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.
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?