Batman #15 marks Death of the Family‘s halfway point. Mistah J’s been busy, and this issue starts to incorporate elements from some of the other DOTF titles, namely Nightwing and Batgirl. Here’s the official description from DC:
• “DEATH OF THE FAMILY” continues here!
• The Joker’s attacks have taken their toll on Batman and his allies, and now they have to face the impossible.
• The final madness of The Joker’s plan revealed here! Why is he more dangerous now than ever before?
• Plus: In the backup feature, witness The Joker’s confrontation with the Riddler as the horror of The Joker’s plan is revealed.
If there’s any problem with Scott Snyder‘s writing, it’s that he does a lot of it. As with many of his other books, from the very first page of Batman #15, we’re nearly overwhelmed by caption boxes. Sometimes it felt like I was reading a novel with illustrations, rather than a comic book. That said, I can’t complain too much because the content of those boxes is so dang good.
Batman finally gets his hands on the Joker this issue, a move that backfires and lands him in the cave’s Bat-hospital, recovering from one of the Joker’s toxins. This opens the door to a startlingly creepy scene that’s the high point of the issue, followed by a conversation among the Bat-family, with Batman trying to explain how the Joker couldn’t know their secret identities, even though his explanation is less than comforting. Snyder again uses his trademark technique of twisting continuity to his advantage (I think. The event he references is an obscure one, if it exists at all. I assume it does.), but Bruce’s uncharacteristic failure to face facts will surely come back to bite him (no matter what the “facts” in question really are). However, this odd behavior on his part, among other things, might indicate that the Joker’s toxin is having a lingering effect, and I won’t be surprised if, in issue #17, it turns out everything from this point on “was all a dream” (or some variation of that. Also, it’s not a spoiler if I’m just speculating wildly). The Court of Owls already showed us that Snyder likes to screw with Bruce’s brain, and Mr. S does like to stick to a theme (which I applaud). Speaking of themes,those same captions turn up again near the end and their content easily makes up for all the reading.
Starting with the very first sick page, Greg Capullo gets to draw Joker’s face for an extended sequence, and he captures it gloriously. In that regard he easily surpasses all the other artists working on DOTF (or I thought he did, until I saw Patrick Gleason‘s work in Batman and Robin #15. Also, to fair to all the others, Capullo is at an advantage, working with his own design.) While he’s at the top of his game with faces-as-masks, he’s a bit shakier when it comes to faces-as-faces. Bruce, Dick, Tim, and Damian’s unmasked visages seem slightly out of line with the shapes of their heads, unless,-to go full-blown conspiracy theorist here- it’s another hint that Bruce is even less right in the head than usual.
The back-up feature, written by James Tynion IV with art by Jock, continues the cycle of meetings between Joker and other members of Batman’s rogues gallery, this time with the Riddler. Tynion does a particularly good job of distinguishing the voices of the two, and explains the importance of the Riddler (in the Joker’s mind). It’s a nice clarification, as Eddie Nigma sometimes comes across as a poor imitation of the Joker. Jock delivers beautifully on the more unusual elements (Joker’s face, actions scenes with laughing gas and a horse) but his Riddler isn’t particularly striking. In fact, my greatest complaint with the back-up is that the Riddler receives very little fanfare, considering this is his New 52 debut (I don’t count the Arkham riot in Batman #1). I would have liked such an important character to make a bigger entrance (DC is hyping the H.I.V.E.’s impending return in Superman #18 for goodness sake).
Despite my suspicions about, well, everything at this point, Batman #15 is still great. Snyder, Capullo, and Co. are delivering the most definitive comic book take on the Joker since The Killing Joke. If you’re not reading Batman, then, #1) you need to fix that, and #2) why not?