The Joker continues terrorizing Gotham City in general, and the Bat-clan in particular, in Batman 15. There were both some good points and some really bad ones in this issue, which left me not sure how I felt about it. Batman escapes from Joker’s trap, but gets dosed with a pretty powerful hallucinogen in the process. After a nightmarish vision of meeting with his allies, he wakes to a real one. They confront him as a group about keeping secrets, and this scene is one of the weak points of the issue to me.
Joker announced he knows all their IDs, and his current actions could be looked on both supporting and against that. His specific victims so far have been Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and the older Barbara Gordon, Batgirl’s mother. Batman insists that Alfred was taken because of Bruce Wayne’s public support of Batman, Inc (one of my major objections to this story when they announced it), and that Ms. Gordon was taken to get back at the Commissioner, not Batgirl. While both those interpretations are possible, Bruce steadfastly refuses to even consider he might be wrong. To me, that’s not a great detective nor a master tactician. Bruce also relates a story of one of his first fights with the Joker. Afterward, while Bruce was checking the Bat-boat, he found a Joker card on it. Bruce insists it was left on the boat during the fight and he just didn’t notice. The others say it’s at least possible he was in the cave, which Bruce one again refuses to consider. His recurring theme seems to be “It didn’t happen that way because I said it didn’t!” I’ll get back to that in a bit.
After dismissing his allies’ concerns and refusing their help, Batman storms off for more solo work (because THAT’S been going so well lately). He has been tracing the various henchman Joker has been using. I had been thinking Joker had a lot of them, and that they seemed very competent for generic bad guy thugs. What we find out, as Batman interrogates a terrified man who was trying to have dinner with his family, is that most of Arkham’s guards are now working for the Joker. They aren’t corrupt and haven’t changed sides, Joker has been threatening their families. The guard confesses all to Batman, including that Joker has taken over Arkham and done some kind of massive remodeling and rebuilding inside, he doesn’t know why or for what. The issue ends with Batman driving to Arkham.
Ok, the guards as unwilling henchmen is good. I like that, it’s clever, and just the kind of crazy spin I can see Joker using. He has supposedly been planning this for about a year, and has apparently been operating a level of obsession and detail that, well, rivals Batman’s. But Bruce’s utter denial of Joker knowing who he is, and his being in the cave, is just weird. Is Bruce so rattled by this current terror spree that he’s just clinging desperately to denial? That doesn’t seem like him.
This issue’s backup story, Red Light, Green Light, was very well done. Inside Arkham during Joker’s crazed “Flip This Loony Bin” phase, Joker stops to check in on fellow Bat-foe Riddler. Joker actually has a great deal of respect for Riddler, it seems from this conversation. Joker praises him for keeping Batman’s mind sharp. Joker shares his master plan, written on Dr. Arkham’s diploma, with Riddler, who studies it and admits he doesn’t understand it. Joker counters he doesn’t need to, but he’s going to want to see what’s in store. I think it was a very well done short piece, given an often underrated villain some respect.
Now, back to Batman’s denial. I admit, I don’t like a lot of the reboot changes DC made. I like even less how they are treating many of their fans, and even employees. As I write this, within the last week DC has gotten rid of Karen Berger, who did so much amazing work in their Vertigo imprint, and Gail Simone, an award winning and best-selling writer. So, I admit to being prejudiced. But I look at Bruce steadfastly saying “No, that didn’t happen because I said so,” and I think of all the changes DC has made, including the recent rewrites of both Wonder Girl and Red Robin’s origins, and I wonder: Is this just Bruce getting ready for some long delayed breakdown? Or is Scott Snyder sort of taking a poke at DC policies of late? Yes, I’m arguably reaching. But it really makes me curious.
The post reboot Batman is showing less and less competence, from what I can see. Need to check Dick Grayson’s tooth for a mark? Punch him in the face to knock it out, clearly the best way to handle that. Court of Owls? No, they don’t exist, because I looked into it and they don’t. Oh, they are still around? No, no, I beat them, they’re done. Really. They’re gone. Despite what’s happening in the Talon book. Batman gets away with being “just a man” in a world of supers, running with the big Leagues (literally) because he’s the best, or close to the best, at so many things. The man they are showing fairly often since the reboot isn’t that guy. I’m hoping that changes soon.