Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Batman 16 originally released January 16th, 2013. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Drew: One of the most thrilling things about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was the surprisingly strong case it made for Joker’s way of thinking. Obviously, we aren’t meant to agree with his murderous methods, but any time he’s given a chance to explain his worldview, he actually makes a pretty compelling argument. The effect was a surprisingly nuanced take on the nature of freedom, drawing our attention to just how untenable Batman’s outlook is, as well. Scott Snyder manages a similar trick in Batman 16, making Joker’s argument alluring, even as his methods are utterly horrifying.
The issue follows Batman as he makes his way through Arkham, encountering increasingly disturbing sights Joker has prepared for him. Bruce is undaunted by Joker’s obstacles, and he quickly finds and corners him. Of course, Joker has one last trick up his sleeve: the Bat-family. Joker has video of each one of them in danger, forcing Bruce to submit to his demands — namely, sitting down in an electric chair. The backup continues the story after Bruce looses consciousness, as Penguin, Two-Face, and the Riddler bargain with Joker to let them kill Joker and/or let them go. The Joker refuses, but lets them in on some kind of truly horrible secret we’ll have to wait until next month to see.
The main thrust of Joker’s argument — that Batman is better and more exciting without the Bat-family — is actually borne out in the action. Between the Court of Owls and Joker’s return, Bruce has spent much of this series knocked back on his heels. This is one of the few times we’ve seen Snyder’s Batman just being Batman. He puts down three of his greatest nemesis in as many pages, demonstrating an unflinching confidence that is an absolute pleasure to behold. Greg Capullo can’t help but goose the effect, allowing Bruce to dispatch his foes with increasingly less interest; Mr. Freeze takes up a page, Clayface just over half a page, and poor scarecrow is relegated to only three hilarious panels.
These are BIG THREATS, but Bruce is so fixated on stopping the Joker, they don’t even slow him down. The whole sequence has a sense of momentum that doesn’t stop for a second. It’s as thrilling as it is breathless, but it’s hardly the first instance of Batman cutting loose this issue. In fact, the issue opens with Bruce rescuing a roomful of Arkham guards. The lights go out for just a single page (triggered, no less, by an EMP pulse Bruce triggered), and by the time they’re back on, Bruce has miraculously diffused the whole situation.
More than anything, though, I’m impressed with the authoritative voice Snyder lends Bruce’s inner monologue. Bruce reminds himself not to think about Alfred at the start of the issue, and he spends the rest of his journey through Arkham planning his next steps. He may just be distracting himself, but he sounds very in control.
That grace under fire is one of the things I love so much about Batman, and one we haven’t seen enough of in this series. Joker may just be onto something about making Batman better.
Snyder is particularly adept at coming up with terrifying images to subject Batman to. I’ll leave the elaboration of those to you, Shelby, but I had to single out perhaps my favorite image from the issue, which is coincidentally the rest of the page I excerpted above.
Yes, that is a flaming horse.
I would be remiss to not mention the backup, which manages to make me even more anxious about next month’s issue. However, I need to gripe a bit about the unfortunate characterization of Two-Face here. I complained about the same thing in the backup for Detective Comics 8, but the New 52 version of Two-Face seems to be under the impression that he has a bad side and a worse side. I think this completely ignores what makes the character interesting and relatable, turning him into a generic goon with a skin condition. It’s so close to Tony Daniel’s take, I can’t help but imagine there was some editorial input here, which frustrates me even more, since this is apparently the official take on Dent in the DCnU.
That small pet peeve aside, this was a fantastic issue. Shelby, you and I haven’t really discussed this title since the zero issue — how is this arc shaking out for you? Do you think there’s anything to Joker’s argument that Batman is better alone? Also, what do you think is on that platter?
Shelby: OH MY GOD WHAT’S ON THE PLATTER. Seriously, I have to know. Usually I’m pretty good at waiting until next month for my next installment of story; I might want more on the titles I really like, but it’s rare when I have a child-like NEED to KNOW what’s coming next RIGHT NOW. Snyder has been masterfully building the suspense in this book, and I almost can’t take it anymore. Between Snyder’s nail-biter of a story and Capullo’s straight-from-my-nightmares pencils, I can’t get enough of this title. There were three images that stuck with me from this issue, the first being the flaming horse because that is visually stupendous. The most terrifying image, though, has got to be the “canvas” of living bodies sewn together because ohholyshitthatisthemosthorrifyingthingever.
But the imagery that really cut to the core was the first page featuring Arkham guards dressed as Batman and Joker, forced to dance for days; when one of the Batmans pleaded for help with tears leaking out from his cowl, that’s when I knew shit was about to get real.
I don’t know if I’m as convinced as you are, Drew, of the half-truth behind Joker’s actions, that Batman is stronger alone. It comes down to whether or not you see Batman’s inner monologue as he makes his way through the asylum as a sign of strength. For me, Bruce’s constant mantra of “keep calm, you can do this, one step at a time” is a sign of a man on the brink. Sure, he’s keeping a cool head and getting the job done, but he’s got to literally talk himself through every single step along the way; he has to remind himself that he can do this, over and over again. I don’t think the Joker is making Batman stronger, I think he’s making him brittle. He may appear hard, but I think Bruce is on the verge of snapping, and I suspect whatever is on that platter is the thing that will make him snap.
WHAT IS ON THAT PLATTER?!
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?