Castle of Cards
I've not been as flabbergasted by Death of the Family as some. The story has its problems with overexposed and formulaic crossovers not to mentions a Joker who can apparently do anything he wants whenever he wants, but still, the core story has been a heck of a ride with brilliant art, solid story, creepiness galore, a couple intriguing mysteries, strong dialogue, cool aesthetics, clever themes, and fitting dialogue. On the list of awesome Joker stories, I'm not sure this one will end up at the top, but unless Snyder really bungles it in the last act, Death of the Family will make for a great addition to the Joker collection.
In addition to being just another part of a very good story, I expect this issue might have a big revelation. We know that Death of the Family ends with the next issue, so if Joker really does know Batman's secret identity, the end of this issue would be the place to reveal it. If Snyder reveals it any later, it would give Batman and the cross overs no time to explore the consequences. If Joker knows, we will know by the end of this issue. Does Batman 16 make our deepest nightmares come true, or does Joker's hell house of horror fail to deliver on promised dread?
In this issue, Batman makes his way through Joker's labyrinth.
And Arkham Is...
Reading various commentaries on the last issue, there was a lot of speculation on what motif Joker might use for his takeover of Arkham Asylum. Would it be a mad house or a slaughter house? Would it be a family dinner, a dance, or a wedding?
Well, Joker decided to stick with the theme of Batman as a Bat King. For this reason, Arkham is Batman's castle fully stocked with knights, horses, and generally medieval decorations. The aesthetics work well for the most part; I especially liked, though it took me awhile to decipher the equipment, how Joker gave the inmates the guards riot gear for a cool knight aesthetic. The classic rogues gallery is bought to the forefront in this issue and given a dark age makeover of sorts. The way the different villains figure in to the Bat King mythology is rather clever. I was a bit confused on the Dollmaker's tapestry. Specifically, where did that skin come from and what the heck did Joker mean by, “I thought dead would be better, but he put tubes in the stomach and voila?”
Altogether, the set pieces for this issue are brilliant. There are a few nods to classic Joker story lines, (it looks like Joker still killed Sarah-Essen) and every aspect of Joker's setup shows ridiculous amounts of planning on his part to make everything perfect for Batman.
Capullo Deserves a Medal
Though I enjoy Snyder's writing, I think the art is what really makes Snyder's run so good at least in Death of the Family. The visual design for this issue is simply brilliant with too many interesting elements to even really do justice in this review. To name a few, Joker's face is hideous and continues to morph into slight variations which somehow manage to be increasingly disturbing. Joker's face is most definitely rotting and attracting flies, and quite frankly, my strong stomach is getting a little queasy with it. There are many striking images using horses. Horses are disposed of in this issue in grisly ways which still manage to be very entertaining. The dancing scene, the play of darkness and light, and the spreads are all quite memorable.
My only concern is that I do not want every arch of Batman to be so grisly and dark. I hope that after Death of the Family concludes, the Riddler arch will be significantly less blood thirsty.
This is a brief thought, but it deserves mentioning. We can really see Batman fraying at the edges in this issue. If I had to pick a conclusion to this arch right now, I would guess that Joker is going to manipulate Bruce into breaking things off with the family because it stresses him out too much. The plot certainly seems to be setting up for that with Bruce becoming more and more overwhelmed by the constant nagging concern for his family's safety.
No, there is no big revelation of a death in this issue at least not explicitly, but there is a big hint at the end of the issue that indicates somebody might be croaking. If you do not get the hint, then read in the New Testament about the death of John the Baptist. Joker is apparently using a somewhat established trope with the platter. My best guess is that Damian dies, but who knows? It could be a red herring.
This issue really disappointed me in many ways, and I'm just going to list them all. I'm going to talk about some scenes in detail, but I will throw up a Spoiler warning before those scenes that occur halfway through the book.
1. I'm pretty sure it would be impossible to dance for days.
2. How does Batman recognize guards who are wearing masks and makeup?
3. Batman manages to break a dozen panes of what should be difficult to break glass and insert several mystery spheres into each cell in what appears to be a few seconds.
4. The guards could all save themselves from death, at least temporarily, by climbing on to the fence, yet they wait to die.
5. Batman carries water absorbing spheres as standard gear on his belt. Either that, or he knew that Joker would have this exact trap set up for him. I presume water absorbing spheres are located right next to the bat shark repellent.
6. Given the size of the spheres and the number used, every pouch on Batman's belt would have to be carrying the water absorbers.
7. There is a disappearing, flaming horse. It's cool, but it makes no sense.
8. Batman survives a fight with fifty-five inmates carrying flaming clubs and two evil horses who surround him then attack simultaneously. It was awesome but completely ridiculous.
9. Hitting a plastic riot gear helmet with a plastic riot gear shield causes the helmet to shatter. (page 8, panel 5)
10. The “tubes in stomachs” line.
11. Scratch point ten. I finally figured out those skins are live people. Ew.
12. Mr. Freeze still has a mohawk.
13. Batman has a poker chip that will burn through Mr. Freeze's suit if he moves. Please explain.
14. Despite the bat spheres and poker chip, Bats still had room on his belt for a taser.
15. “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” kill themselves even though help is seconds away.
16. Joker is always giving orders to people and requiring their help for his plans even though no miscellaneous characters are ever around.
17. Batman sees images of his allies apparently defeated. He immediately surrenders because Joker could not possibly have taken pictures that make things look worse than they actually are and no hero has ever been knocked unconscious only to revive and win the day.
18. Batman realizes that the only way to save his family from the murderous, sociopath master planner is to go along with the sociopaths master plan.
19. Batman allows himself to be potentially executed because his family had bad pictures taken of them.
20. “Wonder Woman,” “Flash,” and “Green Lantern” magically disappear between the main story and backup feature.
The backup feature is short but pretty sweet. It is not overly deep, but it shows that Joker is the best of Batman's rogue gallery. It's short, clever, and reminds you why you simultaneously hate Joker yet find yourself kind of rooting for him.
Batman 16 contains excellent set pieces, gorgeous art, and a lot of clever elements, but some very sloppy oversights drag this issue down. It's like an issue of Burts All Flavor Beans with some cherry flavoring and some vomit, and altogether, it is just an average issue.