REVIEW: Batman #13

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The last time we saw the Joker, he did something so horrifying it defied logic. But is that such a surprise? After all, he is the Joker. Now that the Court of Owls storyline has ended, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are bringing the Joker back. But is that such a surprise? After all, it is the Joker, and this is Batman. Is the return worth it?


SUMMARY

Pros
Hannibal Lecter meets Leatherface
The writing and art are superb
Cons

NOT ALFRED! NOOOO!
Why does Bruce Wayne look liked he’s drugged?

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

READER RATING!

[ratings]

BATMAN #13
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Artists: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colorist: FCO Plasencia
Lettering: Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancout, Katie Kubert
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in Batman: In an attempt to escape Arkham Asylum the Joker pulled the stunt of all stunts, allowing his face to be cut off to throw everyone off his scent. He has been gone for a long while.


HANNIBAL LECTER MEETS LEATHERFACE

For a year I was drawn into Scott Snyder’s tale of the Court of Owls and witnessed Batman being taken down a peg – but only a peg, because he’s Batman after all. Mr. Snyder was able to create some uncomfortable moments for the readers; not because of bad storytelling, but because the mystery was built up, and the reveals and decent into madness were so well handled.

That was then. This is now.

From the opening pages of Batman #13, this issue reads like the psychological thrillers that have captured our imaginations for years. Whether it is Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs, or the slash fest that is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, every word, every description, every panel is filled with foreboding that it creates a mood so oppressive, so heavy, so real, that at times I actually felt like I was living in the story. Throw in the discussion between Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock about ill omens, and you know something terrible is about to happen.

And that is when Joker shows up.

Instead of taking the battle to some innocent circus attendees, or cooking up some scheme to draw the Batman out, the Joker takes the fight to the Gotham P.D., not only to retrieve his face, but to put the fear into Jim Gordon. In the shadows, Joker murders several members of the police force, while Jim Gordon stands there helpless. Readers never get to see a neck snap, but the mental images conjured up are just as horrifying. I like that Jim Gordon is the first target of the Joker’s return. Mr. Snyder pours as much care and passion into building up (and then tearing down) Gordon, that he appears on the page fully formed – a living breathing character imbued with life . We don’t need to learn anymore of his back-story in this New 52, because we feel like we’ve known this incarnation of the character forever.

What is really interesting about this story is that Mr. Snyder takes a very familiar story – where the Joker attacks the Mayor/Copyright Clerk/whoever via a mixture of chemicals that when combined, create the Joker Toxin, lethal to target, and turns it completely around by attacking those protecting the stated victim. It’s a deviously brilliant move by the Joker, who once again proves he can outsmart Batman anytime he wants. The twist works so well because we as readers, and Batman fans, have seen this plot element used so many times that when the horrific reveal occurs, we are just as thrown as our hero. Mr. Snyder doesn’t pull this trick once, he does it again by taking us back to A.C.E. Chemical where Batman confronts who we believe to be the Joker dressed as the Red Hood. As Batman draws near, he figures out it is Harley Quinn under the hood, at which point a Bill Finger/Dick Sprang gimmick traps the Batman, as the Joker announces his plans to kill the entire Bat-Family.

DUN! DUN! DUUUUUN!

The backup story is just as good as the main feature, as Mr. Snyder and James Tynion IV tell the story of how Harley ended up under the hood. While the main feature had Gordon go from leader to skittish child, afraid of everything that moved, readers get to see the lengths Harley is willing to go to in order to be reunited with her Mr. J. It’s sad and spooky at the same time.

HOLY FREAKIN’ CRAP BATMAN!

Words can only take the story so far (though I think I would very much like to see a novel adaptation of this series), it is Greg Capullo’s art that takes this issue over the top. Again, from the first page, first panel, Mr. Capullo’s rendering of Gotham City sends this book from an idle distraction to visual storytelling that rivals anything seen on the big screen. When the toxin takes down the police officers, I can feel the disease dripping off the page. And when the final page splash featuring the Joker with his face reattached appears, I’m ready to throw the book in the corner in complete fear. I’ve never had a fear of clowns before, but from here on out clowns are public enemy number one.

Complimenting Mr. Capullo’s art is the inking and coloring that makes each page pop. I read this issue first in a digital format, and the combination of colors used and the clean glassy surface of the iPad gave the illusion that I was looking into this world through a magical window, giving me reason to scream at the screen, “ALFRED DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!” In printed form the illusion is not lost, and save for the house ads scattered throughout, the book reads so smoothly that even after a fourth read, I’m sad that there aren’t more pages to enjoy.

BOTTOM LINE: BATMAN AT ITS BEST

I’m going to go on record and say the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo run on Batman is the best Batman since Mr. Miller deconstructed the hero in The Dark Knight Returns. The writing remains fresh – or at least Mr. Snyder has convinced us it is – and the art duties result in imagery that tell us more about characters and their motives than an actor on the stage. I had fears that Mr. Snyder would not be able continue his winning streak once Court of Owls concluded, but if the rest of the issues in this arc are as solid as the opening chapter, I expect this series to receive a lot more 5 Stars in the coming months.

Rating: ★★★★★