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Comic Review: Batman #15

Batman #15 Death of the Family Joker - with Red Hood, Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl

The Joker knows Batman. With the revelation that came at the end of the last issue, the Joker knows Batman better now than he ever has. But that’s not what Batman #15 is about: Batman #15 is about showing just how incapable Batman is of knowing the Joker.

Open this book to the first page and you’ll have all the evidence you need to argue that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are the best writer/artist team in comics today. It’s a look at the Joker standing in the dark, grinning his hideous new grin and looking as evil as he’s ever looked, with the crazy eyes that only Greg Capullo can draw. The image is accompanied by Batman’s monologue as he tries to convince himself that the Joker is just a man, and that like any man, his motives and his instincts can be understood and predicted.

Batman #15 Death of the Family Joker Greg Capullo Scott Snyder New 52 first page

Snyder’s great success here is the subtext and the juxtaposition between Batman’s rational thought and the psychotic Joker smile that accompanies every word. Batman wants a rational world, but that’s not the world the Joker operates in. It’s something the reader picks up, but that Batman is blind to.

The Joker’s goal through the Death of the Family storyline has been to take away Batman’s sense of security. Everything the Joker has done has been to make Batman feel vulnerable. He’s kidnapped Alfred, he’s lured Batman to the site of a crime that he’s already too late to stop, and he’s declared that he knows the secret identities of Batman and his allies. Batman has been helpless to protect his closest friend, his city, and his very identity. He’s been laid bare.

This issue is all about Batman’s reaction to vulnerability. Most of the story takes place in the Batcave as an unmasked Bruce Wayne tries to reassure his allies – and himself – that the Joker can’t possibly know who they are. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Red Robin, and Red Hood are all together, trying to deal with the possibility that their identities are out. The Joker has told them all that Bruce is keeping a secret from them, and they want answers. Bruce has something to admit, but it’s an admission he refuses to believe could be harmful. They all see it as a weak point exploited, while Bruce sees it as the one impregnable part of his world. He is absolutely pig-headed in the belief that the way he sees the world is the way it is.

Throughout the scene, everyone but Bruce is wearing a mask. Bruce looks very human, and very vulnerable, surrounded by a gang of his proteges who all want answers from him. He doesn’t have the glowering white eyes of Batman; he’s got the big baby blues of Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is the weakness the Joker has discovered. For all his training, his knowledge and his intelligence, Batman can be outdone through the attachments of Bruce Wayne.

One of Snyder’s greatest strengths as a writer is the through line he creates when he tells a story. In the Court of the Owls storyline, it was the “Gotham is…” newspaper write-in contest. In this issue, the story starts and ends with the concept that emotion can be read in eye movements. Batman is trying to apply his science to the Joker, and trying to convince himself that science can understand the Joker. In earlier issues, he was trying to find the key to Joker’s madness in the chemical bath that created him. Here, it’s reading pupils. None of it gives him a quantifiable way of understanding his foe.

It’s becoming a familiar refrain with this new Joker, but no one does him better than Capullo. Batman briefly battles Joker at the beginning of this issue, and the combat brings out even more hideous expressions for Capullo to draw. There’s one punch that peels part of the face off, and Joker twists it into a stomach-turning frown. It’s truly terrifying.

Batman #15 is a great big deep breath for the story before it plunges headlong into the madness the Joker has planned for his beloved Bat King. The Joker has promised that Batman will kill his allies, and he’s been teasing a grand party for a few issues now. We learn where that party will be held by the end of Batman #15.

The backup story to this issue – jointly written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, with Dave Baron on art – dovetails nicely with the main story’s conclusion. Snyder and Tynion put the Joker and the Riddler together for a nice comparison between villains. One is driven by a maniacal devotion to his foe; the other is extremely logical, and though a criminal, even he cannot understand the Joker.

Batman arrives at a long-expected party in next month’s Batman #16. You’d be mad to miss it.

9 out of 10.

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