*There are potentially slight spoilers ahead, depending on your definition of “spoilers.”*
After the 11-chapter epic that brought us the Court of Owls, it’s hard to believe Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and the rest of the Bat Family creative teams were able to cram so much story into “Death of the Family” in just five short months (with most titles getting 1-2 tie-in issues at most). Like the “Night of the Owls” before it, the only required reading was Batman and it ended where it all started in issue 17 of one of DC’s hottest titles. Did it payoff?
It would have been easy to kill the Joker or Alfred or to maim one of the Family. That’s probably what most people were expecting to happen. Joker was going to do something heinous and not everyone was going to make it out alive. In a somewhat unexpected move (semi spoiler alert), the Joker’s “demise” is no more permanent than in any other story and nobody dies. Everyone (including the Bat King’s Jester) survives, but not exactly intact.
After some amazing dialogue between Batman and Joker while the Family fights for their lives, we’re treated to a quiet epilogue not unlike the one with Bruce and Dick at the end of Batman #11. It’s during this scene that the real impact of the story starts to take shape. No, nobody lost an ear, but there’s some real damage done to the Bat Family. In a lot of ways, that’s a worse scenario for the characters. There are some fresh emotional scars on these characters and it won’t be a quick recovery.
If you kill the Joker or Red Robin, there’s nothing to stop them from coming back. It’s comics, after all. By crafting a story that leaves the characters with more emotional trauma than physical, Snyder has created a shift in tone that can be much more interesting to watch as it develops than simply another comic book funeral. Luckily, Snyder and Capullo have the support of an excellent team of writers and artists who took to this story extremely well and I can’t wait to see what they all do with their newly broken leads.
And of course there’s the looming threat of the Joker’s return. It won’t be any time soon, but any worries of “What can he possibly do next?” should be put to rest. There’s a lot to love in these pages (Capullo mastering not only the action, but turning in phenomenal work on the talking heads pages, too) and the Joker’s story is anything but over. He’ll be back, reinvented and more than likely with his face intact. Even the Joker got more than he bargained for in the trauma department. A severed face is the least of his problems now.
If the end of this issue is any indication, this very well could be the Death of the Family, at least as we as readers know it to exist. Some of the harsh truths brought to light in this story can’t be forgotten and that, to me, is much more interesting than speculating on how and when the Joker will come back to terrorize the city. There are definitely going to be some people disappointed with the relatively quiet ending to one of the creepiest horror comics I’ve read all year, but for me, it worked incredibly well. I give Batman #17 a perfect 5 out of 5 booby-trapped mutant tiger kittens. The future is anything but bright for Batman, but would we ever have it any other way?