Batman 16

Alternating Currents: Batman 16, Drew and ShelbyToday, 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.

"Hold that thought. I need to punch you in the face."

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.

Batman schemes

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.

My new favorite band: Batman and the Flaming Horse

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.

batman living tapestry

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?

36 comments on “Batman 16

  1. Joker holding the platter (which is dripping blood or surrounded by flies) is the last image in both Batgirl and Batman and Robin, and I expect it’ll also feature in Nightwing, Teen Titans, and Red Hood. That’s a great use of tie-ins and a huge suspense builder. I can’t stand it.

  2. 17 issues in to Batman, I’m finally glad I read those first 4 issue of Detective Comics. That living-human quilt is sort of the payoff for all the grotesqueries of the Dollmaker in that arc. Plus, it’s like Human-Centipede-levels of upsetting. GROSS.

    • ALSO, I love the imagery ON the tapestry. For having only four tableaus, it manages to be a pretty comprehensive look at Joker’s history with Batman. The fact that it doubles as a pretty comprehensive story for just Batman speaks to the influence Joker has had over his life.

      • Do you think they’re tattooed on? Like, if you could separate those guys, they’d all permanently have a bit of those images on their bodies? #NightmaresForever

        • I assume tattooed, but no matter what, those people are going to bear the scars of being sewn together forever. Didn’t Joker also say that DM installed some kind of feeling tubes in them to keep them alive? It’s SO HORRIFYING.

  3. You know what I was thinking through my second read of this book? The duality between Batman and Bruce.

    In the write up you even mention how much Bruce has been caught off guard and it hinders Batman’s abilities. I have started to view the caption narration as Batman explaining his way of thinking to his Bruce side in order to surpress his human nature and become that dark entity. To me it began almost reading as a twisted buddy cop drama with Batman and Bruce traversing through Arkham, Joker showing Batman’s greatest fears to them both and testing which personality would react.

    I don’t know why my mind went here–probably because I just reread The Dark Knight Returns, knowing Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are heavily inspired by the story. Bruce is very much a victim of the Batman persona in the early stages of that tale. That thought has never stuck before for me, but hey, this time it did.

    • Oh man, now I want to read a buddy cop book where you don’t find out the buddies are the same person until the very end.

      • “I was thinking about adding a chase scene where the bad guy is on a motorcycle and the good guy is on a horse. So it’s like technology vs. horse.

        And they’re all still the same person?

        Well yeah, that’s the big twist.”

        How many days in succession can I make Adaptation jokes in the comment sections?

        • I don’t know, but you should predict it now so we can all be impressed when it happens exactly the way you suggest, but not really the way we were expecting.

        • That movie is so awesome. I love how the last act of the film explicitly contains all of the things that Charlie told his publisher that he didn’t want to shoe-horn in – right down to drug running and a deus-ex machina

        • I’ve only seen it once, which is decidedly not enough times — especially for such a big fan of postmodernism. I will remedy this soon.

        • I remember tracking down a copy of The Orchid Thief in Barnes & Noble and the dust jacket is exactly the same excepet of course they replaced the author photo with a photo of Meryl Streep in the film. The contents of the book, of course, are radically different than what is portrayed in the movie. I’ve often wondered what the real author thought of the crazy movie that resulted from that option

        • It’s my understanding that the premise for the movie is basically true: On the strength of the script for Being John Malkovich, Kaufman was hired to adapt it. And then he eventually arrived at this post-modern script detailing the anxieties of the creative process that somehow also captures the essence of Orleans’ own anxieties writing The Orchid Thief. I don’t know what Kaufman’s own experience is with McKey, but anyone who tries to write in this town has AT LEAST read his book (based on that weekend seminar). My point is FUCK I LOVE THAT MOVIE.

        • Me too. Another amazing fact: the Academy actually nominated “Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman” for the Oscar since this is how it is credited

    • It’s interesting that we see Bruce tamping down his thoughts, but we don’t ever see what those thoughts are. Is he preempting his own fears, or is there a deeper level of internal dialogue we’re not privy to here?

      • This also serves to put us in Bruce’s shoes. Snyder doesn’t need to be explicit about what Bruce’s anxieties are because he KNOWS we’ll populate the space with our own. It’s an incredibly effective way to pull us into the action, allowing our own worst fears to fill the void implied by Bruce’s voice over.

  4. I really hope no animals were harmed in the making of this comic book.

    This was such a good issue. Best issue of the storyline by far. With so much going on with the Joker and his plan and everything else going I almost hate to say it, but I think one of my favorite moments is in the back-up when Penguin off-handidly offers Riddler oodles of money to break them out of the cell. I love it for so many reasons: because his one action perfectly sums up why Penguin is a major league threat (disgusting amounts of money) but that same action also betrays his greatest weakness (doesn’t get his hands dirty, can do little for himself). But even more I love it for the idea that of COURSE Riddler can get them out, and everybody there knows it. I’m loving Snyder and Tynion’s take on Riddler and this has really whetted my appetite forhis upcoming storyline.

    Of course, first we have to survive what’s under that platter. The suspense is killing me, but better the suspense than the Joker I suppose.

    • Hahaha. As terrifying as that flaming horse was, I have to admit to laughing out loud when Bruce punched that other horse in the face. That would be horrible in real life, but it’s hilarious here.

      • Speaking of Dark Knight Returns (per Kastner), is Batman wearing his Superman fighting gloves in that scene? His fists looks extra-mighty. And they would have to be to stop a horse and unseat its rider.

        • Weeeeell, in his defense Batman has had it up to here with Joker. Nothing is going to stop a motivated Goddamn Batman. And if you recall his suit is fairly augmented, remember just last arc he hung on to the side of a moving jet wing with listening to Lincoln monologue. Plus the cowl sensory updates and things.
          That’s one of the reasons I was shocked, pardon the pun, in a different way as to why Bruce willingly sat in the electric chair. I can’t recall in any Batman issue but I know in Nightwing, Dick’s suit is electroresistant so I assume the entire Batfamily armory has been treated with the same care.

          Kind of weaving a side-note: I was just blown away by seeing part of Batman acknowledge “Joker was right.” He and the GCPD would have won then and there if the Batfamily didn’t exist, and Joker like the snake from tales abound, whispers “I know what you really want Batsss” just loud enough.

  5. I think this may have been a very good comic for Batman fans, but for those of us whose Batman knowledege is mostly Adam West, Michael Keaton, and Dark Knight movies, this book is only ok.

    I just didn’t buy it. It seemed constructed more like a WoW dungeon than a super hero chasing down a villain.

    Maybe I just have a hard time buying Joker doing all these things in so many different books to so many other capable heroes and killing so many people that I just can’t suspend my bat-disbelief. But it could be that I know more about the Super Friends Batman than comic book Batman (who I think is actually kind of boring much of the time for a billioinaire playboy).

    • To solve the whole “Joker is in way too many places at once deal” do yourself a favor and trim down this event to Batman, Batgirl, Batman and Robin and maybe Nightwing (not been so good in DotF but I’m giving it a pass since it’s been pretty good overall). Everything else has basically been useless/stupid/poorly written and/or worse. Voila!

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