By: Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Jonathan Glapion (inks), FCO Plascencia (colors), Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt (letters), Katie Kubert (assistant editor) & Mike Marts (editor)

Back-up by: Snyder & James Tynion, IV (writers), Jock (art), Sal Cipriano (letters)

The Story: Joker is back in town.  Watch out.

A few things (with SPOILERS): 1). Crazy and scary Joker! – This issue was a great test for me.  See, I love the creative team on this series.  I love them to the point where I honestly question if I would actually notice it if they did a bad issue.  BUT…I really don’t like Joker.  I know he is the classic Batman villain and that everyone loves him, but I think he’s played out and I don’t need to see each creator’s “take on the character”.  “Screw that… do something new that I haven’t seen before.” is usually my attitude.

But, surprisingly I really enjoy how Snyder, Capullo, Glapion, Plascencia and the Comicraft guys handled this issue.  This is a creepy-ass Joker!  I like him this way and they do it so well.  I love (a) that opening scene where he’s lurking in the dark and snapping all the cops’ necks, (b) the “is he telling the truth” claim that he’s been hiding under Gordon’s bed, (c) how they kept hiding his face until the final page so we couldn’t see what he looked like, (d) how he wanted to slice up Harley and how she’s afraid of him…and I loved that final page!

The only downside to this issue is that it further cements for me how much better these creators are than everyone else.  It’s like watching Lebron James play ball with a bunch of sweaty and hairy dudes at the YMCA.  We’ve certainly see other creators attempt this type of scary Joker, but it usually doesn’t work this well (even down to the lettering).

2). Feeling left out. – It’s a tribute to the talents of the Batman creative team that I can just read and enjoy Batman.  I don’t buy any of the other Bat-titles and have no desire to do so.  Mostly I can’t even tell that other stuff is going on, but in this issue you get the little teases from Detective #1 last year where Joker lost his face to the non-subtle nudge to go read Batgirl and Nightwing.  I know crossovers are a part of superhero comics, but that doesn’t mean I like it and I’m too old and smart to play that game any more.  Now, I fully expect Snyder, Capullo and Co. to tell me a snapping story wholly within the pages of Batman, but they also had to waste several pages in this issue teasing the crossover and those pages amounted to nothing more than them discussing who was going to answer a particular call.  Those pages could have been used for other purposes.  If you want me to read Nightwing, you can’t do it with a crossover, but I would read it if you put on a creative team like Jeff Lemire and Jock.  Creative teams rule and publishing tricks are old.

3). Splendid art – Goodness, this art is great!  Capullo & Co. don’t get to do a lot of their trademark action in this issue, but what they give us in spades is atmosphere.  That’s really hard and most artist teams cannot pull it off.  Sure…..Snyder wrote some creepy dialog, but you could illustrate this issue in a different way and get a comical effect if you really wanted.  For example, Skottie Young could probably turn this issue on it’s ear and make it all a big, fat laugh (in a good way) of an issue.  And, they accomplish almost all of this atmosphere without using any horrifying visuals.  It’s easy to creep people out when you show horrid things like people getting disemboweled, but this issue was very restrained until the final page.  Even those cops with the snapped necks were pretty understated and all that pays off on that horrible last page.  Kudos too to Jock for making the back-up equally creepy.

4). Back-up is lesser. – At this point, I’m not enjoying the back-ups quite as much as a the regular stories.  They’re making the issue cost more and they’re making the issue end on less of a high.  I’m not sure what process Snyder and Tynion are using, but that dialog just isn’t as smooth and crisp as the dialog in the main story.  Tynion is newer and he’s probably just not as good as Snyder (and may never be even with practice).  Why don’t we let him thrive on his own rather than stand next to Snyder where we focus on the flaws instead of the quality?  This back-up work has given him good exposure and now people know the name, but it’s not really nice to make him exist next to Snyder because Snyder is so good that he makes everyone look worse than they really are.  It’s like how short people look even worse when standing next to tall men.

Conclusion: The story aspects of this issue are crackling good, but it gets a few demerits for the lesser back-up an the awkwardness of the forced crossover.  The Director’s Cut of this issue would be an “A”, but until we get that issue…

Grade: A-

– Dean Stell