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Thread: Review: Batman #17 - The Joke Within A Joke Within A Joke

  1. #1
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    Default Review: Batman #17 - The Joke Within A Joke Within A Joke

    Will Romine writes;

    Hello Friends,

    I'd like to start this review by telling you what's under the silver serving dishes is...

    Are you ready for it?

    It's your last chance. Big spoilers ahead.

    Joker's big surprise, the McGuffin that's had us scratching our heads since this past summer is... (highlight below to reveal)

    The holy grail, the briefcase from Pulp Fiction, letters of transit, unobtainum, a crystal skull, the maltese falcon, a sledge called Rosebud, the contents of the trunk in Repo Man, Snape kills Dumbledore, and your mom.

    Wow, did not expect that one, did you? I, for one, was floored.

    Now that I've had my fun, on with my review and analysis.

    I've written a review for each issue of Batman since Death of the Family began. I've been fortunate to be able to see these issues in advance thanks to your mom.

    Last one, I promise.

    If the 1990's have taught us anything, it's that an edgy name, loads of powers, and shoulder pads do not a great character make. (I'm looking at you Adam X the X-treme.) Instead, a character of any significance must fit into their environment and be a logical consequence of that time and place. For a character to endure, they must influence the narrative to the point where the reader forgets that there was a time when this character never existed. This phenomena is less frequent than you might think. For every Harley Quinn, there are countless Poochies.

    Introducing a new element into 75+ years of continuity always runs this risk. Scott Snyder has applied this understanding to his run on the Bat titles. Case and point: the Court of Owls has every reason to feel gimmicky. However, after reading it, I thought (without irony) "of course there's a secret society that's been influencing Gotham for hundreds of years and operates under the avatar of Bat-eating animal. Why would there not be?" Snyder's skill lies introducing new elements into the Bat universe without altering anything that has existed, or could exist. He does this by filling the narrative shadows, these avenues ignored by other writers, in such a way that these new elements can peacefully exist alongside the Dark Knight's history and future.

    What "Court of Owls" did for the history of Gotham, "Death of the Family" does for the Joker, but with a twist. The Joker is one of the most firmly established characters in the Bat-Universe and long considered the consummate foil to Batman. How much narrative shadow, how many spots of indeterminacy, could a writer have to add to a character who has existed for almost all of Batman's publication run? The answer is a lot, and none at all.

    Throughout the entire run of "Death of the Family", we've been made to believe that Snyder was filling these narrative shadows, giving gravitas to the Joker character. However, the Joker has no narrative shadows because he is all narrative shadow. As he said himself "If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!" Trying to add layers to the Joker is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Whatever you establish as true, will also establish the opposite as true. The only way to add any significance to the character, to fill in those narrative shadows, is to understand that whether the Joker is genetically altering fish, setting up nonsensical death traps, or committing sidekick-o-cide, he's always doing it in service of a joke.

    The genius of "Death of the Family" is that the entire plot is joke played on the Bat Family using classic misdirection, which in turn is a joke played on the reader using that same misdirection. I won't get into the details of the Joker's joke, as that would spoil too much. But the joke that was played on us: that I'll talk about.

    We've been lead to believe that the Joker was plotting something big, that he had an all encompassing agenda and a major axe to grind with the Bat-family. The misdirection? Joker doesn't give two shits about the Bat-family and he doesn't make any plans that don't end in a punchline. The joke on us is that we were made to see complex motivations behind the Joker's actions where there were none. I haven't had my mind fucked this well since I first saw "The Usual Suspects." The punchline was right in front of us the whole time. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo literally let us peek under the Joker's skin. And guess what? Under the skin, there's just more grin.

    I recommend that you pick this issue up at your LCS sooner rather than later. I wouldn't suggest waiting for the trade though if you're one of the types who are tempted by the siren song of spoiler alerts. Pick up the back issues, clear your schedule, get caught up, and then prepare yourself for one hell of an "aha" moment.

    Well folks, that's about all I have to say. If you want to keep in touch, follow me @notacomplainer. And if you notice that I began the article with a bit of comedic misdirection, well then double cool points for you!

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rich Johnston View Post
    We've been lead to believe that the Joker was plotting something big, that he had an all encompassing agenda and a major axe to grind with the Bat-family. The misdirection? Joker doesn't give two shits about the Bat-family and he doesn't make any plans that don't end in a punchline. The joke on us is that we were made to see complex motivations behind the Joker's actions where there were none. I haven't had my mind fucked this well since I first saw "The Usual Suspects." The punchline was right in front of us the whole time. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo literally let us peek under the Joker's skin. And guess what? Under the skin, there's just more grin.
    I didn't really keep up with Court of Owls or Death in the Family, so I can't really judge it as a story, and I'll do my best not to do so. If Snyder told a story people enjoyed, the good on him and good on the readers for enjoying it. Tastes vary, and that's cool.

    What I do want to comment on, and possibly have others here refute me, is that this whole setup seems to be yet another chance for some writer to tell some grand arc whose over all meaning amounts to: nothing important happened here. Or to say it another way, "Why so serious?" Is it just me, or is this becoming something of a trend? Something of a meta-textual thumbing of the nose that every bit of importance we place on comics is actually veneer for nothing, it's all a shell.

    I know I'm embittered, but looking at this from the outside, comparing it to Morrison's Final Crisis and Hickman's Fantastic Four run, I feel glad I didn't invest time in a story whose purpose was to con me into investing time in it and then laugh at me for it.
    Last edited by Static-Pulse; 02-12-2013 at 05:44 PM.

  3. #3
    King of Cool Blackfist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Static-Pulse View Post
    I feel glad I didn't invest time in a story whose purpose was to con me into investing time in it and then laugh at me for it.
    wasn't that, like the whole point of Wanted?
    Marvel: S-man 2099, Rocket Raccoon
    DC: Wonder Woman, Injustice, Detective Comics, Sandman Overture
    Indie: Sonic the Hedgehog, MegaMan, Street Fighter, SkullKickers, Fatale, Elephantmen, Afterlife of Archie, The Wicked+The Divine

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    I didn't like it at all.
    Snyder said it was going to be a good story, but the surprise is that it is actually a bad story.

  5. #5
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    Issue was a pretty big letdown, then again so were the final couple issues of Court of Owls.

    But as long as Capullo is still on art, I'll still be reading

  6. #6
    Dean of Cool University Captain Comet's Avatar
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    My mom is under there? Is that where she went when she said she was going out for smokes 6 years ago?

  7. #7
    Dean of Cool University CammyKnoxville's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Romine View Post
    I've written a review for each issue of Batman since Death of the Family began. I've been fortunate to be able to see these issues in advance thanks to your mom.
    We've all been fortunate to pirate the same copy, dude.

  8. #8
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    For me a it was a dull let down. I remember that Batman R.I.P. had massive amounts of hype placed around it with Morrison saying something along the lines of ''the end of R.I.P. will blow you away'' and in the end, Batman jumped out of a helicopter for a swim. I have come to the conclusion a good while ago that any edgy, game changing idea that a writer has had is going to be smoothed out by the publisher. I'm not saying this has happened this time around but do we really see a company like Warners chopping the head off Alfred? Or anything as remotely risky? There seems to be more hype than originality in these comics, nothings changed, same old same old. Hang on, how much does this issue cost and what do we learn?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamo View Post
    For me a it was a dull let down. I remember that Batman R.I.P. had massive amounts of hype placed around it with Morrison saying something along the lines of ''the end of R.I.P. will blow you away'' and in the end, Batman jumped out of a helicopter for a swim. I have come to the conclusion a good while ago that any edgy, game changing idea that a writer has had is going to be smoothed out by the publisher. I'm not saying this has happened this time around but do we really see a company like Warners chopping the head off Alfred? Or anything as remotely risky? There seems to be more hype than originality in these comics, nothings changed, same old same old. Hang on, how much does this issue cost and what do we learn?
    We learn that Snyder is pretentious and overrated. His Pre-52 stuff was great, but Swamp Thing was a let down and now this? I'm really disappointed in him.

  10. #10
    Wrote the Book on Cool WillipsBrighton's Avatar
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    Batman, Swamp Thing, and Animal Man have all been successful more because of the characters than the writers. Any writer on those titles would have been praised as long as they didn't massive fuck it up. A year and a half after The New 52, I think we can fairly say Snyder and Lemire simply don't have that many ideas. Unfortunately, it appears DC is setting them up to be the new Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, having them write basically every book.

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