First of all, today is my birthday. I got a doozy of a gift from my LCS, Batman #16. Now, I will give you all a gift today: my review. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, I kept the receipt. If you do like it, give me a follow @notacomplainer. Anywho, on with the show.
I’m a believer in digging for subtext. If it weren’t for hidden meaning and symbolism, no narrative would be worth reading twice. However, as Freud once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” We’ve all had that one English teacher who would never accept that a cigar was anything less than the dying embers of a character’s virility, or the protagonist’s hometown’s transition from agrarian to industrial, or something so far fetched, that you would gladly sacrifice points on the final exam just to write, “IT’S JUST A FUCKING CIGAR. MOVE ON!” The teacher flails about and forces a comparison that the text and subtext don’t support. Nothing short of the author addressing the class and saying “Yeah, it was pretty much a cigar” would convince the teacher otherwise. (I’m looking at you, Ms. Legrand.) In retrospect, you realized that the teacher forced their interpretation not to promote a greater understanding of the novel, but to validate their purpose as a teacher and reader. If the teacher didn’t somehow provide a unique critical insight to the work, they couldn’t claim to have contributed anything to the scholarly discourse of the work.
The Joker has much in common with this type of teacher. After reading this issue, I believe that Death of the Family isn’t about the Joker proving his devotion to Bats, it’s about validating his place in Gotham. The year prior to Joker’s return, Batman was fighting the Court of Owls. If any of you listen to Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast (a great and worthwhile download), you’ll remember how he and Scott Snyder discussed how an owl themed villain represented a natural counterpart to Batman. Owls eat bats. Clowns do not. Have you ever inspected a clown’s stool? It’s mainly confetti and balloon animals. Nary a bat bone to be found.
I believe that the Joker feels threatened that his role as Batman’s greatest foe has been replaced by a more effective and relevant villain. Therefore, he must bridge the relevancy gap between himself and Batman and prove himself to be the superior foil. So why doesn’t the Joker adopt a guise in keeping with the Bat-motif? This is the Joker we’re talking about. He genetically altered a fish to smile for pete’s sake! His gimmick is one of commitment and investment. He cannot change his guise, but that’s not to say that he hasn’t adopted a new one. By removing and reattaching his face, he is his own avatar. Just as the Bat-Mantle allows Bruce Wayne to embody the most terrifying elements of the Bat, so too can the Joker enhance and amplify his own “Joker-ness.” He has upgraded himself from a mere Joker, to Batman’s court jester. A Joker’s humor is rooted in frivolity, whereas a Jester must vest his humor with consequence.
While this move brings gravitas to his role, the Joker has only solved half of the equation. He must also transform himself into the logical counterpart of Batman by elevating Batman to a king. This has been one of the narrative thrusts of Death of the Family. All throughout this arc, the Joker has been building an allegory of Gotham as a kingdom, Batman as his king, etc. Batman #16 does a remarkable job at furthering this allegory. However, us readers have been lead to believe that Joker is doing this to build a stronger Batman out of love and respect for his king. However, Batman #16 suggests that Joker isn’t doing this purely out of admiration and altruism. Perhaps the Joker needs a stronger Batman so that he can become a stronger Joker. Just like the English teacher alluded to earlier, Mr J is forcing allegory to fit his needs, rather than deriving the comparison organically.
Overall, this issue gave me a lot to think about. The beauty of the Joker lies in his unpredictable nature, but in the hands of a mediocre writer, the Joker fails to shock. Snyder keeps the Joker fresh. On the flipside, Greg Capullo’s artwork show’s a Joker that’s far from. Capullo has obviously deeply considered what a rotting face would decay into. He manages to keep details such as the yellowing of the skin and the attraction of flies consistant and believable. I really hope that these are lucky guesses on his part.
I’d say pick up this issue. There are a lot of moving parts in “DOTF” and this issue gives you an idea of how the parts might fit together while leaving enough ambiguity to surprise the reader in the next issue.
As I said before, it’s my birthday. I’m off to blow out my candles and eat my cake. See you when I see you!
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