Batman #14 finds the Caped Crusader up to his pointy ears in toxic sludge. It says a lot that Batman finding himself trapped in the same chemical vat that birthed the Joker is the least awesome part of the issue. Here’s the official description from DC:
• “DEATH OF THE FAMILY” continues!
• The Joker is back and somehow more sinister than ever! What caused this change? And can even Batman stop a Joker so driven and dangerous?
• And where is Alfred?
• Plus: In the backup feature, The Penguin is running out of options as he’s confronted by The Joker!
Last issue, Scott Snyder pushed all the right buttons, keeping us on the edge of our seats to see the Joker’s new look and what he had up his sleeve. Now Alfred is missing, and the story shifts into a more procedural mode as Bruce tries to control the situation.
We’ve seen some of these things -like the Joker’s ability to enter his enemies’ homes unnoticed and anticipate their actions- before (“The Dark Knight” did a great job of showing this.) So plotwise, the first half of the issue is a bit run-of-the-mill for a Joker story. In the second half, however, Snyder again proves his skill for using continuity to his advantage and making old things new. In this case, Batman arrives at the Gotham Reservoir to find Joker has foiled his own scheme (or at least, he foiled the scheme he had the first time he fought Batman there) so that they can skip the “business” of fighting and have a real talk instead. Throughout the issue, Snyder also hits some great story beats, and consistently nails the Joker’s voice (aided greatly in the latter by the lettering of Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt.)
Greg Capullo’s contribution is also fantastic. He’s able to cut loose for two incredibly powerful full-page scenes; the second, in which Batman meets Joker for the first time with his “new” face, is an elegant and masterful reunion. Speaking of that face, it seems a bit deteriorated, even since our one real look at it last issue. It’s sagging a bit, curling at the edges, which isn’t surprising if you think about it. I dearly hope that the decay progresses as the story unfolds. Joker also has a wonderful boneless quality about him, making it seem that only his boundless enthusiasm, his joie de vivre, is keeping him upright. There’s also a very cool visual trick where Capullo draws the stereo playing Joker’s message to look like his face. If there’s any fault with Capullo’s work, it’s a bit of inconsistency with Nightwing’s face and hair. His mask, in particular, changes shape a lot.
In the back-up, Joker does the Penguin an (unwanted) favor, seeking a favor of his own. The two are fundamentally different villains and the real treat here is their juxtaposition, both visually, on Jock‘s end, and characteristically, on Snyder and James Tynion IV’s.
While it’s not quite up to the high level of the previous issue, Batman #14 is an excellent book and easily worth price of admission.