Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: Death of the Family (Batman Vol. 3) by Scott Snyder

Death of the Family by Scott Snyder
Batman Volume 3 (The New 52)
DC Comics
12 November 2013
176 Pages
5 Stars

Barnes & Noble; Book Depository; Goodreads

After having his face sliced off one year ago, the Joker makes his horrifying return to Gotham City! But even for man who's committed a lifetime of murder, he's more dangerous than ever before! How can Batman protect his city and those he's closest to? It all leads back to Arkham Asylum.

This was the volume I was most looking forward to.  The Joker is an iconic villain, and I was anxious to see what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo would do with him.  

My expectations were completely exceeded.  Snyder managed to make Joker even more menacing and psychotic, and Capullo's version art is far more sinister than any Joker I've seen before.  

The basic plot premise is that Joker has returned after disappearing for a year following his face being cut off by the Dollmaker.  Instead of committing random crimes, he has decided to target the entire Bat Family (ie. Bat Girl, Robin, Nightwing, etc).  He believes that having so many relationships has weakened Batman and made him less of an opponent, so he decides to destroy them all in order to restore the "relationship" he once had with the Dark Knight.  

The plot was perfectly paced.  At no point did it lag or go too fast.  I was interested and at the edge of my seat the entire time.  I didn't expect half of what happened, and even the standard conclusion (Batman "winning") had a twist.  This perfectly mirrored the Joker's personality.  

The reason that this arc is so good, however, is because of the expert characterization.  This story would attain to so much less in the hands of someone less talented at creating characters, but Snyder makes even already legendary characters even better.  

The Joker is the real star.  Snyder and Capullo have given him a sinister twist, making him more insane and less inhibited than before.  I wasn't aware that was even possible.  He's also more delusional, believing that his back-and-forth with Batman is a form of a relationship and having an almost romantic obsession with him.  This addition made him even creepier and less predictable.  

But his genius is also excessively apparent.  He expertly plans how to rip the family apart, manipulating them and anticipating their every move.  He also cons his fellow villains, desiring for the finale to be a one-man show.  I admired his intelligence, but it also made me realize how fearsome he is.  He's a character who cannot really be understood, yet, instead of being a frustrating trait, it makes him all the more interesting and intense.

This arc also shows Batman at his most vulnerable and his strongest simultaneously.  Each attack on those he loves hits close to home, revealing his fears.  Yet, in the face of the greatest threat he's faced (in this new series, at least), he never doubts himself.  I loved Bruce Wayne in this.  One of his greatest flaws, self-reliance, is displayed full-force, and his inability to trust his allies greatly weakens the team as a whole.  This is what the Joker uses against him.  At the same time, however, it makes him so human that he became all the more relatable.  And his growth throughout this arc brought out a better, more fractured man at the end.

Once again, there wasn't too much focus on the rest of the Bat Family, but there was enough that I was able to discern a little about each of their personalities.  What struck me most was how much fear of the Joker each of them have, especially Batgirl.  It surprised me, too, how much their faith in Wayne was shaken once the Joker started hitting close to home.  Yet, I realized that it is because of Batman's refusal to truly trust them that he left them so vulnerable.

Because this is the Batman title, the arc revolves around him and his point of view.  The ally we see the most of is Nightwing, which has been true of the previous two volumes, as well.  Yet, Snyder gives just enough of the other characters to incite my interest.  From this volume, I have a pretty good idea of what other titles I want to read.  I am most interested in Batman and Robin because I really like Damian's personality, and I don't expect that I'll be checking out Batgirl any time soon.  Her attitude and insecurities annoyed me in this arc.

Another character I was pleased to see was Harley Quinn.  I'm used to the playful, unintelligent Harley of the animated series.  Yet, Snyder's version was so much more human.  She almost seemed to be trapped in the role of villain, and I found myself sympathizing with her.  One of the most unnerving lines is one that she speaks to Batman, telling him that she always believed he'd be the next Joker.  I might check out the Suicide Squad title solely for her.

I was already of the opinion that Snyder is an amazing writer, but he brought it to an entirely new level with this Joker story.  The way he scripted the Joker's dialogue had me legitimately creeped out.  I also love that he visited Joker's old crimes, paying homage to all of his back story while writing a new one.    And even though there was so much going on, he brought everything together without confusion and never lost the main thread.

Even though it's just a superhero comic, this arc explored some pretty deep themes.  It questioned whether forming attachments to people weakened or strengthened a person, and commented on how trying to protect people by excluding them can ultimately leave them even more vulnerable.  It also explored how undermining the foundation of a family starts from within.

Once again, Capullo's art was perfect.  This volume was the darkest and grittiest.  The details he put into Joker's face added so much horror to his character.  The way it slid and stretched and the flies that followed him made each scene was so repulsive.  And I continue to love the way he lays out the pages and his color choices.

This is my favorite Batman volume so far, and I honestly can't wait for more Joker.  I gave it 5 stars.

Are you reading DC's Batman?  What do you think of Snyder's Joker?  Tell me in the comments below.

I also reviewed Batman volume one and volume two, so be sure to check those out, as well.

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Happy reading!