- Release Date: February 13, 2013
- Publisher: DC Comics
- Story By: Scott Snyder
- Art By: Greg Capullo (pencils), Jonathan Glapion (inks)
The bat skeleton flying at you in the dark on the opening page of BATMAN #17 is one of the creepiest panel sequences in recent comic books. You can almost hear the skull screeching like a ghost behind the vicious Batman-Joker dialogue, which is all sorts of suggestive and at the same time incredibly mysterious, before the lights come up on a nightmarish dinner display like a scene from a Hammer horror film.
With all the violence leading up to this issue, I’m sure some folks were expecting a shocking and bloody ending—which we get, sort of, although there’s another twist that proves Joker already knows he’s won before that. In a way, we get both a violent ending and an emotional one; a shocking scene followed by great dialogue; a harrowing journey that leads up to the most intense of human interaction.
It’s beautiful, really: Scott Snyder showing that regardless of murderous gimmicks and posturing, what really makes the difference in the end are our relationships with people. And I’m including Batman’s relationship with the Joker, here, which is—ironically—more romantic in this issue than anything in last week’s YOUNG ROMANCE Valentine’s Day special. Snyder makes use enough of sexual metaphors to make frigid fanboys uncomfortable, even (“How about tonight I go farther with you than I’ve ever gone?”). And with the visuals of Joker’s rotted face accompanying the dialogue, the effect is nothing less than completely unsettling.
The dialogue, again. Have I mentioned that? It’s fabulous. I can’t resist sharing a few of my favorite lines: “This is how I win, Batssss. I win by living. By keep on keeping on.” And then Bruce: “I did it, Joker. I broke the spell. I did what you wouldn’t do.” But the best has got to be when Joker all but announces his motivations for cutting his face off: “Beneath my grin, though, is just more grin! Haha! And beneath that face of yours is something snouted and fanged and lovely and that’s what this is about.”
Snouted and fanged and lovely. Because Joker would never want to know Batman’s identity. Not really. Joker’s blank face in the final flashback is haunting and telling, not to mention symbolically indicative of the ultimate villain’s gimmick in general: it relies on shallowness.
Greg Capullo has outdone himself in this issue. The eyes stick with you: horrified, desperate, hollow. It’s not an easy feat to scratch emotion into the face of a crazy man with a reattached face, but Capullo does it, and the dramatic effect is incomprehensible. Skin molded to circumstance. Classic clown-painted tragedy with a macabre twist. For this whole “Death of the Family” tale has been nothing but classic from the very beginning, and the finish is full of complexities and unanswered questions, like the best of archetypal literature.