16 February 2014

Review: Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family

Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my.

So I've been thoroughly enjoying the Snyder run on Batman, a superhero I've never really been a fan of. Snyder's taking it into territories I didn't expect, and I'm really loving it. Thus bringing us to Death of the Family, which is largely a Joker-focused arc.

My experience with the Joker is almost entirely based on the old television show, the more recent movies, and a handful of trade arcs prior to The New 52 that ended up portraying the Joker as pretty crazy but not necessarily dangerous due to having focus. The point, at least from my perspective, was more of how unpredictable and crazy the Joker was, not so much that he could develop a plan, put it in action, and largely succeed based on those merits. I could be way off on my perception of the character, I admit - I base this fully on my limited exposure and little else.

New 52 Joker is certainly nuts. His tendencies are off the wall, he clearly has something wrong with him (why else would he be wearing his stripped-off face around all the time), and even Harley Quinn sees that there's something really wrong about him. Thus, we have a five issue arc that really makes the Joker into the insane-yet-calculated personality that one might expect. This Joker is possibly closer to the Heath Ledger Joker, but even that Joker is not as sadistic and unpredictable as Snyder's. Snyder's Joker leaves you uncomfortable. Creeped out. You truly believe he can and will do anything to achieve his goals, even if you're not 100% sure you understand what his goals are.

And Batman, in this universe at least, is far too sane and logical to quite know how to handle it. That's what truly makes this arc special - we all know what it feels like to seemingly be trying to work with/against/in tandem with someone we're simply not able to figure out. Someone acts in a way you can't explain, you don't know what to do or how to really respond? That's Snyder's Batman/Joker relationship. Rather than being an adversarial relationship, two sides to the same coin, Snyder pits the logical, well-grounded, successful Batman against the ultimate wild card, a wild card that isn't afraid to kidnap everyone you love and make you think the worst things have happened to them. A wild card who isn't afraid to make you crack, to break you down mentally for good, and for seemingly no reason at all. Plus, there's a great scene at the very end that really calls into question who is truly responsible for what, and it becomes not only a question of sane versus insane, calculated versus crazy, but also about our own responsibility to our own adversaries, internal or external.

I felt Court of Owls was brilliant because it took the Batman I thought I knew and put something really special and different in its place. Death of the Family is better than Court of Owls because it truly uses the comic art form and the traditional superhero story as a lens for the rest of the world around us, and succeeds brilliantly in doing so. It's more than a Batman story, it's more than a superhero story, and it's more than a comic. It's a real demonstration of who we all are, and the different personalities we fight with, both inside and out. At the end of the story, you forget that Batman is wearing a mask because he always is, but there's a very sharp reminder that, really, the Joker is wearing one, too. Literally and figuratively.

Just read this. Find all the New 52 main Batman arcs and read them. You'll be better for it.

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