One of the most anticipated comics events of 2012 is here. Batman #13 has the return of the Joker, the Dark Knight’s greatest enemy, and one of the greatest villains of all time. Obviously, expectations were pretty high. Can it possibly live up to the hype? Here’s the official description from DC:
• The Joker returns in “DEATH OF THE FAMILY”!
• He crippled Batgirl. He killed Robin. What will The Joker do now that he’s returned to Gotham City?
• What must Batman do to protect his secret identity and that of those who fight alongside him?
One of Scott Snyder’s greatest strengths as a comic writer is his ability to use character history to his advantage, where so many other writers get bogged down by it. He does that now with the Joker, who repeatedly references earlier elements of his own chronology and reenacts his first appearance from Batman Vol. 1 #1. This isn’t Heath Ledger’s Joker, the one that’s been most on our minds for the past four years. That Joker was a force of nature; this one is your best friend: he’s doing this for your own good, and it hurts him more than it hurts you. It’s powerful characterization, and Snyder hits it spot-on. Not to say there aren’t problems with the writing. Snyder is wordy, and while he usually doesn’t tell what he should be showing, he does a bit of that here. Still, the dialogue and narration are so eloquent and crazy that it hardly matters.
Greg Capullo has been kicking butt on this book from the very beginning, and that hasn’t changed. He has a few slips, particularly with Jim Gordon early on, and one layout I don’t care for, but everywhere else he finds brilliant balances, with backgrounds that are detailed, but not crowded, and fluid, intimidating poses for a motionless Bruce that have me remembering the book as more action-packed than it actually was. Also, despite the early reveals of the Joker’s new design (including the nifty die-cut cover) I was still unprepared for the real unveiling on the last page. The sketchy quality Capullo brings makes the villain much creepier than the cleaner images we’ve seen up till now. Jimmy Betancourt also deserves major cred for the lettering on Joker’s dialogue, which brings a ton of creepy jester life to a him, even though he goes unseen for most of the issue.
James Tynion IV‘s back-up is good, but is almost too intense. We get to see some of the reunion between Harley Quinn and the all-new Mistah J, but Harley is so vulnerable it gives you the willies. Nothing actually happens to her, but the atmosphere of violation is so palpable, it makes it impossible to just enjoy the scene. Jock‘s art only contributes to the feeling.
“Death of the Family” is off to a fantastic start. To say there’s room for improvement sound’s like criticism, but I say that because I’m confident things will get even better from here, now that the pieces are in play. You will regret not picking up Batman #13.