Wow, you guys. Earlier this year I reviewed the first Batman trade of the New 52—Batman: Court of Owls. At the time, I didn’t think storytelling and illustrations could get any better. I thought Court of Owls was going to be the high mark of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman and I was okay with that. But, then I got my hands on the trade collecting Batman, issues 13-17, otherwise known as the Death of the Family story, and wowzers. I don’t know how they keep improving on themselves, but they do. This is, seriously, one of the best Batman arcs I’ve ever read. If you like Batman—heck, even if you don’t—you must read this book immediately.
Set after the events of the Court of Owls, Batman is going about his normal batty business when a visitor returns to Gotham after a yearlong absence. Yup, Joker’s back and he wants his face, too. After having Dollmaker (ugh) remove his facial skin, Joker up and disappeared, with Batman always wondering when, not if, he would return. And this is one mean Joker: meaner and crueler than I’ve ever seen in a comic before. He’s still got jokes, but he’s got other horrible stuff up his sleeve, too. Joker wants to go back to old times with Batman, before he had his Bat-Family and it was just the two of them, full of cozy hatred. So he starts recreating a “best of” of their past encounters, but with slight twists, so Batman can never stay one step ahead of him. And when the Joker finally catches Batman totally off guard, he shows him what he’s been planning during the year he was away and it’s both horrifying and terrifying. Not just intent on being overly violent, Joker is also dueling with Batman psychologically. He believes the Bat-Family makes Batman weak, no longer a worthy opponent, so he’s made his decision. Will Joker finally succeed in getting rid of the Bat-Family once and for all?
Even though the story is spooky and downright scary enough without the accompanying drawings, with main illustrations by the super awesome Greg Capullo, and illustrations of the shorter side stories that are littered throughout by Jock, it gets ramped up to unsettling and terrifying, which is super great. This book is incredibly violent and dark, but, c’mon, this is the Joker—is anyone really surprised that he can be incredibly violent and dark? Greg’s art is beautiful and the illustrating and coloring style suits Gotham and Batman well: dark, foreboding, suffocating. All of the characters are well developed and sharply drawn; every character is unique, and there’s never a question as to who’s whom. Also, he does a great job of making Joker the scariest dude ever drawn—remember, he has put his own face back on his face, and that’s not going to stay fresh forever. Greg makes sure readers don’t forget it, either. Fire and water, two things that feature prominently in the story, seem to have movement on the pages—the fire flickers and the water flows. Thought bubbles are always well placed and easy to follow. And Greg does a great job of mixing it up in terms of panel styling. Full page spreads as well as a really cool sequence with a bat coming ‘atcha make this book stand out against other superhero comics.
Interspersed throughout are little mini stories that involve the Joker interacting with other members of Batman’s Rogue Gallery: Riddler, Penguin, and Harley Quinn. With artist Jock on the stories, it allows for a nice mixture of illustrating styles and a change from Greg’s artwork. I love Jock’s artwork. Unlike Greg’s, which is super realistic looking to me, Jock’s style is almost surrealistic, even though it doesn’t stray far from realism, either. It’s a little cloudy, a little muddy, which adds to the uneasy nature of the stories. It’s just a tiny bit out of focus, which can be unnerving, and adds a uneasy feeling to the story, which fits perfectly. Plus his coloring is awesome. Predominantly blue in one, red in another, it just makes it seem like these are things that are happening just in the shadows, hidden away from society and decency.
So, yeah. Best storyline arc of Batman so far. It’s full of terror, humor, and Batman’s never-ending quest for justice and right. Best for older readers of Batman; I mean, it creeped and spooked me out, and I’m an adult!