Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
It doesn't matter how big you are, or how good of a track record you possess: You can't win every time. That's the vibe I got from reading Batman's (ahem) face-off with the Joker in Batman #15, an issue that starts off strong but loses its footing — and its opportunity to really showcase its killer artwork — when it has to lay down its exposition.
That's not to say that it does so without a fight, however. Artist Greg Capullo is a beast from the beginning, with a superb splash image that shows how unhinged the Joker really is. It's a really effective opener with writer Scott Snyder's narration, when oftentimes a static image can just alienate the reader — instead, Snyder conjures up some real horror amid all the blackness. From the first page alone, the Joker isn't human. In fact, he's far more than human, as Batman describes using ultra-sophisticated physiological techniques. The Joker defies all rational analysis. He's something that can even make the Dark Knight feel fear.
That opening sequence continues to impress, as Capullo's angular characters really exude speed and dynamic energy. A shot where Batman leaps through a wall of flames, for example, portrays him both as a larger-than-life figure and someone with a surprising hint of desperation. His Joker also has some nice thought put into the design — because the Clown Prince of Crime is actually wearing his face as a skin mask tied together by shoestring, when Batman punches him in the jaw, you actually see the skin flap around, the muscles showing underneath. Watching that mask flop around his face, his eyeholes and nose stretched back, is as grotesque as it is memorable. Capullo also does great work with his layouts, in particular utilizing a very smooth, integrated set of panels when examining Batman's first battles with the Joker.
Yet once that opening sequence is over, Snyder falls into a trap of his own making. Out of all the Bat-writers, his success has come from not just having the big superhero ideas, but tying a mystery through it all, letting the readers put the pieces together along with the World's Greatest Detective. Chances are, Snyder's got this mystery in the bag, too, but as far as single issues go, the denouement isn't shocking enough to merit eight pages of story space. Still, what this extended scene does accomplish is the sidekick-centric focus of this "Death of the Family" arc — Batman can't just struggle with the Joker on a physical level, but we also have to wonder if maybe he is right. Even if Batman's extended family isn't a danger to him, it can still be used against him as a challenge.
Snyder's back-up story with co-writer James Tynion IV and artist Jock, however, is a nice conclusion to a (comparatively) sleepy outing this month. Focusing on the Riddler, Snyder and Tynion give this bad guy his due. He's not a bumbling idiot who leaves clues, desperate for Batman's attention, but the Joker tells us like it is, that Edward Nigma was one of the only ones who could push Batman not to his physical limits, but his intellectual ones. Who needs big muscles when you can think your way out of any problem, out of any cell? That's the Riddler's superpower, and that has definitely whetted my appetite for his arc in 2013. Jock's jagged, angular artwork is a perfect for the Joker here, as well, giving both characters a hard edge that gives them both some real danger.
In a lot of ways, I think this issue is an example of breaking a few eggs to make an omelet — Snyder has talked about Batman's extended family for awhile now, but outside of Nightwing hasn't really given them much screen time. Not only that, but I have the feeling that the new mysteries about Batman's early days fighting the Joker may spin out into something interesting moving forward. Yet the long game is not always as satisfying as the here-and-now, and the slow second half of this book kills the momentum and keeps Greg Capullo from doing what he does best: knock-down, drag-out action. You can't win every fight, and in the case of Snyder and Capullo, slowing down is all relative, anyway. Now that Batman is headed into the lion's den, expect things to really pick up next issue.
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