Second Opinion: Batman #17

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman #17 came out this week, concluding their ‘Death of the Family’ storyline to universal approval from reviewers. But in all the rush to celebrate and praise, there’s been precious little evaluation of the book itself — many of the reviews, in fact, read more like a pre-emptive defense of the issue than an objective look at the story, writing, and artwork. In that regard, I offer a second opinion.

BM_Cv17

Which isn’t just my way of saying “everybody else is wrong and the issue isn’t good”! Promise. There’s good and bad here, and it simply feels like a shame that nobody seems interested in discussing both when they review the issue.

Although there are some big, jarring problems in the narrative and storytelling, the issue itself is generally fine. The collaboration between Snyder and Capullo remains the key selling point of the series (besides, well… the fact it’s Batman), with the pair working together to fill each page with startling and resonant sequences, pages and images. Capullo’s artwork remains utterly reliable, even after drawing 16 issues in 17 months. His work is key in getting across some of the stranger leaps in faith required of the reader, and he manages to give proceedings a low-key sense of the cinematic – helped by Jonathan Glapion’s work, his art flows flawlessly round the page, but without the need for big splashy experimentation.

In terms of the writing, Snyder takes in the new characters brought into the arc (Batgirl, Red Hood, and so on) well, writing them within character but to breaking point – not an easy take. He particularly shows off a keen grasp on Damian Wayne for a brief, memorable panel, which I shan’t spoil here. Regardless, it’s rather touching, and Snyder uses the supporting cast to expand Bruce Wayne’s heart a few tough millimetres. This is a softer version of Bruce Wayne than seen usually, more tense and emotionally affected than writers usually chose to portray him. It gives the character somewhere new to develop, and creates most of the tension in this pulse-racing story.

But, yes, there are some major problems in the overall narrative itself, which weakens this individual issue. While Snyder does manage to give meaning and depth to most of the cast, he weakens in one of the most important areas — The Joker himself. After five issues or so in which we’ve been told the Joker has a mean plan, we’re let down massively by the big reveal here, which is limp and uninspired. Rather than anything daring or dangerous, this Joker feels rather neutered, like somebody who is pretending to be crazy rather than somebody who is genuinely unpredictable and dangerous. This is the safest version of the Joker seen in a long time.

Which robs the threat away from the issue, defanging the story. Damningly, the act which creates the ‘death’ of the family occurs off-panel in this issue, with only vague hints that Snyder will ever return to reveal what Joker did, exactly. This is not a complete story. We won’t know what happened until a year from now, if then — and this is especially evident when you read the story as a whole. Granted this is nothing new in serial storytelling, but previous issues promised a real sting in the tale, and the decision to keep that sting a mystery… well, it takes away the entire point of the story.

On top of that, much of the issue is based in telling interesting lies which are then whipped away, to form fairly boring reveals. Time and time again Snyder promises to do something exciting and surprising, only to reverse himself at the last minute and celebrate the traditional status quo. I wasn’t hoping for a story where Joker, y’know, actually murders everybody, but it’s a frustrating read to see so many promising ideas be so quickly thrown away. This is especially true towards the end, with the last few pages dedicated to restablishing everything back to status quo, with none of the characters particularly changed or developed from the story.

This has been a far too reverent storyline, overall. Rather than a progression or acceleration of the Batman myth, Death of the Family has homaged a lot of great stories without ever aspiring beyond them. There’s some of Ed Brubaker’s tone, traces of Alan Moore’s brutality, and heaps of Grant Morrison’s character tics. But there’s nothing of Scott Snyder in here. Whereas Grant Morrison’s Joker used his sexuality to unnerve Batman in Arkham Asylum, Scott Snyder’s Joker comes across more as a symbol of gay panic. Readers were expected to dislike the character simply because he treats Batman like his husband. It continues Morrison’s work in a way which acts to the detriment of the characters — homage without forward progression.

Batman #17 highlights a narrative which planned for a lot of things to happen, but then simultaneously rips them out of the air. Events were set up and put into motion which then did not result in exciting or surprising payoffs, with each ‘punchline’ (I am not strong-willed enough to avoid this metaphor, sorry!) whimpering like a bomb-filled lion cub. There are an abundance of ideas here, and the general concept is solid – but the vague nature of the narrative pulls every punch it can, despite Snyder’s best attempts, and the character work is weaker as a result. The Joker, in particular, now feels more devalued than ever before.

The issue reads… fine. And the story as whole reads… fine. But it could have been SPECTACULAR. And despite the slew of 10/10 awards being given out, Death of the Family simply didn’t prove to be anything more than just another Joker story.

Comments

  1. John Warren says:

    I have not read a positive review of this issue, so I’m confused by your premise. Hannibal Tabu hated it: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=43760

  2. CBR gave it 5 out of 5, Ifanboy had it as their pick of the week and IGN gave it 10 out 10.

    It’s hard to pick on Snyder’s work because it’s completely passable by today’s standards (which is part of the problem) but Snyder has got to be the most over-hyped talent these days.

    It begs proper criticism.

  3. Shawn says:
  4. It was good, especially when re-read as a whole. I think the problem, however, revolves around the red herring that involved the dinner platter. Everyone expected a gruesome scene, and didn’t get one. The result was deflationary given the buzz and build up leading to this issue. I think if they’d actually followed through on something horrorific — Alfred’s hand or head on the platter — most people would be saying something different (or critical for different reasons). But overall. this was a very moody and evocative story that read as a love letter to prior Joker tales much as Brubaker’s Cap run was a homage to earlier Cap stories. It was well done I thought, even if the follow through on the “what’s on the plate” question wasn’t what people thought.

  5. I agree, if people got their “blood”, then more praise would be heaped. I thought Jokers character was well played. No, not “gay panic”, but more like a single white female stalker. A, “but I’m your best friend, you don’t need anyone else…” Who hasn’t had those type of people in their life that were just one drop into an ACME vat away from being a Joker.
    And for Snyder being the “over hyped talent..” isn’t that title split between Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis?
    The point of the story is, it was the death of the family and it wasn’t done as a slaughter house but as a mind F*ck on the family. WHO DOESN’T want to know what Joker was saying to the family before Batman got there.

  6. Wwwwwaiiiit a minute….part of the climax is like that of Seven, only with a plate instead of a box….? Hmmm….

  7. MattComix says:

    I don’t get why turning the Joker into an absurd Leatherface knock off and going to tired “lets torture the sidekicks” route is praise worthy to begin with.

  8. Shamshu Miah says:

    10/10 gay will read

  9. Bryan L says:

    Didn’t work for me. It’s fairly implausible that a psychotic butcher like the Joker (and I’ll note here that I HATE psychotic butcher Joker) would have all those heroes helpless and not actually harm any of them. The whole finale felt like Snyder spent a lot of time setting up a story that he didn’t know how to pay off.

  10. Boner says:

    There were some cool, subtle reveals that happened. But, overall, it was a lot of hype w/little payoff. Just not much of a story and the whole Joker/Batman symbiosis is exhausted. Enough already.

  11. Andrew Farago says:

    Have to reread the whole thing and see how it holds up. There are a lot of elements that I enjoyed in the final chapter, and I’m glad that Snyder and Capullo didn’t go for the “cheap pop” of killing off Alfred or maiming the Red Hood or any other particularly gruesome parting shots. Maybe it’s “funnier” for the Joker to drive Batman crazy without having actually done what he’s claimed to have done.

    I’m not sure that I want to see the return of “Batman’s a jerk and even his friends and family don’t like him or trust him” version of the character. Every time he starts showing signs of humanity or normalcy, we’ve got something like this that sets up another two years of distrust and paranoia.

  12. Charles says:

    Well done review. I don’t know why online reviewers were rushing to give the book a perfect when a) there are no perfect stories b) the story being told here (Steve pointed out) isn’t even complete. Snyder has done excellent work on Batman however Death of Family is definitely one of his weakest on the book.

  13. Jeremy Holstein says:

    The let down was that everything the Joker promised remained undelivered. No one died (other than all the non-player people in the first two issues and a few policemen and Arkham guards here and there.)

    But that’s just classic serial fiction. You can’t kill or maim your star characters.

    On the plus side Snyder’s Joker was truly unsettling. Even if it is patently ridiculous that Bruce Wayne would do what Snyder had him do, the flashback scene at the asylum near the end of issue 17 was chilling.

    On the REAL plus side Snyder and Cappulo are creating exciting comics. I finished each issue, and was excited to see what happened next. A month to read the next chapter seemed too long! As a jaded older comic book reader that feeling doesn’t happen to me much any more, but I felt it with Death of the Family. So thank you.

  14. Jackson says:

    I just love that the pay off not that the Joker literally killed the Bat-Family, but that he has done so in a figurative sense.

    Also, the last issue shows that everything that the Joker has been doing has been all to set up a joke. Ha.

  15. I’ve read only the Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and a couple of Teen Titans chapters of this, plus Batman 17, and I liked Batman 17 more than the other chapters I did read and more than I expected. I’m so tired of these long crossover stories.

  16. I wasn’t that surprised that the family were killed in a figurative sense, given that, as noted, it’s hard for him to literally kill any of them.

  17. At the risk of stealing someone else’s comment, this is derivative work at best. I realize most of comics is but I am completely lost on this. There is nothing new here, nothing. I cannot believe the praise this run is getting. This isn’t even a new take on the characters. This last issues literally unwinds the entire plot in 4 pages and you are left right where you started. I guess this is what it’s like to get old, I can remember reading Returns, Year One and the Killing Joke and being blown away, reading things that were so powerful and transformative. Death of the Family is what we get now which just seems sad….

  18. Shawn Kane says:

    While I think it’s a well written and drawn comic, this storyline ended my DC buying days. The sheer brutality and body count just made me think “Do I really want to read this anymore?” All the dead GCPD and civilians in Batman and the people at the bowling alley in Batgirl (I didn’t finish the Nightwing arc so I’m not sure what happened to the circus and I dropped Detective and Batman and Robin as well) just seemed gratuitous and shocking for shock value’s sake.

  19. MattComix says:

    “gratuitous and shocking for shock value’s sake.”

    Sadly this would seem to be DC’s one and only business model. Arguably the business model for the whole genre as it stands. It’s less a superhero line than it is a horror line with capes hanging off of it.

  20. Synsidar says:

    Just not much of a story and the whole Joker/Batman symbiosis is exhausted. Enough already.

    I might never buy another Batman comic book, and I sure won’t buy another Batman-Joker story, for just that reason. How would someone go about selling a Batman-Joker story to a disinterested or skeptical reader? It’s not because the Joker is so wonderful. He’s a homicidal maniac, not someone the reader will want to identify with, for God’s sake!

    A character always exists to serve the purpose of the story. If the story is written just to present the character, it’s bound to fail as a story. It might not be impossible to write a new story on the theme of Batman and the Joker being opposites that works, but I’d compare it to writing an SF story about humans being special. The theme shapes the story in predictable ways; if the writer isn’t saying anything new, there’s no reason to do the story.

    SRS

  21. Liefeld was right!

  22. It was a great series I loved it until #17. I was dissapointed with the ending. I was expecting something major under the tray such as Alfred’s head. (which would be horrible but intristing.) the rest of the series was great but like I said, the end was an utter dissapointmeant in my eyes.

  23. Batphone Operator says:

    There was the big build up just like in Court Of Owls. Snyder builds you up to expect something great then ends the story like an episode of Flipper. Where is all the suffering they endured that was not also dealt to them by other villains? How can Batman possibly not go after The Joker’s body with all the technology he has to make sure the Joker is dead? How? Why? What? How? and How? The cross-over stories have stunted the growth of the other comics. What should happen at this point is either the firing of Scott Snyder and time spent on a different writer cleaning up this mess with some inventive stories that deliver something more than introspective stuff that has already been hacked out in the bat past, or DC just stop doing what they do and go full throttle into the sea monkey sales business.

  24. Rich Harvey says:

    “Just not much of a story and the whole Joker/Batman symbiosis is exhausted. Enough already.”

    “How would someone go about selling a Batman-Joker story to a disinterested or skeptical reader? It’s not because the Joker is so wonderful. He’s a homicidal maniac, not someone the reader will want to identify with, for God’s sake!”

    But that’s what makes him so wonderful. If an author, any author, is hung up for a plot, just use The Joker. “He’s a homicidal maniac, so he can do anything!” And if the plot is weak, the same excuse stands. “You don’t need a plot — He’s a homicidal maniac, so he can do anything!”

    I think the very generic nature of The Joker’s “homicidal maniac” schtick makes him very appealing to writers. Another character, like The Riddler or Two-Face, want to challenge Batman but also accomplish other ends. They have very clearly defined personalities and (sometimes) methods of operation. This makes them difficult to write since they won’t do “anything”, because they’re not homicidal maniacs, which also puts the kibosh on plenty of over-the-top scenes and dialogue.

  25. The thing is that I believe Scott did an amazing job writing this whole thing and that everyone who is mad at how it ended is mad for all the wrong reasons. The sheer idea of a joker story so epic it took 23 issues to tell it drove me into a comic book frenzy. “The death of the family” was exactly that… Batmans “family” is dead. The joker was batmans #1 family…. And the joker is now dead. Fallen to his death in the bat cave. The joker was batmans true family and only stead fast love that has endured through the years. The bro-mantic relationship is now over. A dance that lasted since issue #1 of batman in 1940 has run it’s course. Scott Snyder has written something so beautiful here. Go back and read it all over again. From detective #1 of the new 52 and onward. It is a true masterful work of art. And if you cannot see that…. You are truly blind.

  26. The thing is that I believe Scott did an amazing job writing this whole thing and that everyone who is mad at how it ended is mad for all the wrong reasons. The sheer idea of a joker story so epic it took 23 issues to tell it drove me into a comic book frenzy. “The death of the family” was exactly that… Batmans “family” is dead. The joker was batmans #1 family…. And the joker is now dead. Fallen to his death in the bat cave. The joker was batmans true family and only stead fast love that has endured through the years. The bro-mantic relationship is now over. A dance that lasted since issue #1 of batman in 1940 has run it’s course. Scott Snyder has written something so beautiful here. Go back and read it all over again. From detective #1 of the new 52 and onward. It is a true masterful work of art. And if you cannot see that…. You are truly blind.

  27. Batphone Operator says:

    The Joker isn’t dead. Show me his body.

  28. Batphone Operator says:

    The Joker isn’t dead. Show me his body.

  29. Batphone Operator says:

    The Joker isn’t dead. Show me his body.

  30. Sounds like the standard DC Comics ‘bait and switch’ story plotting that suckers readers for several issues too many.

  31. That’s awesome Will, I was going to be dick and say something sarcastic but it sounds like Synder was able to deliver to you a feeling I had reading Batman 20 plus years ago.

  32. A couple of things.

    1) I only read the Batman issues of DOTF and did not miss anything other than how Joker captured Robin,etc. No one had to read the other “23″ issues of whatever. You could I guess, but I wasn’t obligated to read anything else, which I appreciate.

    2) The creative team was the SAME for the entire story. That didn’t happen with SWAMP THING and Rotworld. That last artist killed me.

    3) If Scott took the easy way a killed or maimed someone (major, from Gordon up) people would have been calling for his head. I guess crippling Batgirl again would have been ok with some folks.

    4) As the death of the “family” of Batman and Joker, this story worked. As temporary as it may be.

    5) Joker works as an unpredictable maniac. He also can be the dude who drives the Jokermobile. He can also be the Joker from Arkham Asylum or from Killing Joke. Like Grundy, he doesn’t always have to be the same guy every time.

  33. Chris says:

    The funniest thing about the whole thing is that the key incident happens in this week’s Red Hood, which isn’t even an official part of the crossover…

  34. James says:

    Haven’t read the issue yet. But one thing I did hear about Snyder’s upcoming arc, that has got me thinking about dropping this title, is that it is going to be bigger than the court of owls one. And that went for a bloody year!! I miss the days when writers didn’t write for trades! 1, 2 or 3 issues arcs used to be the norm. Now one whole story is going to cost me $48! Over it.

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