Batman: Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52!), by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion — a comic book review

Batman

While I wasn’t actively buying comic books during the DC Comics revamp and relaunch of its entire line, known collectively as “The New 52,” I was aware it was happening.

Jim Lee’s redesign of all the major DC superheroes was big news and got some press coverage. Superman’s uniform was altered to more resemble the Kryptonian “armor” he wore in the latest movies. Or, maybe the comic book armor predates the movies. I’m uncertain about the timeline. In any case, the top story was that Superman’s new design discarded his infamous red Underoos. Other characters were changed as well, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

The mainstream news was all about the renumbering of the comic books and the new look of the superheroes. It was all aesthetics.

One title I kept hearing about was the new Snyder/Capullo Batman. When I finally got around to reading the collected Court of Owls/City of Owls trade paperbacks, I wasn’t disappointed. Batman was back. In truth, he had never left. That had been me. But, this version of Batman isn’t the same one I grew up with. Batman was always the World’s Greatest Detective, but over the years—and the various movie/television franchises—the character has become more serious, more dark and moody. Even before Scott Snyder began his celebrated run on the character, the Batman mythos was being influenced or re-created by other great writers such as Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb and Alan Moore. Scott Snyder is a welcome addition to this talent roster.

Batman: Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52!) is another good collection of issues. It covers issues #13 through #17 of Batman. Unfortunately, as increasingly seems to be the case in this modern age of comic book stories, the “Death of the Family” story arc spanned 23 issues of comic books in another crossover event. This means I read only five of the issues of the entire arc. This goes a long way towards explaining why this particular storytelling experience felt a little choppy and incomplete. Still, I’m going to assume these were the best issues of the bunch, because I have no intention of ever tracking down the other eighteen.

I finally know where the television series Gotham got the whole “non-Joker removing his face” plotline from. Only, in this case, this was done by the Dollmaker back in Detective Comics #1, which preceded this particular collection. Naturally, Joker has returned to Gotham to wreak unpredictable havoc, and this time he’s kicking off the festivities by stealing back his face from the GCPD evidence locker. While doing so, he also manages to terrorize Jim Gordon and kill a lot of police.

Snyder’s writing, and Capullo’s shadowy art, taps into a quality that I’ve always felt was a part of the Batman mythos. This is a horror story, and this version of the Joker is genuinely scary. That’s something that’s missing from some Joker stories. He is a seriously dangerous, unpredictable psychopath, probably the most prolific serial killer in DC Comics history. The Joker’s attempt to wear his own decaying face as a mask only makes him more scary. He’s every horror movie villain rolled into one, a diabolic force of nature.

The title of the story arc—”Death of the Family”—is a reference to the 1988 story arc “Death in the Family,” in which readers were allowed to cast votes to decide the fate of the Jason Todd version of Robin. By a narrow margin, the fans voted to kill Jason Todd. In the way of comic book heroes, Todd doesn’t remain dead, coming back years later as the Red Hood, which is his role in this book. I never read the 1988 books, although I suspect I would have liked them since the art was by the late Jim Aparo, my favorite Batman artist for many years. I think the new title was chosen to lead the reader to believe that at least one member of the Batman “family” was going to die again.

I’m not going to ruin everything by telling you what happens. It’s all entertaining, and Batman always remains in character. The Capullo art is also great, and it alone is probably worth the price of the book.

But, again, the story seems somehow incomplete, although this run of Batman issues is supposed to represent the main plot. While I enjoyed this collection of the Snyder/Capullo run, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two.

Firewater’s Tell-Yourself-He’s-Just-a-Man Report Card: A-

A-minus

The Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo run on Batman continues to impress me. I look forward to whatever’s coming next.

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