“A Clown Walks Into a Police Station Looking for His Face…”

I’ve been joking on Twitter all week that I wish I had enough street cred to score advanced copies of comics, specifically Batman. Now, I know it’s not the time to dig into my long, twisting, almost torrid love affair with all things Batman. It’s not as straightforward as my love of Star Wars, but that’s for another day.

Batman is simply one of the titles that I can’t wait the 30 days between issues. It’s at the top of my weekly reading stack on the Wednesdays it comes out.

Hell, this week even saw a first for me: I actually took a proper afternoon break at work to read a comic. Every Wednesday lunch break is a trip to the comic book store, but I always wait till I get home to crack the spines (not literally. Calm down, nerds) on any of my weekly haul.

Of course, this week was different. It’s Batman week. And it’s time for a new story arc.

Enter Death of the Family.

As per usual, this is where I warn you about spoilers. I’m going to completely ruin Batman #13 for you right now, so if you aren’t fine with that, check out another post.

Right off the bat (pun intended), let me say that the cover for this issue is amazing. I love the die-cut Joker face overlapping Batman’s face. It’s a great touch, and while it’s a bit more effective on this week’s Batgirl #13 (only because her eye is visible through her own mask and lines up with Joker’s eye), it’s still haunting.

Perhaps the best part of this cover is that any reader familiar with Detective Comics already has an idea of what’s going on. They know Joker had Dollmaker cut his face off and leave it tacked to the wall of a cell in Arkham. Then, Joker disappeared. Read the last year’s worth of Detective for the whole scoop, but that’s really all you need to know before this one.

The issue opens with a voice-over about the crazy stuff that’s been happening in Gotham. Huge flood. River flowing backwards. Two-headed lion cub born in the zoo. Real “End of Days” stuff going on.

Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock are out in the rain, waxing poetic about smoking and deformed lions before heading back into GCPD. When they get back in, the lights cut out and the ghostly white figure of Joker appears in the door. He steps in, telling jokes and snapping necks along the way, all the while in search for his face that’s been stashed in the police department since it was removed.

He tells Gordon that he has been in his house, lying under his bed at night, listening to Gordon sleep. But, he vanishes just as Batman shows up, leaving us (along with Gordon) to hope that his words are untrue.

With Joker, you never can tell.

Batman puts the word out to the Bat-Fam that Joker is back, but he makes his presence known soon enough. Joker cuts into the local broadcasts and shows a video of him holding a man dressed like a clown at gunpoint as he announces that Mayor Hady will die at midnight.

If it feels like a throwback to Joker’s first appearance in Batman #1 (1940), good. It is. Hell, even Batman says that it feels like the first crime Joker committed in Gotham.

Gordon’s men surround Mayor Hady, who seems not only fine but actually kind of miffed that the cops are in his office, even though it’s for his safety. He spends his time complaining about their shoes scuffing the nice floors.

Turns out, everyone else in the room was poisoned and died horrifically at the stroke of midnight. Batman samples the toxin and the results lead him to the ACE Chemical Factory where the Joker was “born.” For more on that, read Detective Comics #168 or Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (which, honestly, you should have already read. Shame on you for skipping such a fantastic book…)

So, Batman and Joker (who is dressed as Red Hood) tangle a bit before Batman is slammed with a giant mallet and pushed into an empty vat. “Joker” pulls off his red hood to reveal it was a sad Harley Quinn all along. She claims Joker’s “not the same Mistah J anymore.” Batman demands to know where Joker is as the vat begins filling with acid.

Cut to Wayne Manor.

Alfred hears a tiny scratch at the front door and opens it to see a two-headed lion cub. Puzzled, he almost writes it off as Joker pops out of nowhere with a hammer. We are left with a final splash page of the reveal of Joker holding a hammer over his head, ready to bring it down on Alfred’s face. Joker has reattached his face haphazardly with a leather belt and some hooks, making for a truly horrifying visage.

Also, the small back story at the end is about Joker tricking Harley into doing his dirty work (again.) He strips her down (which is quite enjoyable) and suits her up as Red Hood to take on Batman. Not too much going on there, but definitely a nice treat at the end.

Speaking of the end, it leaves a few big questions.

1. Is Alfred going to be killed? I know it’s the big cliffhanger of the issue, and I figure Batman knows where the Joker is, but will he be able to get back to the manor in time to stop Alfred’s death? Alfred’s been around from the beginning (in cannon), and he’s been one of the most essential characters since his debut.

2. Who’s next? Is this is just a trap to get Batman right where Joker wants him, or is he dead set on dismantling the entire Bat Family?

3. Does this mean Joker knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman? If so, does he know about Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, Barbara Gordon, or Kathy Kane? Does Joker know the secret identities of the entire  Family?

Simply chilling.

Honestly, the past year of Batman has been some of the best we’ve seen in a long time. This is one of those titles that has been notoriously up-and-down since it’s first issue in 1940, but with the creative team of author Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Swamp Thing) and artist Greg Capullo (Spawn, Haunt) at the helm of one of the most widely-known and widely-read comic book characters in history, it’s clear that everyone should be reading Batman.

Frankly, I simply cannot say enough good about these books. The Court of Owls story arc that wrapped up in issue #11 was some of the best writing Batman has seen in quite a few years, and issue #13 is already setting a new high-water mark for the comic book industry.

Of course, that’s just how I see it. Maybe I’m a bit too emotionally attached to Batman to admit any small chinks in the armor, but if you can find any in Snyder’s and Capullo’s incarnation, please share with the rest of the class. I’d be interested to hear some of these ideas.

And I know I joked earlier about not having any cred, but I know a guy who knows a guy. My sources tell me that something big is coming through the Batman pipes in the next couple of months. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, and he wouldn’t tell me his source either. He just kept saying “big shit is coming, man. BIG shit…”

He also insinuated that all the tie-ins weren’t necessary (even though I plan on checking them out just like I did Batgirl #13 this week), but that I couldn’t skip an issue of Batman. Frankly, I don’t plan on it anyway.

But that’s my warning to you, as it was my source’s warning to me, as it was his phantom “industry connection’s” warning to him. If for some horrible reason you have to skip a couple monthlies in the next six months, whether it be to save for Christmas or because of hard times or anything, make sure you don’t skip on Batman. The effects of this story arc are going to be fairly far-reaching, as long as my mystery source’s mystery source isn’t full of crap or wasn’t drunk when he spilled those beans. Let’s hope the word “death” in the story arc title isn’t too ominous, okay?

Tune in next week when I’ll have word on this month’s short stack of “Death of the Family” tie-ins: this week’s Batgirl #13 and next week’s Catwoman #13. Same Bat time, Same Bat blog.

Cue cheesy theme music!

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