As a fan of Batman, I remember watching the TV show with Adam West and through most of my childhood really didn’t pay much attention to the World’s Greatest Detective since he really didn’t have any superpowers. Back then I was more of a Green Lantern or Cyclops kind of kid. As time went along though, my comic book afficionado sister once attempted to get me interested in the Dark Knight knowing that series seemed to change the common perception of how the character was portrayed. Eventually, the 1989 film dropped and the dark brooding Batman came to life in my mind along with the ultimate crazed portrayal of his iconic foe, the Joker, by Jack Nicholson. From that point on, I remember liking the ‘story’ of the Bat a bit more, but mostly because of the Joker…
The relationship between Batman and Joker is probably one of the most heralded conflicts in all of comic book history in my eyes. I don’t think I ever fully grasped how crazed and awesome of a villain the Joker is until the animated series came out in the 90’s with the truly haunting voice of Mark Hamill at the helm. Through that, I truly saw how demented, crazy, and terrifying that the Joker’s character was really meant to be. Always funny but severely dangerous.
Death of the Family is meant to be the Joker’s shining moment in this new DC age of the New 52’s and boy was it a doozy! The Joker gets caught by his age old foe and placed into Arkham. Sounds par for the course, right? Well, this time it was by Joker’s grand design. He meets another villain named Dollmaker who then surgically removes his face and pins it to his cell wall. Joker uses the event to have a kind of psychotic rebirth if you will signifying the revelation of his TRUE nature of pure animalistic instinct. It’s this newfound crusade of his to not only realize HIS true nature, but also Batman’s. His grand design becomes one that strips away the things that he sees as weaknesses of Batman’s true character, his family.
Carried out over the Joker’s encounters with the Bats, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Red Hood, Teen Titans, Nightwing, and Robin, the Joker captures (or at least attempts to) each of them hoping to either turn them against the Batman or to flat out eliminate them all together. Of course, the Joker can’t ever be simple in his murderous design. Played out in grandiose fashion during each and every issue, the Joker monologues his plan and his mind bending intent in ways that even make his foes question whether or not they are holding Batman back or not. Of course, knowledge of the Joker and his legendary focused insanity typically saves their own sanity in the end despite being bested by him. Each issue ends in a wickedly bloody cliffhanger that pulls you along just the right way until you reach the final issues.
I found myself loving the truly funny and superbly wicked conversations that the Joker has with everyone in this series. The writers (Scott Snyder, Adam Glass, Kyle Higgins, John Layman, Scott Lobdell, Ann Nocenti, Gail Simone, Peter Tomasi, James Tynion IV) all managed to enhance the dark and bloody aura that the Joker is meant to have as Batman’s greatest foe. The Joker’s brilliant madness pulls along each hero in a way that shows that he has an intricate and horrifying plan for each of them that relies on the Joker’s uncanny knowledge of who they are and how they think. He gets into all of their heads as if he’s a psychologist or therapist INFUSING his patient with nightmares and disorders.
The Suicide Squad issues which depicted Harley Quinn and the Joker reuniting were probably my favorite issues at first. The story itself really didn’t add anything to recognizing Harley’s relationship with the Joker but it did more in my eyes to show how ruthless the Joker treats those he allies himself with all in the name of ‘turning’ Batman.
Later on as I was reading I began to appreciate more the Batman & Robin issues where the Joker reveals his dark plan for all of his captured foes. There the conversation between him and Batman is priceless. While it was good to see his plan fully realized, I appreciated moreso the art as the Joker’s mask (his decaying face pulled and stretched back on) would come off or become disfigured as he fought. The haggled perma-smile coupled with his inset devilish eyes were so remarkably unsettling that it enhanced the amazing word play that the writers would scrawl creepily across each and every panel.
The whole ordeal honestly creeped me out wondering what the Joker had done at the end of each issue that exponentially raised my respect for the Joker as a villain. A whack-job that excels at mind-screwing kind of even makes you feel bad for the likes of Catwoman, the different Robins, and even Harley Quinn. The ‘creep’ factor probably hits it’s highest points in both the Catwoman issues and the later ones where he catches Batman’s son Damian Wayne aka the current Robin. The events that occur there are truly epic as is the whole ordeal actually.
The only issue I had with this book was that the ending really seemed to be a bit of a buzz kill. After seeing the Joker do all that he had done, it was a bit of a letdown. Despite the fact that we all know that good always prevails, a part of me wanted Joker to succeed at at least some of the scarring that he attempts to inflict. Instead the ‘scarring’ is limited to mentally as the epilogue kind of showed everyone having nightmares about the whole ordeal.
In the end, Death of a Family is one of those reads that could only be done right as a comic book. The artwork superbly captures the Joker’s wickedness and insanity that only makes you want to read more to see AND read what else happens. This is definitely one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve ever had and will always refer to in my love of comics!