Let’s be perfectly clear: arguably, I’m one of the web’s oldest self-proclaimed Bat-fans. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up reading the occasional Bat-issue in the early 1970’s, and I’ve read him off-and-on-again ever since. What happened to me as a regular reader is that around the mid-1990’s everything – every story, every character, every major or minor arc – just started blending together so much to the point that I realized it was time to give up reading every Bat-title. Instead, I’d pick up the graphic novel collections well after the hype of the latest, greatest “best story ever” had died away, and I’d be free to focus on what I truly found inspiring about the latest exploits of Gotham City’s signature vigilante and detective.
So – being perfectly clear – let me also say that unlike countless others I’ve never been all that enamored with The Joker as Batman’s signature villain. Sure, he’s a lunatic, and he’s driven to carry out every criminal act more despicable than the one before. Madness has to count for something. While I can appreciate that he’s always been intended to be the yin to Batman’s yang (or vice versa), I just saw him as the resident maniacal weirdo. Nothing else.
Throughout the years, The Joker has had his share of good stories, and it’s easy to see how Scott Snyder’s “Death to the Family” tries to up the ante, putting the pale-faced grinner front-and-center in his efforts to perhaps once and for all say and/or do something definitive in his relationship with the Bats. These two have been at one another’s figurative throat for so long it’s no wonder other writers haven’t come up with this exact storyline (it bears some mild resemblance to others, almost as if Snyder and his creative cohorts picked up elements of their favorite Bat-yarns throughout the years and mixed ‘em up in a cauldron for good measure); still, it’s Snyder’s signature command of dialogue that makes this one somethin’ special.
But it also makes it something downright exhaustive.
In the 80’s, I can remember debating the merits of the Batman having so many secondary crimefighters to help keep Gotham’s streets clean. You had Robin. You had Nightwing. You had Batgirl. You had Alfred. Why, those alone and his on-again-off-again kinda/sorta romance/kinship with Catwoman meant, any given issue could easily turn into “The Bat-Family Adventure Hour.” And – to be perfectly honest – I hated it. It wasn’t that I hated any individual character; it was just that I always (always) saw The Bat as the quintessential loner. Gotham’s last man standing. Sure, some tales required he have some assistance, but, all-in-all, the tales I enjoyed were ones where he was the lone wolf going up against a pack of rabid dogs.
While drawing some modest allusions to the previously published tale “A Death in the Family,” Snyder’s “Death to the Family” tries to dial the drama up to eleven: The Joker captures every single member of the Bat-family in order to bring about Batman’s worst nightmare – the death of everyone.
This is what I mean when I say I’m honestly surprised no one came up with this exact story earlier. It isn’t unheard of that Batman would suffer some tragedy to those closest to him; rather, what’s less likely to remain is allowing said tragedy to actually stand and become a lasting, final part of the greater Bat-mythos. In the aforementioned “A Death in the Family,” Jason Todd bites the dust – or so we were lead to believe – at the hands of The Joker yielding a particular bloody crow bar. (Heck, you kids can even Google that whole affair to discover what modest controversy it created beyond the covers.) Proving that old adage – “no one ever really dies in fiction” – Jason’s back and in Batman’s good graces, making him only one of the several targets for the new-and-improved Joker (face not included).
Because the big finish (which takes for-e-ver) requires every member of The Bats’ entourage to be in jeopardy at the same time, there’s a massive amount of set-up here; and this is where the tale grinds to a near-halt. Sure, it’s great to have the entirety of one impressive tale available in one handsome collection, so I’ll happily give kudos to DC there … only several of these lesser arcs really aren’t complete. Don’t get me wrong: all you need to know about each and every character and how he (or she) plays into the conclusion is here – what’s missing is a slew of narrative hooks clearly continuing storylines of these separate ongoing monthlies. For example, there’s a whole slew of references in the arc involving the Teen Titans, but half of it makes little to no sense to this reader because I’m unfamiliar with those characters and their respective growing pains. Same thing with the Catwoman issues included. Ditto with the Batgirl. Oh, yeah, and Harley Quinn and her activities.
Catch my drift?
While I do appreciate having these issues collected here, their appearance doesn’t come without the extra baggage. Snyder’s verbosity – while admirable – also tends to thrust The Bats’ and The Joker’s big showdown back into second gear. (He’s brilliant at what he does, bar none one of the finest working today in DC’s stable; I just think he could use a stronger editor.) My best suggestion? Don’t even try to read all of this in one sitting. I did … and then I went back and read it again because so much of these secondary appearances made so little sense to me at first blush.
Epic? Yes. One for the ages? Possibly. Recommended? You betcha?
An easy reading assignment? Not hardly.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more