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Batman #17 – Review

BATMAN #17

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

The Story: Batman and Joker have their final conflict.

Review (with SPOILERS): This issue is very well done.  I loved it and I can’t imagine many Batman fans not enjoying it.  It’s really amazing to think that 2.5 years ago, DC took a chance on this newer writer named Scott Snyder and now he’s produced – in succession – The Black Mirror (pre-New 52), The Court of Owls and now Death of the Family.  Those are three “all-time classic” quality stories.  They’re things you can hand to a non-comics friend who “wants to try a Batman comic”.  Maybe they won’t be hooked on comics, but at least you won’t have to be nervous about the material: there’s no issues drawn by Igor Kordey in the middle, no weird events that you have to explain to them, etc.  It’s just good, good comics with a pantheon-level character.

What makes this issue – and story – work so well is how Snyder defines the Batman-Joker relationship.  I really like the idea that Joker is just this deeply insane man that enjoys playing with Batman, and he doesn’t like it when Batman spends time with any of his other friends or just ignores him.  Ignore Joker and he’ll lash out at someone just to make Batman pay attention; it isn’t so much that he wants to kill average Gothamites, but that he wasn’t Batman to focus on HIM.  It was also nice to see how Bruce/Batman backed away from that obsessive ledge that the character sometimes teeters upon.  Bruce doesn’t want his life to be defined by Joker, but by his crusade for justice and his friends.  That’s the tone I want in a Batman book.

However, there are elements to this story that I don’t enjoy as much.  To be clear, they don’t make it a bad story or anything like that, but they do affect the overall enjoyment.  This whole “Why won’t Batman just kill Joker?” trope is tired and I don’t like seeing a writer as talented as Snyder using it.  We KNOW why Batman won’t kill Joker!  It has nothing to do with Batman’s personal code of ethics and everything to do with DC being able to market another Joker-centric story 2-3 years in the future.  And that’s why I don’t like the classic villains.  They are as safe as Batman himself and that removes a lot of drama from the story.  It isn’t that Death in the Family is more poorly executed than Court of Owls, but in CoO Snyder and Capullo were playing in a much larger sandbox.  DotF is trapped in the Joker’s closet as all Joker stories are.

Again, the art is superb.  Capullo is – of course – awesome.  But, we already knew that.  What I’m respecting more and more about Capullo is his professionalism.  He never seems to put his inker and colorist in a lousy position.  That means that Capullo is cranking these pages out on a fairly regular basis and getting them to Glapion and Plascencia with enough time that they can do their respective duties.  It can’t be an easy job to ink Capullo – there’s a lot more than “tracing” going on here – and these pages look as crisp as the first page of Batman #1.  Ditto for the colors.  Why doesn’t Plascencia get more comic work?  The guy is awesome!

I guess the thing I really appreciate about the art is how this art team has seized the brass ring.  These guys have all been around comics for a long time, but THIS gig on Batman was their shot at big time acclaim that they would never get working on Spawn or Haunt or Anna Mercury or whatever.  I LOVE it when you see people get a shot at the “big time” and nail it and then continue to nail it over an extended period of time.

Conclusion: A very fitting end to the Death of the Family story.  The only flaws are those inherent in working within the confines of classic villains who must live to fight another day.

Grade: B+

- Dean Stell

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7 Responses

  1. I guess I saw a bit more into this ending. Joker flat out won. The Death of the Family, while metaphorical, was real. The trust and respect that all of the Bat Family had for Batman is fractured and scarred. This should have ramifications going forward in all of the Bat books for a very long time (if the various writers take proper advantage of it). Snyder did better than give us a major character death. This has the potential to actually last longer. Think about the magnitude of Bruce’s betrayal here… in the flashback Snyder makes the point of mentioning that they had taken in Dick when he visited Joker in Arkham. And he reveals himself to Joker! What a gamble. He was betting that Joker had no interest in knowing who he was… but if he was wrong, then Joker could come right after Dick if he ever escaped Arkham. Lots of things to think about here.

    Also, while I agree with Dean that the “why doesn’t he kill the Joker thing” is tired, I was personally surprised by the angle that it may actually be out of fear that someone worse (someone Batman doesn’t understand as well) will simply take Joker’s place. There is this idea that Batman is “comfortable” with Joker and is honestly frightened with what killing him might bring.

    Finally I love that both of them are unmasked in the fall. But neither one of them knows who the other is. I think Batman doesn’t want to know Joker’s identity anymore than Joker wants to know Batman’s. Why? Perhaps because Joker/Batman is who they really are? Just terrific deepening of this relationship.

    • Yeah….I hear where you’re coming from. I just don’t buy Big 2 superheroes as being epic or any Big 2 superhero story as affecting anything beyond the next story arc.

      I really just want entertaining, self-contained tales of Batman doing cool Batman things.

  2. Another thing that took the drama out of the story is that every member of the Batman “family”, except for Alfred, has a solo series, meaning we know that they are safe as well. How can this be called Death of the Family, referencing the Death in the Family storyline, a story infamous for showing that Americans will always choose for a character to die, if given the choice, and not have any deaths! Ruined the entire storyline for me.

    • To make you buy the thing.
      Anyway, it was great and a the and, when B-man was “hugging” the Joker and was about to say his name I was like… wow.

      • Yeah scud…..I’m not falling for those teases in the comic anymore. I just can’t imagine that after ~70 years, DC would reveal Joker’s name…..especially not with Snyder as the writer and especially not without some marketing behind it.

        Sometimes I think these comics would be more fun if I didn’t know more about the writers, marketing, etc. I mean….when I was a kid, I just bought the X-Men at 7-11 and I didn’t have any clues about Chris Claremont’s tendencies as a writer, how much reverence he had for characters, etc. and there was no internet to hype up some storyline about some villain. I just bought the comic and enjoyed it….maybe discussed it with a few buddies who also read comics. But, there was no community of hundreds or thousands of intelligent adults all crowd-sourcing the analysis.

    • Hmmm…..I can see your point. I didn’t read any of the tie-in series. I’ve put myself in the mindset that I’m not falling for that trick anymore. There have been fleeting moments in my comic experience where I could honestly say, “Gosh….I am so GLAD that I’m reading ALL the Batman/X-Men/Avengers/Etc. comics because I never would have been happy with just one. All of these series are awesome right now!”, but more frequently I only think one of the series is worth the time/money and the others are filler.

      Read from the standpoint of Batman only, the series went pretty well. You vaguely got the sense that Joker was coming after the other members of “the family”, but it wasn’t as central as the main Batman-Joker story. In fact, I thought Snyder did a nice job of keeping the story contained to Batman. BUT….maybe the only way to do that is to have the other series be extraneous? And, if that is the case, why bother at all? [except to make for ~12-15 issues to complete a nice, fat hardcover collection, hahahah....they trick us again. :) ]

      But, I do see your point….there was no death. There wasn’t even a death of the family in the figurative sense. In the end, the family kinda survives just fine.

      • Great review Dean, I thought this was a fantastic ending to a wonderfully creepy and suspense filled storyline. Some people will be upset that there wasn’t some crazy payoff, but as you pointed out, no one should kid themselves and think that even if there was a literal death in this story that it wouldn’t be overturned in a few months. I was happy that Snyder and Co. didn’t go that route. For four months they had all us Batman fans sitting on the edge of our seats, getting more uneasy with every turn of the page, but unable to stop ourselves. I think that is what made this story so successful. It reminded me of a quote from the master Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”.

        I do think there was a figurative death OF the family, though it was only hinted at. In the end all the Robins and Barbara seem to come up excuses to not meet up with Bruce, I took this as a sign that the Joker’s scheme fractured the once solid levels of trust in the Bat-family. Only time will tell if this is will have a lasting effect on their relationships, but I think that is what Snyder’s going for.

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