Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say“BLAARGH!”
Batman. The shining diamond in the rough of the New 52. And at it’s helm? Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, the artisans who crafted the epic saga of the Court – and subsequent Night – of Owls. WHAT HAPPENED!?
Many readers are scracthing their heads and asking themselves the same question in the wake of Death of the Family. I know many fans, myself included, who felt as though the story dragged on (despite relative brevity from a publication standpoint) and offered up an all-too-unsatisfcatory denouement. But before we can argue that point, we have to consider what happened within the confines of the story.
The Joker returned. He violently and aggressively attacked Gotham’s finest to announce his coming out of retirement. I was with you so far, Snyder. Then the story became some macabre dance to sew seeds of dissension amongst the Bat-family – most specifically Joker’s implication that he knew their secret identities. Bruce reveleaed a secret from his past to his gathered proteges, faced Joker alone in an asylum-turned-funhouse-of-horrors, and then woke up in the cave with everyone he cares for most held captive by the Clown Prince of Crime. Bats beat the Joker (sort of) but the damage was already done and the the trust the family once had for their winged patriarch was lost.
It’s not a terrible story, but it doesn’t work the way it’s meant to.
- If this IS the Bat-family we’ve known and loved for years, I refuse to believe Bruce’s little secret is truly the breaking point that would drive the others away. Jason Todd was beaten to death and Barbara was shot and paralyzed, yet they’re both on board for zany madcap adventures. Until they found out Papa Spank’s been keeping a little secret? I call bullshit.
- If this ISN’T the same old Bat-family with the decades of history but is, instead, the New 52 version that has known each other for five years, tops, then the dissolution of trust makes more sense but also loses its teeth. The group turning their backs on Bruce only matters if it symbolizes the gravity of the situation, and that’s lost when these are people who barely know each other.
- Joker has access to Batman’s extended family, at his mercy, and he doesn’t cause them any significant physical pain or damage? That’s absurdly out of character. Joker may love to toy with Batman, but he enjoys his maiming and scarring, too.
- Bruce’s final revelation, that he visited Joker in Arkham AS BRUCE WAYNE to confront him is asinine. Bruce would never have done anything like that; no matter his suspicions, NOT doing that sort of thing is EXACTLY what makes him Batman. This may be one of the dumbest scenes in modern comics.
The story simply doesn’t work to create the kind of tension that Night of Owls did, and the biggest problem is in the payoff. Even if DC doesn’t reset continuity any time soon, having a major falling out among the Bat-family is both too big and too vague to last. Even if Snyder had a Bendis or Johns-like run of over five years on Batman proper in which time he carried this thread out to the extreme then earned back the trust, this is a cast of characters that between them have at least six monthly titles they occupy. Writers are going to sidestep this falling out in favor of telling the stories they want. Someone would still have had Bruce and Damian going on father/son picnics together. That is, if the other shoe hadn’t dropped.
Not even a month out from the conclusion of Death of the Family, a book whose pay off didn’t, Grant Morrison has – in the pages of Batman Inc – killed off Bruce’s son by Talia, Damien Wayne (aka the current Robin). The idea is out there that this was something Morrison has had in the works all along. Great. Look, I’m no true Morrison fan; some of his material I’ve enjoyed thoroughly, other books have made my eyes bleed. But Batman Inc #8 is garbage. Damien fondly recollects being Robin to Dick’s Batman (something I’m not even sure HAPPENED in the New 52) before charging into an unwinnable battle with his evil assassin clone and being killed, all to save some girl. Hormones! The book plays out awkwardly – no fault of the evocative-of-Frank-Quitely Chris Burnham’s art – and in the end, the death feels hollow, and is made all-the-more-so by DC leaking the spoiler this past Monday. Why do that, if not to artificially inflate sales numbers?
But the bigger question is – if you’re about to kill off Damien anyways and you want to rock the Bat-family to its core, why not use the one to achieve the other? Why not craft a story where Damien’s death came as the direct result of Bruce keeping secrets? Then – THEN – I could see the family turning their backs. Then there’d be an emotional buy in. Instead you have a weak betrayal and an entirely separate and entirely pointless death. Seems a missed oppotunity to me and one more misstep in the giant clusterfuck of “What were we thinking?” that the New 52 has become.