I would imagine that among the steepest challenges for storytellers who have the task of writing and drawing stories about someone else’s character would be finding the balance between the urge to innovate and the need to demonstrate knowledge of that character. However, if there’s one thing that the first 18 months of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman has shown, it’s that the two of them have found that balance expertly and exactly, and while the creation of the Court of the Owls demonstrated incredible mastery over Batman and, more specifically, Gotham City, Volume 3: The Death of the Family does even more for the New 52 Bat-family, reintroducing the Joker to the post-Flashpoint universe with a visceral, tightly-plotted story and a stunning storyboard of disturbing, vivid artwork that suggests more than it shows.
STORY & SCRIPT
Reading the Joker likely invokes comparison with two of his most popular incarnations to mind for most readers: Mark Hamill’s throaty, manic interpretation from various DC animated properties and video games, whose last appearance in Batman: Arkham City was perhaps his finest; and, of course, Heath Ledger’s dead-eyed sociopath from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy of films. What Snyder does almost impossibly in Death of the Family is split the difference between these two excellent versions of the character and provide readers with a Joker that is both a composite of some of his most memorable appearances and a version of the character that is new to even long-time fans, readers, and watchers of Batman and his roster of villains.
The story centers on the Joker and his behavior, and is principally concerned with his obsession with Batman, and vice versa, as well as with one of the principle questions regarding Batman’s endless battle with the Joker: why not just kill him? Readers will find the answers to these questions exquisitely well-developed in Snyder’s deep dialogue, making Death of the Family one of the most densely-worded collections in the New 52. Yet this keen attention to and development of language in no way detracts from its ability to tell the story–quite the opposite, Snyder’s script reads even better than Court of the Owls or its sequel, with the Joker’s long speech acts highlighted in its own letter form in sharp contrast to Batman’s familiar block letters. The development of the plot is clear as it sidesteps complex story elements in lieu of complex character development, to the elevation of all elements.
PENCILS & ARTWORK
As such, the moments at which Capullo’s dark, finely-penciled panels take over the brunt of the storytelling duties are as striking to read as Snyder’s script. As before, Capullo handles Gotham City as few, if any, artists have before, and makes use of Batman’s shadowy form variously and at a range of distances. The action sequences, especially a terrific fight involving fire, flow smoothly from panel to panel and are as natural a part of the story as the long dialogues.
Capullo’s artwork demonstrates his understanding of the character and history, but his treatment of the Joker’s face and its severed state is perhaps the clearest demonstration of his skill set in this volume. Never gory or bloody, but steadily decaying throughout the story, Capullo’s approach to a faceless Joker complements Snyder’s mature content without becoming too visceral, and while the story as a whole is at least on par with The Dark Knight in terms of content and themes, Capullo’s interpretation of them could have been far more graphic than it was. Like Snyder’s choice to prioritize dialogue over lengthy action sequences, Capullo’s subtle interpretation of acts of extreme violence elevates all of the elements of the story–especially in his use of flies.
Though part of a massive crossover event that involved over a half-dozen titles in the New 52, Batman, Volume 3: Death of the Family is a superb stand-alone collection that offers a story about and an interpretation of the Joker and his relationship with Batman that demonstrates that Snyder and Capullo are are in complete control of the Bat-family of characters and are in the process of generating some of the best stories the character has seen in quite some time. Fans new and old alike should not wait to enjoy this collection of Batman comics that are even more impressive than their year’s worth of predecessors.
Priority rating: 10/10