue than I’ve mentioned. Maybe let’s start with how the Joker has changed?

Patrick: The Joker has changed. This is made explicit a couple times throughout this issue. And no matter how many times Bruce repeats to himself that he’s beaten the Joker before and he’ll beat him again, there’s no denying that this is a new version of the Clown Prince of Gotham. The character is given more agency — he’s reported to have killed all those officers at the GCPD with his own two hands — but it is his obsession with identity that I find most compelling.

Let’s go back to the face. For better or for worse, Detective Comics — the namesake of the publisher — kicked off its relaunch with one of the grisliest sights imaginable – the Joker’s freshly-removed face nailed to a wall in Arkham. Now that our boy J has his face back, we have yet to see it properly attached. In fact, he seems positively gleeful making other people appear to be him. Like the son of his first victim – he makes that dude WEAR HIS FACE before shooting him in the head. But he goes further: how weird is it that Joker brings Batman to ACE Chemicals? FURTHER, how weird is it that he makes Harley dress up in the Red Hood outfit? It’s almost like the Joker has bought into the power of his own myth and the more phantoms of himself he can project, the more terrifying he becomes.

And just when I think I’ve got that little bit of self-replication figured out, the latest batch of Joker-toxin turns victims’ mouths to frowns, not smiles. He’s somehow anti-branding his attacks. Perhaps he’s confident enough in his methods and his identity that not everything needs to have a punchline. And perhaps he’s transcended the “clown” persona, instead favoring a modern approach to comedy that boarders on performance art – a live-action autobiographical play with unwilling actors.

We talked last month about how the ‘Red Hood’ origin of the Joker was being pushed as definitive and cannon. At the time, a few of us bemoaned this definition, because we like to imagine the Joker as origin-less – a force of nature. But Snyder’s Joker is quick to trot out that identity, talk about falling into a vat of acid at ACE and specifically mentions shooting Babs and killing Jason. This is a far cry from the Joker with no history. In fact, it’s clear that Joker’s playing to a lot of Batman history. Look how this this Joker-broadcasting-on-TV-scene takes on the style of the broadcasts in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

And that’s the real magic of this issue. Not counting the back-up, the dude is barely in this issue. But his presence if felt every step of the way. It’s like how Michael Keaton is only in like 14 minutes of Beetlejuice. If I were to take a step back and examine this issue skeptically, I could accurately call it 25 pages of hype. But that hype is so dense and breathtaking — and I am such a faithful student of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman — that the hype totally works on me.

But let’s talk about that heart-breaking back-up. Poor Harley Quinn: she’s just never going to be rewarded for her loyalty, is she? There’s always been a sad desperation behind their relationship, but the way he immediately rolls over for him is straight dehumanizing. He says “take of your clothes” and she does, letting herself believe for a second that maybe they’re playing some kind of sexy game. But no, he just wants her to dress up in his clothes. And she acquiesces. Apparently, that’s not enough for Joker, so he tells her that he plans to cut off her face, going into excruciating detail. When she’s at her most vulnerable, Joker pops the hood on her. Jock’s art narrows on Harley’s eyes, which increasingly reveals her hopeless position. I could babble about it, but here it is:

I don’t know why, but the “Harley when did I ever say I found you beautiful?” seems the most hurtful.

And just like that, the Death of the Family is off and running. This cross-over going to spill out gradually into other titles, unlike the Night of the Owls, which basically all happened at once. We can talk about which series we’re excited to see cross through this thing in the comments (HINT: it’s not going to be Catwoman).

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

43 comments on “Batman 13

  1. You know how in Watchmen, just talking to Rorschach affects people, sort of dims the world around them?This issue did that to me.

    Up until the very end, the Joker is nothing more than a voice in the dark. In the panel above with the TV spot, he’s just a flash of glinting teeth in the shadows. He is an unseeable evil that’s actually been watching you the whole time. At first, I thought the omens and biblical portents that opened the issue were a little heavy-handed, but by the end I find them to be the perfect harbinger of what’s to come. And I don’t even have a good grasp of what’s coming yet! I haven’t been this scared with a comic since I did a 6 issue catchup session with Animal Man one night.

    • Oh man, I forgot about all the omens! I also thought they were a little… “meh” at first, but I ABSOLUTELY LOVED Joker using the two-headed lion cub to literally announce his presence at Wayne Manor. Such effective horror writing.

  2. Whoa, Patrick. I like where you’re going with this whole Joker projection idea. What if this amounts to a massive identity crisis on Joker’s part? Without his face, who is he? Having one’s face cut off (or disfigured, as the case may be in the real world) would be pretty devastating to one’s sense of identity. This may be especially true of the Joker, whose distinctive clown-like appearance is inextricably linked to his identity. For the Joker, that identity crises plays out in returning to his past, re-watching those events from the sidelines, as well as changing his signature oh so slightly.

    Also, Patrick, you site the Dark Night Returns, but I also see a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman here, from the Joker’s highjacking of the TV signal to the binary nature of his toxin. I also can’t help but read the Joker in Mark Hamill’s voice (and for that matter, Harley in Arleen Sorkin’s). That may just be an affect I bring to the material, but the effect is a strange series of nesting dolls, with seemingly explicit references to one comic series, a movie influenced by that series, and a television series influenced by that movie. It’s a schizophrenic history to reconcile, and it’s an interesting thought that the Joker would somehow attempt to reconcile all of them. Hey — maybe trying to make sense of comic book continuity is what made Joker so crazy in the first place.

    • But isn’t the implication that Joker LET his face get cut off? Does that mean he instigated his own identity crisis?

        • Identity is definitely a major theme here but I don’t know if its coming from a place of personal confusion or conflict on his part – some of his dialogue and activity here combined with events from Batgirl #13 seem to be Joker on a ‘Greatest Hits’ kick

    • It’s funny – I always think of the Mark Hammill Joker voice when reading his dialogue but I never think of Sorkin when reading Harley Quinn – and yet Joker has been voiced by so many yet Harley by just her and her sound-a-likes

  3. Yeah, if you live in Gotham, you should just start running once Harley Quinn says the Joker’s plan is crazy and awful.

    • Man, she’s usually so oblivious to just how terrifying he is. It’s really sad to see her realizing that maybe this guy is crazy. Also, is that monologue about smashing her normal brain and replacing it with an abnormal one a reference to Young Frankenstein? I like the idea that the Joker watches classic comedies in his free time.

        • I remember in the opening pages of Mad Love it definitely seems like they *do* get it on sometimes, but he’s been ignoring her to plot his crazy schemes as of late. Of course these are the animated versions and that makes this particular Joker much ‘cuter’ and less, well, Cronenberg. In the main DCU I am not quite sure since I never did read her solo title or any of her early appearances beyond the Batman: Harley Quinn one-shot that introduced her

        • It probably has happened on occasion when he was bored or something, but I think it’s more pawn and puppet-master. Looking back, tonally, Dini’s Arkham City had numerous references that Joker and Harley’s relationship was indeed sexual and before Scott Snyder, Paul Dini was my Bat-writer of choice to go to for mythos conformation. Still is in a way.

  4. Also: I haven’t read the last quarter-year or so of Suicide Squad (though you can be sure I’ll get the DotF installments) – is there a reason Harley is no longer under gov’t monitoring so that she can do this little favor? Or are we just going to get that little explanation out of order when the SS issues come out?

      • You rang? Hah

        I read a few issues of Squad but they sort of butchered Harley and her origin (iss. 7-8 if memory serves) However, It did show her obsession with Joker as she holds up in the GCPD and places Joker’s severed face onto Deadshot…talking to him as if her were Joker. That was a hellofa scene, but it was too little too late.

        The long and short of it was Harley broke leash and debugged herself from Waller and the government to get Joker’s face. She is killed–BUT NOT REALLY. That’s were I stopped so I think she still may be off grid.

        • Nope, she immediately is re-apprehended and part of the SS again as of issue 8; if she’s free now then it’s a separate incident

        • Hmm. Weird. I guess we should just sit on our hands at this point until the Suicide Squad tie in portions are released. Maybe answers will tag along.

          Just thinking of what Joker will do to OTHER characters has me both giddy and afraid. Scott’s definitely brought back a force of nature with this arc.

        • I was thinking maybe she snuck away in SS 12, 0, or 13 since I have no wordly idea what’s happening in that book… I apparantly dropped it one issue after you did. I very much covet the three dollars your consumer wisdom saved you that month

  5. I wish I had something more substantial to say, but…MAN. I am actually a little physically exhausted after reading that issue. It was so fantastic and so chilling. I am so glad I saved it for last in my pile this week.

    Despite it all there was one panel in this issue that made me laugh: on page 11 there’s a panel in the batcave of Bruce, Alfred, and Damian, and Damian is so short that only the top of his head (bridge of his nose upwards) is in panel, and Damian just looks so pissed about it. It really made me laugh and even though the humor of it was probably unintentional, it was a nice little break before the horror picks back up.

    I already know I’m going to have to both praise and curse Snyder for this one.

    • I was laughing at Bruce’s really big butt-chin in one panel – I believe it was a bottom-right panel. Otherwise…flawless victory!

    • I’m not sure if it was unintentional — framing just a kid’s head in a panel has been good for a laugh since Calvin and Hobbes. It’s especially good here, since Damian was just talking a really big game. Good on Capullo for reminding us that he’s actually a little shit.

  6. Pingback: Batgirl 13 | Retcon Punch

  7. He’s not Mr. J any more.

    That was a creepy backup. Back to back Bat’s with big, bad backups. That’s a good thing.

    Really, such a nice opening to an event. I’m very, very ready for more.

    • I suspect the major theme will be ‘what happens when Joker knows the secret identities of every auxilary member of the Bat-family’ – but what I’m most interested in here is just *what* epiphany has Joker come to that instigated these changes in his personality

      • You know, that’s one angle I hadn’t really considered for Red Hood and the Outlaws 0: the Joker turning Jason into Robin necessitates him knowing who Batman is. I suppose that’s kind of an obvious point, but it honestly hadn’t dawned on me until now. Once you have that bit figured out, knowing who the Robins are is pretty easy. You couldn’t really trace Barbara in that way, but it doesn’t take a genius to put together that Batgirl disappeared the same time Joker paralyzed Babs, and that she only came back after she regained the use of her legs.

        I got to this idea a bit in the comments for Batgirl, but I think knowing their identities is just a tool to get access to them. I think the actual point of the plan is to remake the Bat-family in his image. Patrick was right to cite identity as a major theme here. Without his face, Joker lost his identity, and he’s come back with a desire to impose it on the world. He’s kind of always been about that (at least, in versions where the Joker Toxin is a thing), but this feels distinctly more like an act of creation rather than destruction. I am so excited for this arc.

        • Yep, your interperetation certainly meshes with all of the facts to date and I like where you’re going with it… though, there are surely a lot of twists and turns to come, and considering the doozy of a reveal we got at the end of Court Of Owls I’m betting that the important cards are still in Snyder’s hands this early in the game

        • There’s another Joker aspect that has been trotted out from time to time that I always loved (though I don’t necessarily this is the angle Snyder will be playing – this is just a good conversation to bring it up in): Joker understands better than anyone that Bruce is the mask and that Batman is his natural identity, and thus he doesn’t consider the information of Batman’s secret identity to be of much value. Obviously, here, we’re going to see an inversion of that – how extremely dangerous it would be if Batman’s most psychotic adversary leveraged that information in unthinkable ways

  8. Was anyone else suuuuuuuuuuuuuuper creeped out when Joker insinuated hiding under Gordon’s bed? Imagine who else he’s done this to. He litterally is the monster under the bed. Bravo Synder!

  9. New poster here, great website, I just accidentally stumbled onto it yesterday and love it so far! Specifically about this issue, I think my favorite panel is the one in which Harley says “He’s not the same Bats. He’s not my Mr. J anymore.” A) As someone else mentionned, this is a scary thought; if Harley thinks this plan is sick and over the top, it’s gotta be huge and b) it’s such a great Harley moment, it is litterally in one panel better than all the Harley we’ve seen in Suicide Squad (imo), I read SS 0-12 and frankly, no offence to anyone still following it, I thought it was awful, and only read on because I kept hoping interesting Harley-related things would happen.

    Having read SS to its most recent issues, I can’t shed any light on how Harley ends up here, I have been wondering that myself, hopefully it gets explained in some logical fashion some time soon. Lastly, I’d like to make two quick off-topic website suggestions – 1: I think it would be awesome if you guys (and girl) had some spoiler free full series write-ups. What I mean is, something short and less detailed than your issue by issue dissection of the series you’re all following just to give curious readers an idea of whether or not they should pick up such and such a title. Being a year in now, you could comment on the quality of the writing, the art, story arcs, etc and basically let people know what’s worth buying (in your opinions, obviously) and what isn’t. 2: I think, if logistically possible, a small forum would be great for ongoing discussions and debates! Sorry this post is huge, but it’s so nice to let my inner geek out a bit!

    • Hey Gino – thanks for the kind words! Glad you found us, I look forward to you joining our conversations in the future.

      The only Suicide Squad I read was the zero, and I was NOT impressed. It seems like there’s half an interesting concept there + Harley Quinn, but the math just doesn’t add up to something I can give a shit about. SS is passing through the event for issues 14 and 15, so we’ll be diving back in for November and December. I’m actively trying to keep an open mind about reading them, but I anticipate terribleness.

      Addressing your suggestions: 1) As we get deeper and deeper into Retcon Punch’s lifespan, we’re coming up against a little bit of an organizational problem (fucking comics, you need a star map and a sextant to navigate these things), but keeping running Series pages — which could include that sort of over-view you’re talking about — would alleviate that some. Good thought.

      2. On-going forums and/or debates: We should be better about more regularly posting Chat Caves which address more generalized trends or phenomenon in comics. They usually end up being a good starting-point for conversation. But I also see where proper forums could be useful. I’ll bring it up at our next meeting and see if we can’t address than need somehow. Thanks for the suggestions!

  10. Kool, glad to know that you like my ideas, I was hoping this would’nt come off as some new guy coming along and trying to tell you guys what to do with YOUR website! I’m from much the same comics background as your team in that I’ve been collecting trades (essentially just Batman related stuff and things written by Alan Moore) for a few years and got into monthlies with the new 52, so it’s very interesting for me to read your team’s insight into all these books. I’m currently sampling many titles by downloading them (I know, bad me) but I’m already planning on buying the trades of the series that I’ve really like by discovering them that way, so I guess it isn’t all bad. Anyhow, point is, having those little overviews would be a great guide to which series is worth investing time (and money) into and which is not.

    Also, unless you want to write a really scathing review, stay the hell away from Suicide Squad; if you thought Detective or Dark Knight were poorly written in spots, you might faint reading SS, it’s terribad. Anyhow, that’s enough of me being off topic, so I’ll wrap this up with one question which actually belongs on this page: Who do you all think will die (if anyone) during the Death of the Family arc? (I’ll weigh in on that myself later) Happy guessing!

  11. This is the best issue of Batman I’ve read since…the Court of Owls. Yeah, the work on Batman has been top-notch all year, and I’m so stoked that the Joker is back, and crazier than ever. The scene in the police station was so creepy, and the art was, dare I say, perfect. It really captured the isolation of all the cops in the dark, unable to see or know what is really happening. And Gordon’s terror and frustration was right there on the page.

    The later scene with Harley was also very very good. I love that even she is scared of Mr. J now. And his vicious joke about not finding her beautiful was so cruel, it was art (the kind Joker excels at).

    So often in comics you see creative teams that don’t quite mesh, but the team here was hittin’ on all cylinders. THIS is why I read comics.

  12. Pingback: Batman 17 | Retcon Punch

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