The “Death of the Family” crossover picks up in Batman 14 right where it left off last month. Batman, of course, escapes the deathtrap, and, equally of course, Harley gets away. Batman returns home to learn that Joker has Alfred, and claims to have blinded him. But things get worse, quickly, as can happen when the Joker is running around.
Batman goes to one of his longest standing allies, Commissioner James Gordon, but Joker has been there too, and poisoned Gordon with a blood thinner, then booby traps the man’s photo album to cut him, leaving Jim to bleed everywhere, but the Batman gets him to the hospital in time, barely.
There’s a very tense scene between Batman and Nightwing, where Bats tells ‘Wing about Alfred being taken, “he took Bruce Wayne’s butler.” Bruce is distancing himself, and driving Dick crazy in the process. Working on the theory developed last time, that Joker is re-enacting his “greatest hits,” Batman and Nightwing go to Gotham’s reservoir, Batman insisting that Nightwing keep this to himself so the rest of the family doesn’t go off the deep end about Alfred.
Right here is where, in my opinion, the story loses something that you can directly trace to the reboot. Is it still a “family”? Dick certainly had a lot less time with Bruce, so why is Bruce trusting him so much? If the Robins became more like “interns,” then it’s not really a family feel, is it? Bruce and Alfred’s relationship is largely unchanged, if shortened, but the rest doesn’t really work under this foolish five year timeline, especially with four Robins in that five years and Batman being missing long enough for Dick to be Batman for a time.
The end of the issue veers from surprising to shocking to silly and back. Joker “shortcuts” what he thinks would have happened based on their last meeting here. He kills the handful of people he thinks his poison would have gotten to before Batman could arrive, and blows up the aqueduct as Nightwing arrives. It’s a nice bit of planning and insight from one of the men that knows Batman best, and it catches Bruce and the reader (at least this one) by surprise.
Then we get utterly silly, as Joker snags Batman in some kind of weird trap made up of chattering fake teeth on cables that erupt from the water and wrap around him. As goofy as you think that probably sounds, it looks worse, and is the worst part of the issue. But then we get going again with a series of surprises.
Joker announces to Batman, and the allies he presumes are listening in via radio, that he knows who they all are. He doesn’t name them, but hints he’s been watching closely enough that he knows what soaps they all use (and why Nightwing always smells so good, he adds). Joker rants on that there is a secret Batman keeps from all of them, which let him learn their secrets, and ends with “Within seventy two hours, you’ll all be dead. And here’s the punch line… Batman will be the one who kills you!” Nice cliffhanger #2 for this crossover this month (see my Batgirl review).
As with last issue, there’s a backup story. This one is about Penguin. He arrives at what is supposed to be a meeting with the lieutenants of most of the crime families in Gotham, only to find them all dead, killed with various trick umbrellas, his signature item. After killing the two henchmen Penguin arrived with, Joker emerges and says he did this for Penguin, so he could take control of the crime in Gotham as he always wanted. Joker offers Penguin a choice: drop off invitations to a get together he’s throwing (the same excuse for abducting Alfred), or get set up to take the blame for killing all these men and starting a major gang war. Joker at his frightening, manipulative best, here. There’s a great line in here as Joker calls Penguin the “bishop” of the religion of crime in Gotham, and Penguin retorts “what does that make you, the Anti-Christ?” I’m not sure if this is supposed to refer to the Crime Bible that keeps plaguing Batwoman, or if this is just some new fancy of the Joker’s.
This is a good, solid, surprising issue. The lead off in #13 would be hard to match, and I don’t think this quite manages it, but it comes close. Joker’s assault on Gotham Police Headquarters in that was just astounding. But this is a good issue. Snyder is on a roll as writer here, and he and James Tyrion, the same duo credited with the surprisingly good Talon series, do a great job on the backup.
It isn’t enough to get me to abandon my anti-crossover stance, and pick up issues of books I don’t normally get. But I am certainly curious enough to keep going here, and wonder what kind of twisted leverage Joker is going to use to try and get Batman to kill the allies shown: Nightwing (I guess he survived the explosion), Red Hood, Red Robin, Batgirl, and the current Robin, Damian. I’m not sure if Catwoman, Batwoman, and Batwing should be offended or relieved to not be on that list.
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