Comic Book Review: Batman Death of the Family

Since the New 52 started back in September of 2011, one writer has gone above and beyond with his work, and that man is Scott Snyder. While he’s made a name for himself with his horror indie book Severed, his work at Vertigo/DC with Swamp Thing and American Vampire, all of which have garnered critical acclaim and fan acclaim and earning him several awards. His Batman work is what I truly love him for and Death of the Family is no different in that respect.

Please note that this is a review of the core storyline that went from Batman #13 to Batman #17.

It’s been a year since the Joker got his face cut off at the hands of Dollmaker in Detective Comics #1. Since then he’s completely vanished from the DC universe leaving many to wonder what happened to the Clown Prince of Crime. Well now he’s back and he wants to bring back the old days of his battles with Batman. He feels that his expanded family has only made him weak and that they all must die for it. And so begins a morbid, creepy and thought provoking story which heavily explores Batman’s relationship with not just Joker, but the city of Gotham, his allies, Arkham Asylum…

This is a character study of both Batman and the Joker as it truly delves into what kind of people these two really are and what is their relationship really like. While on the surface these two are your standard comic book hero and villain who must fight. The book delves into what the two of them mean to each other. Joker sees Batman as his one true friend and he feels insulted that the once cold and stern Caped Crusader has gotten weak because of this family that he’s built.

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Joker knows that all these people around him are a weakness as he describes it as Batman leaving pieces of his heart around and all Joker has to do is hurt these pieces to torture Batman. He goes to great lengths to prove his point like assaulting all of the individual members of the bat family and going after their loved ones to hurt them psychologically, physically and emotionally.

The story also shows just what kind of man Joker is in he’s not a man at all, but an unstoppable force of nature capable of doing the impossible over and over. Thought the story he is simply a hurricane of death and destruction, one that understands the people he’s targeting and uses his skills as a twisted criminal master mind to destroy them all, little by little until everything is ready for the grand finale.

Batman #15 perfectly shows just how insane the Joker is. We see Batman describing how the human eye works as the pupils expand when were happy and how the shrink when were sad or angry. Jokers eyes are always shrunk, little black spots that show that he is a man who hates everything and everyone and wants to destroy it all just for the hell of it.

The finale is where things get very interesting and I was a bit disappointed when reading it through the first time. However after re-reading it several times it’s probably the best part of the entire story as it proves that Joker is right. Despite Batman hating him with nearly every fiber of his being, he proves to everyone that Batman cannot bring himself to kill the Joker because in a way the two complete each other and they cannot exist without the other.

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It also proves that deep down Batman deep down secretly wants his family to die. Early in the story we see that Joker has seemingly had access to the Batcave for years now and Bruce never told anyone about it. This serves two purposes, first to drive a wedge between Bruce and his allies that Joker uses to break the family apart and too prove that he secretly wants them all gone as they make him vulnerable.

Joker describes this as Batman leaving him they key to his house so that in the cloak of night he can slit all their throats without them ever seeing it coming. It’s a very creepy idea that Snyder does exceptionally well, he never explicitly proves that it is like this but he leaves just enough evidence for us to think about it and make up the answer for ourselves.

The story also gives us sort of a definitive answer as to weather or not Joker truly knows who Batman is and does he care. Throughout the story he comments on people having skin under their skin which shows who they really are, from his point of view the Bat family does not have this and only he and Batman share this trait. Bruce Wayne is merely a mask that Batman puts on to protect his secret identity and for Joker his mask was the man he once was and Batman helped him shed that skin so that he could show the world who he truly is by accidentally making him fall into the vat of acid.

Many people will be disappointed that no one really dies in this story however I think it’s actually a good thing. Comic book deaths have become nothing but a joke at this point, they’re just marketing gimmicks used to sell more books and unless the dead character stays dead for a while, then what’s the point of even doing it? And we all knew that no one from the Bat family would die as the books are huge sellers for the company.

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Snyder avoids doing this cheap gimmick and instead uses the card Joker planted in the cave and his speech in the finale to destroy the trust Bruce has built up with his allies. The ending shows them not answering his calls and in a way, he has destroyed the family and effectively won by the end.

I’ve seen plenty of people complaining about this and the biggest criticism is that no one actually died and they’ve gone through worse things than this. That is true to an extent but the Batcave has always been a save heaven for everyone associated with Batman, it’s been their home and the one place where they could feel genuinely safe. Once you realized your perfect safe home is nothing but a death trap spied on by the greatest serial killer on the planet for years and that the head of the house kept that fact from you, you cannot trust that person anymore.

Something similar happened with Final Crisis with people complaining that things didn’t make sense and it was just stupid gibberish/bullshit. Matt Fraction gave the perfect counter argument by saying: “God forbid readers actually have to put some thought into what they’re reading! „

Greg Capullo just goes all out this time. The panel layout is very dynamic and some of the panels look like out of a movie. He’s previously worked on Spawn and since there is a profound horror element to the book it must have come in quite handy. Thanks to the fantastic art the creepy, disturbing and moody atmosphere escapes the page and more often than not I looked over my shoulder just to check if some psycho with his face cut off was about to slit my throat.

Death of the Family is an amazing story not just for Joker but one of the best Batman stories of all time. It gets better the more you read it as you will constantly notice new things each time you go through it and if you put a lot of thought into it, you will see just how deeply it delves into the psyche of Batman and Joker.


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