Tag Archives: Batman: Death of the Family

A Batman #48 Review – Dangerous Destiny

Batman #48, cover, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #48
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 20, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the latest issue of Batman.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The intensity is cranking up again in Batman, as we head toward Bruce Wayne’s inevitable return to the cape and cowl. And now that Bruce and The Joker have been reunited (the amnesiac versions, mind you), it’s time to start asking the tough questions.

With no memories of his time as Batman, and only secondhand knowledge of his former life, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne must decide whether to bear the burden of a hero, or keep his current life. Of all people, he runs into The Joker on a park bench. Like Bruce, Joker seems to have no memory of who he was. But perhaps there’s no one more appropriate to be with Bruce as he contemplates his fate. Meanwhile, Mr. Bloom is on the rampage in Gotham City and the current Batman, Jim Gordon, is at his mercy. The fate of the entire city hangs in the balance as Bruce makes his choice.

When we started this “Superheavy” story, and we found out what had happened to Bruce, part of our path became clear. The iconic hero has a chance to start over and live something of a normal life, but he chooses the way of the hero all over again. It’s a classic tale. It’s just a question of how Snyder and Capullo would choose to tell it. I can’t say I’ve loved their entire run, but what we get in this issue is pretty damn satisfying.

Batman #48, 2016, Greg CapulloIn this park bench sequence, it’s left ambiguous just how much The Joker remembers about his former self. At a few different points it seems like the Harlequin of Hell is revealing himself to Bruce, but it’s simply a misunderstanding. As a reader this is frustrating, especially when a gun is brought into the scene. But there’s also a dark humor in it that I can appreciate. It’s very Joker-ish in that sense.

Snyder gives us a role reversal, as Bruce ponders what the point of this new life was if he’s simply going to go back. He nearly says aloud that this is almost like a big joke. Then The Joker, of all characters, floats the idea that perhaps existing in the here and now is enough, and that change is okay.

This is almost an upside down version of The Killing Joke. I particularly enjoyed Bruce briefly considering The Joker’s usual mindset, that life is essentially a worthless joke, before making his decision. On the flip side, The Joker considers the idea that meaning can be found in everyday existence. To Snyder’s credit, he gives us a scene that can only happen in this story. The ambiguous nature of just how much The Joker knows also leaves us wondering if, when The Joker returns, he’ll know Bruce’s identity. Snyder and Capullo are starting to reassemble what they took apart in Death of the Family and Endgame. Bruce also has a hell of a line to close the issue.

But oddly enough, this isn’t the highlight of the issue. Mr. Bloom, a villain that I had considered a lame duck before, steals the show by growing giant-sized and monologuing.

Batman #48, 2016, Mr. Bloom, Jim GordonAs he speaks to Gotham at large and tries to lure them to his cause, what’s truly scary is how much modern truth is injected into his insane rant. Bloom is making a bunch of metaphors about Gotham being a big garden when he says…

“In a garden, the gardeners pretend to take care of you. Look how pretty they make your lives. The police shoot you unarmed. Then shoot you again. And again. Your politicians. They take your money, and let you wither. Business poisons you. They say you can do well here, but you’re poor as hell. Aren’t you?”

Moments later, he urges Gotham to rise up against a corrupt system. There’s a chilling reality in those sentences. Obviously it’s coming from an insane character with a garden fetish. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful.

While I’ve had my issues with some of Scott Snyder’s writing choices on Batman, I’ve had very few complaints with Greg Capullo’s art. That trend continues here. In the Bruce/Joker scenes, The Joker looks perhaps as normal as we’ve ever seen him. But that madman is clearly lingering under the surface. Thus, the question of whether that madman is in control becomes even more pressing. Also, look closely at the cover. There’s a lone tear sliding down Batman’s mask. That’s a truly awesome touch.

This issue was a big win, no doubt about it But these next two issues of Batman, which will wrap up this story, have the potential to be among the best Snyder and Capullo have done. The stakes are high. There’s little doubt Batman can rise to the occasion. Let’s just hope this story can do the same.

Images from comicbookmovie.com. 

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A Batman #40 Review – Dead Again

Batman #40, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #40
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: April 29, 2015

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman #40 and the Endgame storyline.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not as big a fan of the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman run as a lot of comic book readers. But no one can deny they’ve got big, ballsy ideas. The Court of Owls, Flappy Face Joker, Zero Year, etc. For better or worse, they’re willing to take risks.

Hell, the finale to their Endgame story was so big and ballsy neither Batman or The Joker survived it.

When we open Batman #40, The Dark Knight and his surrogate family have teamed up with the likes of The Penguin, Killer Croc, Bane, and other foes to fight back against The Joker and his deadly virus that has turned most of Gotham into sadistic laughing zombies. But in the end, it all comes down to Batman and The Joker, in a fight that will irrevocably change Gotham City forever…Or not. Maybe they’ll be back in three months. This is a mainstream superhero comic, right?

Batman #40, Batman vs. Joker, Greg CapulloWhile I am fairly critical of the run Snyder and Capullo have had since the New 52 reboot, it’s tough to deny the quality of Capullo’s work. His art has a visceral quality that often sticks with you for awhile. That’s very much on display in the brutal and bloody fight we see hero and villain engage in here. It’s very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work in The Dark Knight Returns, to which Snyder and Capullo have paid tribute time and time again during their run. Interestingly enough, the Returns fight ended with the Joker having a Batarang in his eye, and the Endgame fight it’s Batman with a playing card in the eye.

The sheer ugliness of the fight was unexpected. But it does fit the idea of The Joker finally taking the gloves off and coming after his “former friend” with everything he’s got. In terms of Mr. J, Capullo does a fantastic job bringing him across the emotional spectrum. From sheer joy, to rage, to desperation. The character is rendered with such bulbous yellow eyes and these shark-like rows of gigantic teeth. This is why Capullo is one of the defining Batman artists of the last decade.

Batman #40, Greg Capullo, JokerThe issue revolves around Batman trying to extract a chemical called dionesium from The Joker’s spine. Dionesium is among the substances that has allowed characters like Vandal Savage and Ra’s al Ghul to live as long as they have. The idea is that after Death of the Family, Joker found a large pool of it in the caves under Gotham, which healed him and restored his face. As a plot point, this is fine. The man cut his own face off. There was obviously going to be some kind of magic comic book cure for him. What I don’t like is the way Endgame makes a mystery out of whether The Joker is this mysterious mythical figure called “The Pale Man,” who’s been around for centuries. In earlier issues we see Joker pop up in old photos, which is never entirely explained. And even at the very end, when the idea has been disproven, Batman mocks him for it.

I understand what Snyder is going for here in terms of The Joker’s cause, and the idea that a mere mortal like Batman can’t control the endless, eternal chaos and randomness of our world. But I dislike the notion that Batman and The Joker aren’t equals on the mortal playing field. These two characters both stand for something very powerful, and very human. The fact that they’re both mere men is important, because it plays into the relatability of their ideals. In theory, anyone could be Batman or The Joker, not because they don’t have super powers, but because they’ve both made very real, very human choices about their lives. Making The Joker an immortal character tarnishes a portion of that human element.

Batman #40, two-page spreadPlus, we all knew he wasn’t “The Pale Man” anyway. So why waste time on it in an otherwise intriguing and compelling story?

There’s also a nitpick I can’t resist here: Why is The Penguin involved in street fight (shown left)? If he’s firing off a bunch of trick umbrella gimmicks, that’s one thing. But he appears to just be fighting like everybody else. That’s a little out of his element, isn’t it? Just sayin’…

Flaws notwithstanding, Batman #40 is a nice finale to the Endgame story, which of course takes us into the whole “Robot Suit Batman” thing they’re starting soon (We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.) We can all make whatever arguments we want about whether it’s a quality issue or not. But for obvious reasons, it’s got historic value.

Image 1 from blastr.com. Images 2 and 3 from newsarama.com.

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A Batman & Robin: Death of the Family Review – Heart and Horror

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1517, Batman & Robin Annual #1, Batman #17
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: November 17, 2013

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 is our last stop before this series reaches a major turning point. One might even call it the end of an era. This book contains the last issues Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason get to work with the Damian Wayne before…*ehem*

The reason that’s so significant is because since the New 52 began, Batman & Robin has been primarily a book about Damian, his relationship with his father, his life as a hero, and his inner conflicts with his murderous instincts. That direction has made for some of the best Batman content in recent memory. But after this book, drastic change takes hold.

But this era ends with a hell of a bang. As the book’s title obviously indicates, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family ties in with the big crossover involving the Joker, and his attempts to take out Batman’s extended family. As such, Robin and the Harlequin of Hell come face-to-flappy-face. And as Batman fans know, bad things happen to Robins when the Joker is in town.

Batman #17, 2014, Greg Capullo, table sceneNaturally, much of the praise and criticism I directed at Death of the Family as a whole will apply here. That criticism isn’t necessarily directed at Tomasi or Gleason, as they were working with source material from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. But it’s worth noting, especially because Batman #17 is collected here. I’ll sum up what applies to Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 in two quick bullets…

– While the Joker’s voice remains consistent across all the tie-ins I’ve read, and definitely fits with his character, the whole “repairman who cuts his face off” thing goes a little too far in the horror direction for my taste. And the Joker’s explanation for surgically removing his face, which we get in Batman #17, doesn’t do much for me.

– DC gave us too much of a good thing by having Joker appear in too many Death of the Family tie-ins. In addition to appearing in Batman and Batman & Robin, the character either appeared in, or influenced events that occurred in Detective Comics, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad. It’s unclear to me how much time elapses during the entire Death of the Family story arc, but it all seems to occur fairly quickly. Even in a world of super powers and colorful heroes, it seems a bit unlikely the Joker could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

– Having noted those criticisms, Batman #17 is, for the most part, a very satisfying issue. I loved the scene between Bruce Wayne and the Joker at Arkham. Also, Greg Capullo’s art is damn close to perfect.

Robin, Joker, Patrick GleasonIn Batman & Robin, Joker lures Damian to the Gotham City Zoo by leaving traces of hyena urine at Wayne Manor. My question here is, how did the Joker know it would be Robin who found that particular clue? We find out in Batman #17 that he doesn’t actually know who Bruce, Damian, or any of Batman’s crew really are. So did he know Damian would be at Wayne Manor? Couldn’t it just as easily have been someone else who picked up that trail? Is this a plot hole, or am I missing something? Either way, my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

The stuff between the Joker and Damian is, for the most part, very satisfying. But again, it’s pretty high on the horror/gross-out element. Our young hero gets a nasty dose of one of the Joker’s toxins and dropped inside a sanctuary filled with countless dead birds, including of course, robins. A short time later the Clown Prince tops it off by dropping a massive assortment of ”only the best beetles, grubs, earthworms, fruits, berries, caterpillars and grasshoppers” on the Boy Wonder. In a word…ew. Still, unlike the whole sawing your own face off thing, I get the perverse joke here. Dead Robin, dead birds, bird food, etc. I get the horror angle here.

In retrospect, this exchange made it pretty obvious that the Joker didn’t know the Bat-Family’s true identities. He doesn’t talk about the fact that he’s standing there with Batman’s friggin’ son. It’s all about Robin’s connection to Batman, as opposed to Damian’s connection to Bruce. But from that standpoint, Joker still manages to hit Damian with some intense “insights” of his own unique variety. At the risk of overusing my bulletpoints, my two favorites were…

– “Oh, I bet one night among the gargoyles he said, ‘One day, you, too, can be the best Batman ever.” Well guess what — no, you can’t — there’s only one Batman and he doesn’t need you — any of you…” (This would have been an interesting one to hear back when Battle for the Cowl was being published.)

Batman & Robin #17, Death of the Family, Patrick Gleason– “…Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death!” (Particularly poignant, coming from the man who killed Jason Todd.)

The face-off progresses in a fight to the death between Robin and a “Jokerized” Batman imposter, who Damian believes to be the genuine article. This wonderfully ties not only into the death of Batman/death of Robin angle, but a theme Tomasi and Gleason have maintained since the beginning of the series: Damian’s inner conflict. As wants more than anything to make his father proud, but he also wants to go his own way, and sometimes struggles with the desire to give into his more deadly instincts. It all culminates in a really passionate, emotional character moment for Damian. As such, he came out of Death of the Family looking better than most, if not all of his Bat-Family peers.

Of course, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 isn’t all bugs and clowns. We also get more of Tomasi and Gleason’s take on the Bruce/Damian relationship in issue #17, which takes us into the dreams of Bruce, Damian, and Alfred as well. It’s a fairly effective issue. Oddly enough, the dream sequence I found the most touching was Alfred’s, which ended on a rather comedic note. It gives us an absolutely perfect (albeit violent) snapshot of Alfred’s nurturing, protective nature. He’s a surrogate father not only to Bruce and Damian, but to the entire extended Bat-family, and I loved what Tomasi and Gleason did to illustrate that. The issue also ends on a touching father/son moment between Batman and Robin.

Batman & Robin Annual #1, DamianThis book also collects Batman & Robin Annual #1, in which Ardian Syaf takes the pencil. Damian sends his father on something of a Wayne family scavenger hunt across the globe, so that he can have the streets of Gotham to himself for a few nights. He dresses in a miniaturized version of the Batman #666 costume, a cutesy move that’s a bit uncharacteristic, but not unwelcome. I came away from this issue once again marveling at the unique father/son dynamic between Bruce and Damian.

In the end, it’s that added heart that’s made Batman & Robin stand out so much from the other Bat-books. Tomasi and Gleason capture the human element better than any other team at DC right now. And while Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham handled Damian’s fate quite well in the pages of Batman Incorporated (as Damian’s co-creator, Morrison had every right to that story), I can’t help but wonder how Tomasi and Gleason would have handled it. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading a comic book. But I’ll betcha bucks to Batarangs they could have done it.

RATING: 8.5/10

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A Batgirl #21 Review – “She’s a Fan of Murder”

Batgirl #21 (2013), cover by Alex GarnerTITLE: Batgirl #21
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Fernando Pasarin. Cover by Alex Garner.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So…were the Batman baddies always slasher flick characters, and I just didn’t notice? You’d think after all these years reading comics, I’d have picked up on it. Granted, most of them have always been crazy. But while most of them weren’t necessarily opposed to killing, it wasn’t their trademark the way it was for, say, the Joker.

With Death of the Family, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave the Joker a very Leatherface-type look. Of course, that came courtesy of the Dollmaker from Detective Comics, who had an obsession with wearing other people’s skin. If you’ve been following Gregg Hurwitz’s work on Batman: The Dark Knight, you know he’s taken the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter to some really twisted, scary places. Some of it works really well, and some of it falls flat. Obviously Batman’s nature as a “dark” character lends him to stories like this. But honestly, I’ve had my fill of that kind of thing for now. Or at least the high volume of it we’ve had lately. That’s probably why I’m so sour on Batgirl #21.

Batgirl #21, Fernando PasarinThis issue sees Barbara take on the New 52 version of the Ventriloquist. The character was originally created as a middle-aged man who carried a gangster puppet named Scarface, who was the “brains” of the operation. The puppet we see here, Ferdie, was obviously inspired by the Jigsaw character from the Saw movies. And the Ventriloquist, now an 18-year-old reality TV reject named Shauna Blazer, is very much a play off of horror flicks we’ve seen in the last 10 years. She dresses in white, has long dark hair and pasty skin. Think The Ring, The Grudge, that kind of stuff. She can throw her voice and mimic others effectively enough that it confuses her enemies, and she apparently has telekinetic powers, which means she can control Ferdie from a distance.

The climactic fight takes place in a dark, dirty, run down home, which stinks of rotten meat. There are two corpses sitting at a table, which Blazer proceeds to control using her telekinesis. There’s a decent amount of blood here, as Barbara gets stabbed by a drill protruding from the puppet’s hand. The corpses also wind up dismantled, which in turn causes our hero to vomit…icky.

These aren’t bad ideas, per se. But the tone it’s done it is has been so overdone lately it’s a turn off. You know what I miss right about now? The Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker style Batman stories, i.e. content which wasn’t afraid to be bloody when the story called for it, but in the end focused more on on the crime drama elements. Heck, what about what Gail Simone used to do with Birds of Prey? The whole thrilling adventure elements mixed with the camaraderie and banter between characters? Can’t we do a book like that? If we’re going to have all these Bat books, can’t we diversify them a little bit? Does everything have to be a horror story?

Batgirl #21, Fernando Pasarin, interiorIn terms of what Simone is doing with Barbara’s character here, I’m in better spirits. After what happened with her brother a couple of issues ago, it makes sense for her to undergo a bit of a crisis of conscience. Not even in terms of giving up her crime fighting career, but of being worthy to wear the Bat symbol. I think that’s a cool idea.

In contrast, Simone will occasionally give Babs a downright brutal line that taints the whole issue. During Death of the Family, it was “You make be believe there is a Satan, Joker.” In this issue, when Batgirl sees a collection of newspaper clippings on Shauna’s wall which deal with homicides, we get: “She…she’s a fan of murder.” Sorry Gail, but…*gag*.

In all fairness, when judged on its own merits, Batgirl #21 really isn’t that bad. Yes, that one line was a face-palmer. But it’s only when you start looking at it next to the other Bat books that the real problems arise. Ferndando Pasarin’s pencils look great, and there’s still no one else I’d rather have writing this book than Gail Simone. But I’m still holding out hope that this book will one day be as fun as her work on Birds of Prey was. But I suppose the longer we wait, the less likely it is…

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A Batman #13 Review – The Yellow Jolly Rancher

311310TITLE: Batman #13
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Greg Capullo, Jock
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 10, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***CAUTION: Spoilers for Batman #13 lay ahead.***

Batman #13 is the first comic book I’ve read in a long time to actually put me in a bad mood.

I was literally snapping at people after I finished it. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a single issue that was so suspenseful, so well crafted, and that hit all the right notes so perfectly, only to botch the payoff in such a catastrophic way.

Batman #13 is the first issue in the Death of the Family storyline that will spread across most of the Bat books for the next two months. It also marks the first time we’ve seen the Joker since Detective Comics #1 last September, when he willingly had the skin on his face removed by the Dollmaker. In this issue he returns to Gotham City, terrorizes Commissioner Gordon, murders numerous police officers, and announces his intention to kill all the member’s of Batman’s surrogate family one by one. His first target: Alfred. That’s right folks, he’s going there. What fans have long speculated has become reality: The Joker (apparently) knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, and the gloves are coming off.

Batman #13, Alfred, The JokerThe issue’s main story by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is flawlessly built up to a full page reveal where we not only see Mr. J attacking Alfred with a hammer, but we see his new face for the first time. Believe it or not, it’s the same as the old one. Only this time, he’s stretched his old skin out across his head like a Leatherface-style flesh mask. This shocked me…and not in a good way.

Indeed, Snyder and Capullo go full on suspense/horror flick in this issue. Up until the Joker’s reveal, it was working beautifully. They set the mood with a rainstorm, and throw in some signs of the apocalypse metaphors. Then on page 4 we get a beautifully framed long shot of our villain simply standing in a doorway at Police Headquarters, his face shrouded in darkness, while his body is clad in seemingly average repairman clothes. Then he cuts the lights and taunts Gordon, all the while snapping the necks of the other cops in the room. All of this is a wonderful play on humanity’s fear of the unknown. In this scene, not only do we get a crazy person put in the room with us, not only can we not see the crazy person, but we have no idea what the crazy person even looks like anymore! One by one, our safety nets are cut out from under us. It’s a fantastic scene.

Later, we see some classic Joker elements mixed with Snyder and Capullo’s horror formula. We see the Joker cut into broadcast television and do some murderous comedy. Then we see the “I’m going to kill an important person at midnight” routine, which actually dates back to the Joker’s original appearance in 1940. We go back to the Ace Chemical Plant, where the Joker was born. Capullo and the artists turn it into a delightfully rusted and worn setting, in which you can almost hear the creaks and squeals of old metal.

The Joker, Batman #13, 2012These elements all add up to a “what’s the psycho going to do next?” vibe that’s synonymous with some of the best Joker stories ever told. Snyder also keeps the Joker’s sense of humor intact, which has an unparalleled importance in terms of getting the character’s voice right. In this issue we see the both the artist and the anarchist. But the Leatherface mask ruins all of that by pushing the Joker too far in the horror direction. That balance between performer and killer is gone now. On that last page he looks more like a three-way mash up between Leatherface, Pennywise the Clown and The Cable Guy. To an extent, it actually makes him look like more of a generic slasher movie character than the most thrilling villain in all of comics.

When they had the character lose his face last year, the implication seemed to be that he would indeed come back with a more horror-leaning look, perhaps even something akin to what the Dollmaker looked like in Detective Comics. To me, the move was an extension of what Grant Morrison did with the character during his run on Batman. The alternate font in the word balloons, the forced smile akin to Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, etc. But from a character standpoint, why go to the trouble of having someone surgically remove your face if you’re simply going to steal it back? I understand we’re dealing with a character who defies conventional logic, but that’s a question Snyder will need to answer.

I understand that almost everything is temporary in terms of changes to iconic characters like the Joker. At some point, perhaps even within the Death of the Family story, the Harlequin of Hate will have a fully functioning face again. But I can’t say enough about how much this altered Joker ruined an otherwise beautiful comic book. A lot of people are gushing over Snyder and Capullo’s work on this book, and to an extent they’re right to do so. But me? I was like a kid who thought he was going to the candy shop, but at the last minute somehow ended up in a candy shop filled only with lemon Jolly Ranchers. No one wants a lemon Jolly Rancher, do they? Picking a lemon almost makes you regret even reaching in the bag to begin with…

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com.

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