Thursday, 11 October 2012

Batman #13 review

He's been gone from Gotham for a year, but the Joker is back and Batman's on the back foot. The knave rampages through GCPD headquarters killing cops. He reenacts the murder that first got Batman's attention, years before. And he tweaks another of his greatest hits, stymieing the Gotham Guardian's attempts to outthink him. Finally, a Red Hood impersonator appears with a message for the Batman - your many allies have made you soft, but don't worry, the Joker is going to do you a favour and kill them all, 'so that you may be reborn as The Bat-Man this city deserves'. And while Batman is having his time wasted by the rouge rogue, the Joker is already enacting his plan ...

Seriously, the Joker makes Batman look like a rank amateur here. The hero gets ever more rattled throughout the issue, until he's screaming at an unmasked Harley Quinn - er, spoiler alert - for information. But why? I really don't get why the reappearance of the Joker is such a huge deal that Batgirl and various Robins are wetting themselves over the phone. Yes, he crippled Batgirl, murdered Jason Todd and, if previous continuity holds, killed Gordon's wife Sara. But he's just a man; he managed these very personal crimes because he caught the victims off-guard. A Batman Family watching out for the Joker should be able to outmanoeuvre him. He's a lunatic, but could he really be so unpredictable as to constantly surprise people who have, between them, foiled him dozens of times? Isn't the enemy to be feared one you've never met previously, rather than an old foe whose MO doesn't vary a great deal?

But to get the most out of this story, which is running through, at my count, nine titles, over the next five months, we have to accept that the Joker is a nigh-unstoppable, almost supernatural terror, his coming presaged by such portents of doom as the birth of two-headed zoo animals.

Which I don't. Unless he's taken off the board early, an in-character Damian Wayne would strafe the Clown Prince of Crime with a sub-machine gun.

Scott Snyder's script has lots of good touches, from Gordon's efforts to give up smoking, to Batman and the Commissioner having a chat in an elevator shaft. He conjures up a very creepy scene in the arrival of the Joker at GCPD (whose members seem even more shamefully inept than Batman), and the idea of the Joker hiding under Gordon's bed as he sleeps is genuinely unnerving. What's more, he writes a mean Damian - literally.

But the aftermath of the police station massacre is laughable (click on image to enlarge).
'He told a joke.' Meet Jim Gordon, Master of the Bleeding Obvious. What next? 'Hawkman flew.' 'The Flash ran fast.' Get a grip, man - I'm all for a bit of melodrama, but let's try to stay on the right side of Silly.

The art by penciller Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion hides some of the weaknesses of the script; everyone looks jolly panicked so perhaps the Joker is that scary. I like how they're simplifying Batman by the issue, making him more of a shadow than a man. Conversely, it's gladdening that once the mask is off, Bruce Wayne is recognisably human, and vulnerable. Aided by colourist FCO Plascencia, Capullo and Glapion produce a wonderfully moody opening vignette of Gordon and sidekick Harvey Bullock in the rain. And the fight with 'Red Hood' is masterfully presented.
There's more brilliant artwork in the linked back-up, this time by Jock. Working from a sharp, punchy script by Snyder and James Tynion IV detailing the encounter between Harley and 'Mr J' that led to her brief Red Hood gig, Jock dazzles with his full colour stripwork. The Joker has rarely looked so terrifying, Harley so vulnerable and haunted. In an ingenious touch, Harley's colouring evokes Benday dots, as if she's a cartoon given life. And the final image? Brrrrrr.

If DC doesn't look at these pages and immediately commission a graphic novel with Jock artwork, then someone's asleep at the wheel - there's a classic out there, waiting to be willed into life.

The USP of this issue, if you ignore this week's Batgirl, is the die-cut Joker mask attached to the cover. Suggesting that if Damian doesn't kill the Joker, gingivitis will, it's an attention grabber, while being annoyingly flappy. A few more of these things and I'll be ripping them off the comic and attaching them to random cats.

The Joker would be proud.

10 comments:

  1. Oh man, I actually to read this some how instead of waiting a week (Hooray for me!). Snyder said he was going for scary and dammit it, he meant it! This is issue can be nightmarish, especially the backup piece. Seriously, I truly believe the man should have drawn this arc just by seeing his backup work. Heck, Snyder likes doing mini-series for his main series, American Vampire, with different artists. Next one, he should get Jock on it.

    As for this story, I agree with you to accept Joker as an unstoppable machine is a stretch. However, I think he something planned that will rely on him not having to directly fight his targets or has some dangerous traps set up. Either way, next issue we should be seeing what he has cooking.

    I think for why some of the members are scared or at least worried is because the Joker is unpredictable. I remember Batman saying or mentioning that whenever you face a group of baddies and Joker is among them, you got to take him out first since there is no way to accurately predict what he'll do. Possible his plans are always different and his targets always seem random.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fair dos, perhaps I'm just a little jaded, and tired of the idea that the Joker can simply get away with anything he wants, both in terms of executive and (non-)punishment. I did have a lot of fun with this comic besides that.

      Delete
    2. I really thought that this issue only made sense if the Joker has superpowers or something. Although for me, worse than his ability to take down the entire police force just by turning off the lights, was his knowing where Gordon hid his cigarettes.

      Delete
    3. DC really do seem to be playing him as some kind of mischief god, a trickster figure, Mac, which is a shame - great Joker stories can be told while playing him as an actual human.

      Delete
  2. I loved this issue. The "just a man or force of nature?" question is at the heart of this story (Snyder has mentioned in an interview that Bruce will be reminding himself that he's just a man), but the Joker is an excellent showman, and a master of the psych-out. If you think he's a force of nature, he's already won; it's exactly how he wants to be thought of.

    (I should add that aside from being a lunatic, he's also a genius. That bit with the combined poison, and changing the smiles to frowns, and adding three extra compounds to leave a clue? That's Lex Luthor level chemistry, there.)

    The Joker, here, seems to be pre-setting the battlefield the way Morrison's Batman would do, getting every stage ready before the trap is sprung. I wouldn't be surprised if we learn that he deliberately found a way to deform that tiger cub while it was an embryo, just so he'd have an omen to mark his return.

    The Joker's not a force of nature... but he certainly stacks the deck to make it seem that way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rob, that clue bit with the initials was so daft, I rather enjoyed it. It's also rather funny to think of the Joker spending a year on Kooey Kooey Kooey or somewhere, sitting at the drawing board designing giant hammers, spending hours in a lab coat designing smiles for fish and sitting in a suit, talking on the phone to his project managers before the death traps are created in buildings around Gotham. What a nut!

      Excellent notion about the tiger cub, if that's not correct, it should be (I bet two-Face was chuffed to bits).

      Delete
  3. I agree with these comments. The Joker has been off the board for a year and he's had time to plot out a revenge on Batman that will make the best-selling Arkham Asylum story look like a day at the beach.

    I'm not as crazy for Snyder's Batman as many people are but this was a gripping issue. For me it was the best in his New 52 run so far.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Flodo, I think you're spot on with that last comment. And I can't wait to see what Scott Snyder does with Supie.

      Delete
  4. Hello Mart:- I'm with you here, though I'm well aware that's not the consensus in the blogosphere. I can't see any reason for this story to exist beyond one more wearisome celebration of the fact that the Joker's a nasty little psychopath who might just trap your butler on the doorstep with a puppy and a bludgeoning object. It doesn't say anything about anything beyond how scary yet another super-psychopath at work in the Bat-o-verse is. Yawn. This isn't the human condition in anything but its most narrow and least interesting aspect, or. at least, it isn't from my POV. To my mind - just so I don't seem to be stating such a heretical opinion as a statement of fact rather than opinion - it's just a great indulgence in the grim'n'gritty New 52, a bleak-by-the-numbers tale which seems to exist for no other reason other than the supposed thrill generated by - gosh! - characters getting frightened and - no! - characters getting hurt.

    Which is fine for those folks who enjoy that kind of thing. Good for them! I just wish there was a great variety of Bat books which spoke to a broader range of niches.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Colin, at last, glad it's not just me. Again, I enjoyed this comic, it's definitely better than Super-Batman in the Owl Maze, but it's more a cover version of the Joker's greatest hits than anything especially fresh. Of course, that may change in the months through February ... if at least a few of these many tie-in comics aren't classics DC will will have dropped the ball. I want to know why this particular Joker-fest is worthy of months of hype, stories across the entire line and gimmick covers.

    Scott Snyder has talent, I'd love to see him applying it in a way that gives the Batman mythos something truly new - fresh villains, say, in the same way Alan Grant gave us the likes of the Ventriloquist and Anarky. His Dick Batman was better than his Bruce Batman - I'd actually love to see him on Nightwing.

    ReplyDelete