“Death of the Family” nears its conclusion with Batman #16, which Scott Snyder has called the “craziest issue yet.” Does it live up to that assessment? Here’s the official description from DC:
• “DEATH OF THE FAMILY” continues!
• Batman heads into his showdown with The Joker as the madman’s plan is finally revealed – in Arkham Asylum!
• It all lead’s into next month’s terrifying conclusion!
• And in the backup story, in the midst of The Joker’s assault on Batman and his allies, get a secret glimpse into what started The Crown Prince of Crime on his horrifying journey!
Ultimately you’ll have to judge for yourself if #16 maxes out the crazy meter (the infamous Batman #5 is tough to beat,) but I will say this issue is definitely the more twisted of the two, if you care to make that distinction. If I nitpick, I can find problems: Snyder seems to go out of his way to be gratuitous in places, and he and the Joker lay the whole “Batman as king” thing on a bit heavy throughout the issue, but those are things I would have done differently, and there’s a reason I’m not writing Batman. Quibbling aside, the cumulative effect of the book is undeniable. It’s sickening. Stomach-turning. Delicious. This is chic horror that most slasher and torture porn flicks can, at best, only aspire to, and it happens to feature the greatest hero/villain pairing in all of comics.
Greg Capullo‘s contribution to this story cannot be overstated. He transforms Arkham into a Frankenstein castle of horrors, visually referencing Grant Morrison’s definitive work on this most serious of houses along the way. Snyder gives most of Batman’s major villains a panel or two to shine, and Capullo takes maximum advantage of the opportunity. He also lends everything a medieval flair, from the horde of inmate “knights” armored with riot gear to a solitary, weary Batman on horseback, recalling Don Quixote. All this, and the Joker just keeps getting creepier. (His face is getting pretty ripe at this point.)
James Tynion IV and Jock handle back-up duties once again. Their previous offerings have showcased the Joker’s ability to deftly deconstruct his fellow villains and this time it’s Two-Face’s turn. The difference is that, up until this point, we’ve seen Joker recruiting them to his scheme. Now he’s casting them aside, their usefulness outlived. I’m particularly fond of the strong character silhouettes Jock creates. His Joker feels different from Capullo’s, is more impressionistic, but is no less terrifying. One ingenious element of these back-ups is that, by showing how Joker was able to enlist a few key members of Batman’s rogues gallery, Snyder and Tynion make it easy for us to imagine for ourselves how easily all the other characters in this issue would have fallen in line.
It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between “Death of the Family” and the previous major story arc, “The Court of Owls.” The two are equally grand, so for the first few issue of DotF I wondered how Snyder would fit a story of similar scope into only 5 issues. Now I realize that, equal though the stories may be, where Court was epic, Family is intimate. This isn’t a secret society bringing the power of a city to bear. This is your dark half, whispering in your ear, telling you all the things you don’t want to hear.