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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: Batman #17

Well, it's finally here.  The conclusion of perhaps the most-anticipated Batman story in recent years.  Does Scott Snyder deliver a story that not only ends well, but leaves an indelible mark on the Batman legend?  Or does Snyder fail to meet the lofty expectations of fans and the entire thing blows up in his face?  Read on to find out.

As mentioned, Batman #17 concludes the "Death of the Family" story arc.  In this final chapter, the Joker finally reveals to Batman his master plan in attacking every member of the Bat-family.  While the results may not be what some expected, the Joker leaves scars that will show for quite some time.

While writing a Batman comic cannot be an easy task, I imagine the feat becomes downright impossible when one challenges themselves to write a Joker story.  I do not think I would be going too far to say that the Joker is perhaps the most iconic villain of the past 50-60 years.  In fact, one could argue that the Joker is one of the best villains in the history of literature.  Every Sherlock Holmes must have his Moriarty, and no villain challenges/frustrates his hero quite like the Joker (this is a lot coming from a guy who prefers Two-Face).  All of this to say that, when one decides to tell a story with the Joker, they better be willing to have their work compared with some of the greatest stories in comics ever written.

Out of all of the writers to tackle the Joker, it says quite a lot to the work of Alan Moore in The Killing Joke and Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns that these are the Joker stories everyone still turns to like scripture.  These writers understood something about the Joker, and, more importantly, his relationship with Batman that makes their work so timeless.  If I were to only compare up to Batman #16 with these stories, I would have felt that "Death of the Family" was a nice little Joker story, but Snyder had not risen to the level of these two authors.  Batman #17, however, adds enough to the legend of Batman that I feel confident in saying that a trade of "Death of the Family" would be right at home with Killing Joke and Dark Knight Returns.

So what does Snyder do with the relationship of Batman and the Joker that makes this a memorable issue?  Frankly, Snyder has the guts to have both Joker and Batman admit something fans had only debated about in comic shops and on Internet forums.  He answers the question: "Why does Batman let the Joker live?"  While the answer given in Batman #17 may not satisfy every single fan, I believe that a valid enough reason is given within the comic to justify "Death of the Family" as a whole.  Some of the greatest stories are the ones that leave us struggling to answer the questions posed.  If nothing else, this issue is going to leave fans with something to talk about for quite some time.

In terms of the behavior of the Joker himself, Scott Snyder has him setting up one of his most gruesome traps to date.  The scenes at the dinner table unravel in a way that made me genuinely afraid, yet excited to turn the page to find out what would be waiting for me.  While Heath Ledger's Joker may have frightened me on my initial viewing of The Dark Knight, I believe this may be the first time I remember a Joker comic giving me some of the same feelings.

Perhaps even more than the additions to the mythology between the Joker and Batman, what will really have people discussing Batman #17 is the way the issue ends.  Many fans have been expecting the worst to happen to a number of characters before this arc was over.  While there may not be much visible wear and tear, the Joker leaves a lot of internal scars that are going to take a very long time to heal.  It may not be what fans were expecting, but the Joker did what he said he would: he proved to Batman that the Bat-family was holding him back.  

What makes "Death of the Family" so exciting is not even the story itself, but the ramifications it will have for some time to come. For a very long time, Bruce has been able to rely on the help of his closest allies if things became too tough for the Caped Crusader.  Now that the Joker has cut many of those ties, one wonders what the future has in store for Batman.  It bothers me that so many fans do not realize that this is going to be the ultimate legacy of "Death of the Family."  I am upset that fans would be angry that their blood lust was not met in Batman #17, but I can hope that they will eventually come to see just how important this story will be going forward.  Scott Snyder may not be getting a lot of thank yous for this story right now, so I will go ahead and say my thanks.

When it comes to the art in this book, there's not much I can say about Greg Capullo.  The art is perfect.  While some of the other artists for the Bat-family books have certainly given us creepy versions of the faceless Joker, Capullo finishes the story with a bang.  Joker looks amazing in this issue, and everyone else falls right in line behind him.  

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are a Dynamic Duo in and of themselves.  If "Death of the Family" is just a sign of the great work they can put together for only their second major story arc, I cannot wait to see what lies in store for the rest of their run on Batman.

Rating:  A+

Summary:  Batman #17 ends "Death of the Family" in such a way that not only makes it worthy of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, but gives fans a talking point for years to come.
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