*Warning, there are mild spoilers ahead for this issue*
These days, comics seem to live and breathe thanks to the life support provided by the hype machine. Well before the excellent “Night of the Owls” story ended, we were hearing about the impending “Joker story” coming up in Batman and crossing over into the various Bat-Family books. Writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo and seemingly everyone involved took to the internet on an almost daily basis touting the upcoming story. The hype machine was in full effect. Expectations were riding high.
Two chapters in, “Death of the Family” completely lives up to the hype.
Issue 14 doesn’t have the genuine skin crawl moments of the previous issue, but it’s no less twisted. It’s definitely a setup issue, moving various pieces into place, but there’s not a wasted moment. Alfred has been kidnapped and Batman is on the hunt not only for his surrogate father, but trying to predict the Joker’s next move as he reenacts some of his most early crimes through a distorted fractured lens. The payoff to the revisited “Joker’s poisoned the reservoir” plot is really disturbing, made even more so thanks to Capullo’s eerie pencils. As creepy as faceless joker is, everything in this issue is rendered with the same slime on some level. In a lot of ways, Batman has turned into a horror comic, and this creative team knows a thing or two about horror comics.
Where the story goes next is anyone’s guess. In true Joker fashion, he contradicts himself openly. His message to Bruce Wayne he left behind after kidnapping Alfred makes no mention of his dual identity as Batman, yet he claims to know the identity of everyone in the Bat-Family by the end of the issue. There’s definitely something written in that book of his, and I can’t wait to see what it is.
Not much has been said thus far of the amazing backups written by Snyder and James Tynion IV and art by Jock. Each has spotlighted the joker interacting with a specific rogue, further planting the seeds of whatever master plan he’s cooking up. They add a level of depth to the story that isn’t essential, but completely appreciated. Just as the disappointment of having to wait another month for the next chapter, there’s still a little something left at the end to soften the blow. Every part of this issue is crafted to perfection.
This is the scariest take on the Joker I’ve ever read and the stakes are higher than ever for the Bat-Family. The only I know for certain is that what comes next is going to hurt. Batman#14 gets a perfect 5 out of 5 cassette tapes. The Joker is so crazy that he still uses cassettes to deliver his villainous news.