Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I don’t envy Scott Snyder…admire yes…envy no. BATMAN until now has been Snyder’s own personal playground, keeping in line with the mantra that New 52 will be just that – new. Instead of rehashing old villains with modernized hoodies and emo tendencies, he was given the freedom to do what he does best, rewrite history to create something entirely new. Different than the Johnsian approach of finding an insignificant silver age sliver, Snyder completely rebuilt the Gotham mythos from the ground-up by instilling the new ruling elite – The Court of Owls- during Year One of the Bat titles.
Now Snyder is faced with not only building on and beating the success of the last year, but doing so with a full-set of Samsonite nostalgia around his neck. In addition to juggling a set of Robins a little too close in age for the comfort of most fans, he must now make one of the most iconic and terrifying villains in comics…iconicer and terrifyinger. He must also do all of this without hanging himself in the noose of Nineties nostalgia that permeates this epic “Death of the Family” Bat bonanza crossover of titles.
Everyone, including this reviewer, assumed The Joker was out for the count after last year’s skinning of the clown prince’s face in the pages of DETECTIVE. Of course I was never naïve enough to think Joker would be gone for all time, but I certainly didn’t expect an appearance until there was some event where the Flash went really fast so they could retcon the Dollmaker’s handy work into oblivion. Or at the very least, pull a switcheroo and show us that it was not the Joker’s skin mask sitting in the GCPD evidence locker, but just some poor inmate Mr. J put in Pancake makeup.
Shame on me for doubting, because the Joker is still a sans skin psychopath and the big joke that keeps him laughing has taken on a new “face” of evil that seems to terrify even fervent followers like Harley Quinn. In fact, the whole beginning of the book is an edge of the seat hide and seek inside the powered down police headquarters where Jokesy has come to finally rob that which was once his. As he makes his way through the station, we only have Gordon’s flashlight to illuminate the trail of carnage as The Joker narrates through the PA system. From darkness to light all we have to comfort us is the every other panel of illumination. One-by-one officers’ necks are snapped liked brittle twigs as The Joker begins to relay information that hits a little too close to home for Gordon – and I mean that in the most literal sense possible. Babs anyone?
We actually never see the real Joker until the end of the main story. And sorry, I’m not going to tell you who his first actual first intended victim is. Instead, we’re treated to a series of charlatans in clown makeup. Each fake prince sends Batman and the GCPD on a goose chase of protection that involves a brilliant scene locking down Gotham’s mayor and ultimately leads to the chemical factory where the Red Hood fell into a vat of skin bleaching chemicals oh so many years ago…wait…I mean five years ago.
Now I will spoil who was under that hood because without the spoil I can’t lead into my unequivocally favorite part of the book – the back-up story. Joker recruits his girl Friday, Harley Quinn, to don the Hood as he goes after his real prey. This part of the main story ends with Harley showing fear for the first time towards the once adored Mr. J and the back-up story shows us why. In a scene that made me feel so dirty I needed a shower afterwards, we see only Harley, scared and under an interrogation light. Snyder and Capullo perfectly deliver fear with the respectful balance of art and words having Harley literally strip off her clothes as the Joker strips away any ounces of self-respect she might have gained during her time on SUICIDE SQUAD. Once she’s inside the famous Red Hood tux, Joker leads her to believe that step two to becoming part of the gang again will involve a little slice dice for her pretty little pudum so it can be reapplied poorly with band aids and bubble gum. Snyder has the Joker explain in meticulous detail the agony he went through during his skinning and the minutia of trying to remain human minus the thing that defines our humanity most. Just as you think the cutting will begin…BAM…she’s standing with a Red Hood on as the Joker cackles away into the night.
It’s hard to outdo the insanity of past Joker scribes like Moore, Azzarello and Miller, but Snyder is well on his way. Best of all it’s all in-continuity, which infinitely ups the ante on repercussions from this portrayal. This event looks on track to deliver on the nostalgia leverage, unlike other recent dips into memory lane like CRISIS. I see the events of this story being just as impactful as its 90s ancestor “A Death in the Family,” and I’m all for a die-cut cover as long as it doesn’t up the price and has a purpose.
BATMAN 13 is the true face of terror in main stream comics, being sufficiently creepy without ever crossing the line into copious amounts of inappropriate gore. It’s not the bloodletting that’s scary kids, it’s the moments leading up…and I can’t wait for more terrifying moments to come.