REVIEW: Batman #16

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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are putting together an acclaimed run on Batman. But with the Joker more murderous than ever, is this Batbook getting just too plain nasty? Major Spoilers has the review.

Batman16CoverBATMAN #16
Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller: Greg Capullo
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colorist: Fco Plascencia
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Cover: Greg Capullo & Fco Plascencia
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

Previously, in Batman: The Joker has returned to Gotham, back to torment the Dark Knight. This time, Joker’s twisted games are focused on the Bat-Family, as he hopes to clear the board for a final confrontation with Batman. Having stymied Joker’s latest plot to poison Gotham, Batman heads to Arkham Asylum where the Crown Prince of Crime awaits with Alfred… and definitely something else up his sleeve.

NONE MORE DARK

Right off the bat, prospective readers should know that this is a dark story. There are two poles to the Joker – the goofy, slapstick-y Cesar Romero 1960s Batman type, versus the sickly sadistic genius exemplified in The Killing Joke. Scott Snyder’s Joker is definitely aligned to the latter pole. His Joker is less a human villain and more a perverse embodiment of cruelty. There is still the sick sense of humor that typifies the character, but the humor is so morbid and the execution so vile that I am hard-pressed to think of any Joker story that goes this far. Batman deserves a hard R at the very least for its depiction of violence. Understandably, this level of bloodshed turns some people off. This is a storyline where the Joker is running around with his severed face strapped to his head, so yeah, things get a little bloody.

But Snyder’s Batman has been plumbing darker depths from the start. The “Night of Owls” storyline exposed the evil literally built into Gotham’s walls and the darkness that runs through its history. This Joker is so monstrous that anything seems possible in these pages. The stakes feel real. This issue is the penultimate Batman outing in the “Death of the Family” arc, and it ups the ante to incredible levels. As Batman infiltrates an Arkham Asylum that has been co-opted by the Joker, he comes across tableau after grisly tableau, each a punchline to one more sick joke. Fighting his way through a bevy of his classic enemies, Batman is faced with the decision that the Joker presented him with at the start – either you die, or your family dies. In writing this story, Snyder has crafted a compelling, disturbing narrative which has pulled me in like few other Batman stories. It’s not a balanced story in terms of light and dark, but it certainly isn’t pulling any punches either.

BIG SCREEN STORYTELLING

This is a title where the talents are perfectly matched. Greg Capullo has a wonderfully cinematic sense of composition on full display in this issue. The opening pages where Batman moves through a darkened, compromised Arkham Asylum mixes perspective and focus, heightening tension even as the credits criss-cross the page. There are a few wordless pages where Capullo is given free rein to pencil some nightmarish imagery that should stick with the reader for some time to come. I mean, I like horses, Greg. Why you gotta do a thing like that? Capullo draws big scenes, but he doesn’t forget the details either. The pollution of the Joker is rendered in intimate detail as his rotting face is surrounded by buzzing flies. The rest of the artistic team pulls it off like gangbusters too. The use of shadow and light on the page is a master class in itself.

BOTTOM LINE: DARK, YES. BUT WORTH IT.

If you can criticize Batman for anything, it could be for its overwhelmingly grim subject matter. I have seen some internet chatter criticizing this title for bordering on torture-porn, but I have to reject that critique. The violence is not the heart of this storyline. All of the no-good, horrible, very bad things happening are in the service of a well-told story, with meaning and consequence attached. The stakes are high, the heroes actually feel threatened, and the Joker is appropriately, actually scary. Snyder is not presenting these shocking deeds for mere shock value (well, except maybe for the ridiculousness of Joker’s face being held on by a belt), but as part of a larger narrative about good, evil, sickness and chaos. I can understand the violence level being insurmountable for some readers, and the faint of heart or weak of stomach should not tread these pages lightly. But for this reader, as the “Death of the Family” steams headline towards its finish, the ride has been worth every penny. Batman #16 earns a very rare five out of five star rating. Check it out.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Reader Rating

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