The Penultimate issue of ‘Death of the Family’ opens with prison guards dressed as Batman and Joker dancing in Arkham cells. These are the guards with no family members for Joker to threaten, so they are forced to stay in the asylum as part of what Joker calls his ‘Royal Dance Macabre.’ If you’ll recall, The Black Glove’s redecoration of Arkham in R.I.P. was also referred to as a ‘Dance Macabre.’ It’s the first challenge Batman faces in this maze of horror that Joker has created, and the next in line of many references to previous Batman/Joker confrontations littered throughout this story arc.
One of Snyder’s greatest strengths when writing a character with as much history as this one is the ease with which he references events and stories throughout their history. This was done exceptionally well in ‘The Black Mirror.’ It wasn’t something we saw him do much at all with ‘The Court of Owls,’ but one can guess he might not have wanted to intimidate new readers. Here, he’s pushing his ‘referencing’ muscle to capacity.
The result is something that Batman fans might feel like they’ve seen before with Morrison’s ‘Arkham Asylum,’ ‘Batman: R.I.P,’ Arkham Asylum the video game or numerous other similar plots. However, the enthusiasm with which it’s presented makes it something uniquely fun, and love it or hate it, the spectacle is something you will not want to miss.
After Batman uses gadgets to soak up the water in the cells and save the dancers, he proceeds through Arkham’s passageways towards Jeremiah Arkham’s office, where he figures Joker is likely held up.
Joker has made references to himself as a court jester and Batman as his king, Penguin the bishop, and the sidekicks as the round table in previous issues of this arc, but here the medieval references are kicked up about ten notches because Joker has assigned everyone from the inmates to the classic rogues roles to play in his medieval fantasy. The entire sequence is admittedly quite on-the-nose, though perhaps it could have been just a little more subtle if Joker weren’t telling you which role each and every person involved was playing.
When taking a step back and looking at it, Joker’s sudden medieval fetish does come off as a little bit strange. Yes, it’s a metaphor that Snyder thinks is interesting and wants to explore, but how effective is it really in getting Joker’s point across. More importantly, what’s the joke? In any case the sheer scale of Joker’s plan is intriguing and the theatricality of it is right up Joker’s alley.
After taking out a crowd of inmates in riot gear with swords, torches and a horse, or as Joker calls them ‘the Royal Knights,’ Batman starts to ride away on the horse (flashbacks to Dark Knight Returns, anyone?) when he spots the tapestry of living humans that Joker has commissioned the Dollmaker to create as a tribute to what Joker sees as his greatest accomplishments. This is a point where I felt the levels of disgusting were maybe pushing the boundaries a bit far for a mainstream Batman comic. This is something I would think twice about before giving to a kid, and it’s not something I want to see but once in a great while.
If that wasn’t upsetting enough, you can turn the page to see Mr. Freeze turn the horse’s head to ice and knock it to pieces. Batman then dispatches Freeze quite quickly, as well as Clayface and Scarecrow in succession as he climbs the tower. On one hand, it’s neat seeing these characters that I love so much appearing, but on the other it always bothers me when villains that should be such big threats to Batman are relegated to being pathetic henchmen taken out with hardly a second thought.
At the top of the tower, Batman cracks the door and we see an absolutely gorgeous double page spread from Capullo with Jester Joker, Two-Face the judge, Penguin the pope, and some Arkham Staff dressed as Justice League members. There’s a chainsaw in the stone, which is a reference to the Arthurian legend of the sword in the stone.
Here we see Joker’s face finally beginning to show some signs of serious decomposition, and for the first time it forced me to wonder exactly how they’re going to get Joker’s face back on to him.
Speaking of questions regarding comic book physics, one has to wonder exactly how Joker managed to make his rounds in the tie-in appearances from the time Batman left the cave to his arrival at Arkham. That sure is a small amount of time taken to get those images of the near dead sidekicks in the screen for Batman. After seeing his sidekicks in such danger, Batman is forced to do as the Joker wishes, and sit on the throne (electric chair.) Joker turns the chair on and the main feature ends.
The backup feature picks up shortly afterward and focuses on Joker making sure Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face don’t interfere with his private dinner with the Batman and his allies. Before leaving them, he shows them something on a silver platter that shocks and disturbs them. Is anyone else getting sick and nervous about what’s happened to Alfred now? That’s probably too obvious, but in any case that silver platter is something that makes me very uneasy about the upcoming finale.
This review is beginning to run a little long, and I haven’t even hardly mentioned the incredible art! Seriously, it’s amazing all around from Capullo, Jock, and the inkers and colorists. The panel composition, the lighting, the consistency, the facial expressions, the body language, every aspect of it is worthy of the highest praise. It is truly some of the best art in comics right now.
As I wrap up, I want to say that even though it may seem as if I’m nitpicking or criticizing so many aspects of this issue, I really truly did have a lot of fun reading it, and the cliffhanger from the backup has me eagerly anticipating the oversized thirty page finale.
Reviewed by Micah Evans