Collects: Batman #13-14, #17; Detective Comics #15-17; Catwoman #13-14; Suicide Squad #14-15; Batgirl #13-16; Red Hood and the Outlaws #13-16; Teen Titans #14-16; Nightwing #14-16; Batman and Robin #15-17
Writer: Scott Snyder, Ann Nocenti, Gail Simone, Adam Glass, Peter J. Tomasi, Kyle Higgins, John Layman, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza
Art: Greg Capullo, Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarrogona, Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere, Fernando Dagnino, Patrick Gleason, Tomas Giorello, Eddy Barrows, Jason Fabok, Brett Booth and various
In this somewhat daunting hardcover lies the storyline Batman readers have been wringing their hands about for a while; Death of the Family.
The Death of the Family arc is not for the light of heart or weak of stomach. Centered around the reappearance of the Joker after a year away, the Death of the Family is about the Joker’s plan to restore Batman to his former glory by destroying his relationships with the people who matter most to him: Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl, Nightwing, Alfred Pennyworth and Catwoman. The Joker believes that the ‘Batfamily’ keeps Batman weak, impeding him from greatness, and so he sets out a masterfully insane plot to kill or emotionally cripple every member of the family in increasingly gruesome ways.
The book is split up into eight parts plus a conclusion, one part for every member of the family: Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Red Hood and Red Robin share a part, Nightwing, Robin, and the Conclusion. Being split up into parts in some ways can make it a bit easier to digest, you can either read the whole thing and see how the parts play off each other or you can simply pick and choose which parts you want to read. There are many different characters and writers to choose from and some storylines were more successful than others in evoking emotions and setting stakes.
In my opinion the most successful parts were the last four; Nightwing, Teen Titans (feat. Robin), the Conclusion and the Epilogue. Part of the reason these parts were so successful was the adept writing. All three of the writers (Higgins, Tomasi and Snyder) do a great job at taking the core of the characters and working their greatest fears against them. Nightwing is someone who surrounds himself with people and has built himself a life with Haly’s Circus and Amusement Mile; so the Joker burns it to the ground. Robin wants his father’s approval and wants to fight side by next to Batman; so the Joker makes Robin fight Batman and choose whether to kill or be killed. The writing is stellar because all of the writers on these sections seem to know the characters inside and out, what they fear most, what makes them tick, and how to perfectly set the stakes to make the readers deeply emotionally invested in what is happening to them.
While the writing for the back half is stunning and gripping, the writing for the front half of the book is rather mediocre. The first Batman section is interesting, but the Catwoman, Harley Quinn sections fall flat and Batgirl was off putting and kind of confusing in spots. In the interest of full disclosure I don’t read Suicide Squad, Catwoman or Batgirl, so maybe that has something to do with my distaste for these parts. Or maybe it’s because the front half of this book seemed to lean less on writing and more on seeing just how often the heroines get naked. We see Catwoman half-naked and out of her suit almost as often as she is in it, Harley gets completely naked at least once, and our first introduction to Batgirl is of her in her underwear. Unlike the rest of the book, the writing seems to be an afterthought, and it suffers for it. It’s not bad, it’s just disappointing.
Writing aside, one of the great things about the book consistently throughout was the art. Every artist brought their A-Game here and unlike the writing which seemed unable to mesh well, the art is great from beginning to end. But by far, the creepiest and most unsettling of the bunch, and this is meant as a positive, is Patrick Gleason’s chilling depiction of the Joker. That hollow-eyed stare is the most effective at driving home the sense of fear and dread the Joker is meant to inspire in readers.
The major downside to this book as a whole, in my opinion, is the structure itself. I appreciate what DC Comics was trying to do with this big storyline, and overall I like what was achieved here, but because they used so many different characters and writers the whole thing comes off as disjointed. Normally I encourage people to get bigger stories in trade, it’s easier for someone not well versed in comics to pick up a trade or hardcover and read a story all collected together than have to hunt down all the monthly issues to read a big story arc. However, with this story arc, unless you are invested in all of the characters or have read all the monthlies and want an easier format to read, I would pass on picking this up.
The Joker: Death of the Family:
Reviewed by Chelsea Cochrane