Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 15 originally released December 12th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Drew: Scott Snyder has stated that his first three pitches for Batman (The Court of Owls, Death of the Family, and the next arc) form a kind of triptych examining different aspects of Batman. The Court of Owls put Bruce’s relationship with Gotham under the microscope, revealing a great deal about both. Joker’s relationship with Batman is equally indelible (and worthy of scrutiny), but Snyder has dug much deeper with Death of the Family, taking on a much more fundamental — but often unexamined — characteristic of Batman: his leadership.
With five disciples running around Gotham (and dozens of others spanning the globe), we accept Bruce as a leader, but unlike fighting and sleuthing, it’s not a skill we’ve ever seen him train for — and indeed may not be one he ever bothered to cultivate. We’ve seen him stumble at this more than any other, driving Dick away and blaming himself for Jason’s death. Add the Joker’s history to the mix — the man responsible for paralyzing Babs and killing Jason — and you have a recipe for some questionable calls on Bruce’s part.
The issue opens with Bruce trying to convince himself that the Joker is just a man. That doubt drives the issue, even if Bruce never shows it to anyone else. Joker still has him captive, but after the police show up and a few punches are thrown, Bruce is recovered by his disciples. When he wakes up, he has to explain what the Joker is talking about, and tries desparately to reassure everyone that the Joker doesn’t know their identities. It turns out, way back at the beginning of his career, Bruce found a joker card in the batcave, which everyone fears means the Joker has been there. Bruce is unwavering in his stance that the Joker couldn’t have made it to the cave, but the fact that he didn’t tell anybody about the card is enough to sew doubt in all of their minds. Bruce leaves to follow a lead, which leads him to Arkham, which Joker has apparently been fortifying and preparing for weeks. As Bruce heads in through the asylum doors, he reminds himself yet again that the Joker is just a man, admitting that — during their last encounter — he may have recognized love in Joker’s otherwise inscrutable eyes.
It’s a chilling ending that I couldn’t do justice to if I tried, but it’s the scenes with the Robins and Batgirl that have captured my interest. Before Bruce wakes up, he has a strange dream, featuring this scene of cozy, sweater-y domesticity:
Of course, any “everything is peachy keen” explanation that comes on page 8 is clearly a fake-out, but how much we buy into it (and for how long) affects the reading significantly. The facing page reveals the hallucinatory nature of this scene, but crucially, those pages are split by ads in the print version, allowing us to perhaps be lulled into a false sense of security. We may suspect something is up while reading this panel, but maybe we can believe it.
What interests me here is whether Bruce believes it (or wants to believe it). When he actually wakes up, two pages later, it’s a very similar scene, only everyone is in costume, and his plush bedroom has been replaced with the cold sterility of the batcave. Obviously, the dream turns out to be a nightmare — Alfred has a Joker-ified face, and attempts to kill Bruce with an axe — but does it feel like a nightmare the whole time? Is what’s “off” about it that it’s too good to be true, or is this not what Bruce wants?
I suspect that it’s a little of both, actually. In the dream, Bruce is half-naked, waking up in his own bedroom, surrounded by the people he loves. The message is clear: he’s safe, home, and with friends. In reality, he’s still in costume and in the batcave — surrounded by the trappings symbolizing the loss of his parents — and nobody is beside him (they’re all nearby, but not waiting at the foot of the bed like they were in the dream). Again, the message couldn’t be clearer: Bruce is alone. Greg Capullo increases these stakes subtly, giving Bruce a more open posture and brighter eyes in the dream and closing him off when he wakes. I suspect Bruce yearns for the closeness he sees in the dream, but must maintain the distance he feels in reality.
So what do you think, Patrick, was the dream a vision of perfection perverted by a shocking twist, or was it Bruce’s nightmare from the get-go. Is Bruce who he wants to be only in dreams, or is he the self-actualizing motherfucker he always acts like?
Patrick: Tricky question – and one that you’d have to presume to know what Batman wants in order to answer. It might not be right to think that there’s all that much difference between the families presented in and out of Bruce’s dream. Both are threatened by Joker’s plan, principally by compromising Alfred. His abduction is the sticking-point for everyone’s rage, including Bruce. But Bruce maintains his composure because he has absolute faith in his own detective skills and the unerring sophistication of the whole Batman-system. I would believe him if only… if only he hadn’t just been wrong about this exact kind of thing.
Issue 4 of this series delivered a flashback wherein a young Bruce Wayne explored what he believed at the time to be a hideout for the Court of Owls. He found nothing, but was trapped in the attic of a spooky old building for days. When he came out, he was resolved not to believe any more crazy stories about Owls. We all know how well that turned out. The Court was real and all of Bruce’s assumptions about his city (and his family) came crashing down around him. This event — and the flashback that sets up Bruce’s certainty — is eerily similar to what we’re presented with in this issue. Colors are faded, and there are creases in the image – deliberate signs that these memories are not as fresh as they once were.
Interestingly, this also comes 4 issues into the arc (if you’re counting the zero issue as part of this arc, and I think you should). Which is all to say that I expect Batman to be wrong. I don’t want that to be the case, but if Snyder’s starting to develop patterns, the evidence suggests that Joker really does know who everyone is.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Scott Snyder is playing this angle intentionally, and toying with his more observant readers… The game of wits in the back-up would suggest that there’s more to both Joker and Snyder’s plans than meets the eye. I really liked that Riddler story, by the way. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Nigma the first person that Joker isn’t immediately disappointed with? Nigma also doesn’t freak out at all when the Joker does what he always does. Harley, Catwoman, Penguin: everyone else freaks out when Joker is around, but Nigma keeps his cool. The way Snyder writes Joker, it’s almost as if he respects Riddler’s showmanship. It’s a fun dynamic, and I hope that “to be continued” at the end of the back-up means we get to see more of it.
So, what do we think? The showdown here is going to be within the walls of Arkham Asylum? As long as we’re talking about long-established areas of the Batman mythos going under the Snyder-scope, we’d be remiss not to point out this ol’ ditty. It’s interesting how frequently this comes up – we saw just a few weeks ago, the nightmare of future-Damian-as-Batman defending Arkham as a last stronghold against Joker-zombies; the Arkham City video game focuses on a decrepit version of Joker putting Batman through the ringer in the expanded prison; and Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth holds must-read status in the Bat-canon. In fact, look how much Greg Capullo’s final pages evoke McKean’s imagery.
We already know that Snyder is aiming to Make A Statement with this story arc, but setting the climax at the Happiest Place on Earth kind of doubles down on that promise. Just like the Riddler, I couldn’t possibly pieces together the clues to understand Joker’s plan, but I am terrified of it.
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?