“Death of the Family” marches on in “Batman” #14, and two chapters in it feels like taking the Joker off the table for the first year of the DC Comics re-launch was a smart move. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion have brought the #1 foe of Batman back in style, and in doing so made him feel much more dangerous than in years past.
One of the most attractive things about “Batman” #14 is the strong sense of isolation that Snyder and Capullo invoke in its pages. It makes sense — this is after all a story where the Joker is in part going after all of Batman’s allies — but it’s this issue where the idea fully sinks in. After resolving last issue’s cliffhanger involving Harley Quinn and a vat of the chemicals that created the Joker, there’s a strong five-page sequence where we start to see that ambience seep into the pages. For a character who often claims to work well alone, there’s no denying that the “Batman family” of characters is essential to Batman’s own well-being, and his being cut off from them ends up having a pronounced effect on our protagonist.
The rest of “Batman” #14 builds well off of those pages. The encounter with Jim Gordon underscores the isolation that the Joker is creating for Batman, showing in action the sort of things that are planned for anyone who has gotten near to him. The speed in which the trap snaps shut is part of the power of that scene; it’s so quick and without warning that it sends a clear message that not only is no one safe, but that there’s no stopping the attacks once they’ve begun.
A lot of the strength of “Batman” #14 comes from Batman’s narration. Each time Batman starts talking, Snyder builds the monologue up to a strong conclusion. “There’s nothing in this mixture but death,” is a prime example; on its own it’s just another sentence, but as the capstone to an early sequence it has a strong punch. It’s easy to go over the top with Batman narration (and there is a lot of narration in “Batman” #14 thanks to the isolation of the character) but it works here. When the Joker finally appears, his dialogue ends up being the counterpoint to Batman, There’s a certain edge in his dialogue that makes him feel a little saner than normal, even as he teeters on the edge. With it comes an added sense of danger; this isn’t just a wacky clown killing people, it’s an extremely dangerous psychopath who has learned from earlier mistakes.
Capullo, Glapion and colorist FCO Plascencia deserve a lot of credit here too. Early pages feel a little claustrophobic and small, with Batman struggling to push through tight spaces. As Batman gets more and more isolated, though, the spaces begin to open up. Jim Gordon sitting on the edge of his bed with the rest of the room expanding behind him makes him instantly feel alone, for instance. And when something goes wrong, at first it’s the smallest, tightest view — a bleeding thumbnail — that then quickly expands into a larger image so we can see just what’s going on. The book’s visuals end up playing that game a lot; tight and small images at first, then pulling back to give us the bigger picture. By the time we get to the bridge over the river it’s a great moment; huge wide-open space, the characters almost (but not quite) silhouettes on the bridge itself, and a haunting blue-grey look into the sky and water.
James Tynion IV and Jock join Snyder for this month’s back-up story, setting the Penguin on a path that intersects the Joker. With the conclusion not yet reached it’s hard to say exactly where this is going next, but the recent attention paid to the Penguin in “Detective Comics” and now here gives me a lot of hope that this often-neglected character is getting a lot more danger associated with him. Jock worked well with Snyder on “Detective Comics” last year and it’s great to see him back for more. Action sequences like the slash of the tip of an umbrella come across graceful and deadly, and Dave Baron’s colors drenching the scene in red makes it that much more effective.
The re-launch of “Batman” has been strong since day one, but “Death of the Family” is rapidly shaping up to be an extremely memorable story. If Snyder and Capullo can keep this up, we’re in for a great ride ahead of us. This is the sort of story that the Joker should be saved for.