Batman #16 Review
By: Rob Gruszecki
Over the years we have been treated to a slew of Batman stories featuring members of what is commonly known as the Bat family. This family, consisting of those who have taken up their own cowl in an effort to carry on the legacy of the Bat, feature the likes of Nightwing, Batgirl and an ever increasing number of Robins. This particular brand of justice has even incorporated itself globally. Having fought alongside and even been trained first hand by the rich playboy who started it all, these crusaders have extended their own reach to absorb even more into their cause. This web connecting them all seeps into the history of Gotham and threads tied to the rest of the DC shared universe help perpetuate even more stories, characters and subsequent ‘families’.
This family however is not what makes the Batman and for that matter not even what makes Bruce Wayne. These are simply extensions of himself, his drive, passion and anger manifesting themselves in other vengeful souls. In truth, the real catalyst for the constant struggle that defines the character and consistently perpetuates the cowl’s evolution over the years is his, what you could call ‘distant family’. ‘Relative’ in that they also have similar beginnings rooted in abandonment, revenge and sociopathic personalities but ‘distant’ in that what they have built upon these foundations is hateful, maniacal, disturbed and broken. Instead of building an empire of vigilantes to defend the world they inhabit these alternate family members ignite the anarchic spirit lying dormant in the human condition and sparks the very thing that creates costumed heroes to begin with. Some may acknowledge these villains as merely the ‘rogues gallery’ but in actuality they are a much closer family to the Batman then he has ever had.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have together sculpted the perfect Joker story with Death of the Family. Highlighting all the aforementioned dynamics and delivering one of the best depictions of the endless battle between the king and his court, Batman for the New 52 has proven time and again that there is no overdone stories, simply overdone ways to tell them. The arc starting in issue #13 of the series set off a Bat book crossover and has spawned incredible stories in the likes of other titles but ultimately finds its home in the pages of Batman with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo as headliners. Although this book is at its root a terrifying and haunting Joker vs. Batman tale, which we have all enjoyed many times, what is truly unique and revolutionary about this particular arc is that in its telling Snyder manages to unravel all preconceived notions about the Justice Leaguer simultaneously honoring all traits that make the character as timeless as it will always be. Presented within these pages is a complex character study of a hero and villain archetype that would cease to exist without the other. They’re self sustaining dichotomy is one that has thrived over all this time and as of recently erupted in catastrophe for the Caped Crusader and his disciples, exposing this family of what are at their core followers as apposed to a collection of adversaries who are even more integral to the tapestry the Dark Knight calls home.
With the launch of DC’s New 52 a promise was made to try and build and in some cases ‘rebuild’ characters and continuity thus making it easily accessible to new readers and rejuvenating the line for a tired audience that had been following for years. Ultimately few books really delivered this however some gems managed to be uncovered amongst the rough of typical spandex recycling and confusing 50-year-old redundant concepts heaped in what they promised to reset. Books like Animal Man, Swamp Thing (also by Snyder), All-Star Western, Frankenstein: Agent of Shade, Dial H, Wonder Woman, Morrison’s take on Action Comics and others really tried to tell something ‘New’ or introduce something to add to the vibrant histories of characters that had been there all along. Batman’s new number one with Capullo and Snyder was the perfect example of what the New 52 was capable of. Telling a story with well-established characters that didn’t dust off old crutches to lean on but instead added an entirely new layer into the book’s canon and introduced brand new circumstances that no one had ever read before. The Court of the Owls was the most memorable story of the New 52 re-launch because with it we got to see a sinister group that had evaded the Batman all these years and developed a conspiracy decades in the making deeply rooted in secret and hidden in the very walls of what Wayne had really thought he understood more than anything all this time. It was something that developed Bruce Wayne in a way that hadn’t really been done since the Killing Joke or Year One. It should be said that this was accomplished perfectly without sweeping old continuity under the rug but embracing it, creating a book that was meanwhile easily picked up by anybody wishing to read a Batman comic without being completely lost. While Court of the Owls still stands as Snyder and Capullo’s magnum opus, Death of the Family shows their take on an age old battle fought between familiar enemies and it is anything but ‘familiar’.
The interiors of this book are as strong as Greg Capullo has ever been in his entire career and this particular issue proves it, with a few pages of complete silence where dialogue or exposition take a breathe to allow the storytelling to rely entirely on his pencil work and page layout. The drawings of Joker with his new smile alone make the book worth picking up and a necessary addition to your pull list as this creative team that has yet to produce anything less than ‘excellent’ will surely be on for the foreseeable future. I will admit that Greg Capullo’s work has never particularly been on my radar and I would even say that personally I prefer and relish each and every panel drawn in the back-ups by Black Mirror alumnus Jock, however Capullo’s pencils on Batman with Scott Snyder has been nothing short of incredible.
Scott Snyder is a rapidly rising star and books like American Vampire, Swamp Thing and Severed proves he has writing chops hard to top in the horror department, but with Batman he really shows his talent in full force and unrelenting ingenuity. You’d be doing yourself a favor by picking up these issues starting at #13 (and the Court of Owls collections for that matter) or even simply jumping on with this penultimate chapter, as one read through of this particular comic will convince you, you have been missing out all this time. To all those who have been following along every step of the way, trust me, this is the issue you have been waiting for.
Rob Gruszecki is a writer, musician and Wednesday warrior
Follow him on twitter @Ghost_Factory
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Read more of his comic reviews (Dear, Ghost Factory. What Should I Read?) or listen to the Comics Round-up weekly Podcast both found at www.flashfact.org