The Joker can do anything he likes in Gotham City. He can stand in front of a bunch of Gotham cops after massacring their brothers, and not be shot on sight. He can have his men ambush said cops with explosives. He can waltz into Arkham Asylum and scare the guards into transforming it into his personal palace.
Yes, it's another issue of the Death of the Family storyline, in which The Joker is out to destroy the bonds between Batman and his proteges. The issue begins with Batman bound by the Joker on a bridge outside Gotham, but circumstances free him to grab the Joker - without his gloves on. Smart. Batman is, of course, immediately dosed with some Joker venom or other. He wakes up to find that the Robins and Batgirl have wound up the case, and faithful manservant Alfred has ... turned into a Joker. AAAARGHH!
Oh, it was all a dream. How clever, please inform the Eisner awards committee.
I really am tired of Scott Snyder's cheats. The writer is good at character beats, and moody descriptive passages, but he just loves the unearned resolution, the deus ex machina, the 'don't worry, he's Batman!' moment. We've had final page exploding buildings that do Batman no harm; Batman fine to fight after a week being driven mad, starved and disembowelled; a remote control exploding bat-suit to beat drowning in a tank of chemicals ... Snyder gives readers the super-dramatic scenes, without working harder for a fair resolution.
End of rant. Back in the comic, Batman wakes up for real, and he has some 'splaining to do. Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, Red Robin and Robin want to know what Joker meant when he said Batman had his calling card. It turns out that years earlier, after a run-in with the Joker, Batman found one of his trademark cards in the Batcave. Batman insists that no way could the Joker have gotten into the cave, but his partners aren't so sure, and fear their identities have been compromised. Both Nightwing and Batgirl have reason to believe that the Joker does indeed know their real names.
But Batman isn't having it, flouncing out to follow up on a clue.
And the younger set let him! The Joker has their friend Alfred. Batman is showing dodgy judgment. And five experienced Gotham knights let him wander off alone.
Imagine me here right now, sighing theatrically. I realise these are comics, but we're meant to associate them at least a little with the real world. I'm fine with Batman not calling Superman in to instantly find Alfred via x-ray vision, because this isn't the JLA or World's Finest. But in terms of the Batman Family of titles, it makes no sense that not one of the five strong-willed, smart heroes he's trained would insist on providing back-up. If they're going to be in this chapter of the crossover, we need a reason as to why they're sitting back and letting Batman go head-first into another trap.
Which seems to be exactly what he's doing, as he heads for Arkham Asylum, having needlessly terrified a guard's family over dinner. As the issue's main story ends, Batman is terrifying himself, with an interior monologue about how the Joker is 'just a man'.
Yes he ruddy well is, and unless he's suddenly gotten 5th Dimensional super-powers, six Bats beat one Joker any day of the week.
Oh, and I really hate this suddenly mincing, in-love-with-Batman Joker - are we seriously meant to equate 'gay' with 'sinister' in this day and age?
Do I sound frustrated? There's enough promise in recent issues to hint that Snyder has a great Joker story in him. Maybe even a couple. But expanding the current encounter to fill several months of interwoven titles has led to a bloated storyline in which all sense is farted away. I do not believe that taunting streetwise cop Harvey Bullock about his alcoholism would throw him off his guard. I do not believe that if there was the slightest chance the Joker got into the Batcave, Batman wouldn't warn Dick, Jason and the rest. Too much of this storyline, and the Owls business that preceded it, is made up of dramatic, crowd-pleasing moments that just don't stand up to examination.
Greg Capullo continues to sell this story with his pencils, giving us a rain-sodden Gotham as dark as Joker's soul. Batman looks suitably fierce and driven, Joker horrifying, the Robins stern and annoyed, Batgirl ... well, a bit strange as Barbara, but it is a dream. I've no complaints about the artwork, as inked by Jonathan Glapion. And the colours of FEO Plascencia complement the stripwork, with the flashback treatment a highlight.
Capullo and FEO are also behind the striking cover, which wraps up one aspect of the story in a memorable image (one which evokes a classic from the Seventies).
There's a linked back-up, showing us Joker treating Arkham Asylum as a fixer-upper, and dragging the Riddler into his plans. It's a good reminder of why the Riddler isn't so silly as some people think, but it loses points for animal cruelty. I'm used to Joker killing civilians randomly, but let's not upset the Bronys ...
Snyder and James Tynon IV provide the warped script, while illustrator Jock and colourist Dave Baron conjure up the images that are going to wreck my sleep.
All in all, a decent issue, but one which could have been a lot better with a tighter editorial hand.
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for the link.