Director Joss Whedon has decided to put down the cape and cowl and leave the upcoming Batgirl movie.
Warner Bros. is currently planning two individual movies based on the Joker, and some fans have voiced their concern regarding the complications that may arise from two different movies based on the same character.
The first movie will be based on Jared Leto’s Joker from the 2016 Suicide Squad film. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the executive producers of the NBC hit show This is Us, are in talks to lead the proposed project featuring Suicide Squad’s Joker and Harley Quinn.
Additionally, there is a second proposed untitled movie featuring the Joker in the works being spearheaded by Todd Philips, the director behind the hit comedy The Hangover.
The Philips’ directed movie will focus on Joker’s backstory, which in the long and rich history of the DC universe has never really been explored. The other main difference between this proposed film and the aforementioned Suicide Squad venture will be that the Phillips’ directed film will star another actor instead of Jared Leto.
Todd Philips take on the Joker film—if greenlit—would be the first film under a new proposed DC banner. The new banner will encompass a series of films that aims to extend the canon. The new banner also aims to deliver unique and sometimes unusual narratives to some of the beloved superheroes within the massive DC roster.
This bold new direction for DC is a visible sign of the company trying to further distinguish themselves from Marvel—who, after being bought by Disney, has really flourished and taken both the silver screen and the small screen by storm.
Regardless of what fans think, DC trying new things with their properties is a bold move, but with the recent success of movies such as Wonder Woman, it’s a road worth traveling.
Batgirl has had a significant history within the DC Comics universe. First appearing in 1961’s Batman #139, Batgirl was born during a tumultuous period in American history. It was time of turmoil, as civil rights and women’s equality were pushed to the forefront. In response, Batman, one of DC’s most famous characters, was given a female sidekick. And she was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, to boot. Yet moving Batgirl into popular culture wouldn’t happen until 1967, when actress Yvonne Craig dawned the Batgirl cowl in the TV series Batman—much to the delight of pubescent boys everywhere. She was an independent woman, reflecting the times, and could kick some serious villainous butt too.
Barbara Gordon’s deepest cut into the universal consciousness of DC fans would come with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. In that masterpiece, Batgirl is left paralyzed at the hands of the Joker—a sick ruse to get her father, Commissioner Gordon, to go mad. But Batgirl wouldn’t lay down forever. Utilizing her computer mastery, she became Oracle—the all-seeing, intelligence wing of Batman’s war on crime.
Flash forward to today and Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1. Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl. In The New 52, she regained her ability to walk and at the beginning of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1, she is thoroughly enjoying that luxury. Talking out thugs is not only her specialty, it is her pleasure. As Batgirl searches the criminals, she comes across an email sent from Oracle. This sends Batgirl into a frenzy—someone else is moonlighting as her one time alter ego. Barbara elicits the help of one time partner, Black Canary, to help her uncover this mystery, reuniting the Birds of Prey. Along the way, we are introduced to another female warrior, the Huntress, who joins the fray and pushes these women to either work together or tear each other another apart.
In comparison to other DC Rebirth comics (see my batch of reviews to compare), Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1 is surprisingly good. Writing team Julie and Shawna Benson provide a fresh and crisp script. The story moves along quickly, yet it isn’t over stuffed, like some other DC titles. Readers are given just enough backstory, character development and, of course, action. While Batgirl is the star of this comic (and rightfully so, her character is worthy of top spot), the addition of the Huntress adds an enjoyably darker element to the comic.
Artist Claire Roe offers panels full of girl power in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1 with kicks, punches and the occasional arrow sent through a man’s heart. Perhaps Roe’s greatest triumph is nostalgia, when she takes us down Batgirl history, from her first fights alongside Batman and Robin to being on the other side of the Joker’s smoking revolver. Sure, for this reviewer, it allowed me to reminisce about past DC goodies. While Roe’s illustrations have their own style, they were still able to capture the events effectively.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1 is worth picking up. It was an unexpected read, full of a refreshing group of superheroines. These three women pack a punch and, if Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1 is any indication, will thrive in DC’s new Rebirth.
Ever since DC started cranking out animated features based on popular comic book runs, fans have been begging for an adaptation of The Killing Joke. After all, it’s not just the most famous/disturbing Joker tale of all time (from the mind of Alan Moore and the pen of Brian Bolland no less), but it’s the sort of thing that could never be done properly in a live action format. It’s simply too disturbing, perverse, and rooted in DC continuity. The only hope was for an animated feature and after Mark Hamill (aka the best Joker performer, for folks who care about such things) made it clear that he not only wanted to voice an adaptation, but that it would be the only Joker revival that he’d consider, it seemed like it might happen.
Well it did, and the good news is that the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke included on the disc is everything that fans might have hoped for. The bad news is that’s only half the movie and the first half ain’t great.
The thing about The Killing Joke is that as famous as that prestige format book might be, it’s actually rather short. Moore penned it to be an Annual, but it was bumped up to something bigger when his name grew in stature. The 48-page story only hits about 40 minutes of screen time and that’s just not enough for an animated feature. In an ideal world, the disc would contain two separate Joker tales (perhaps Ed Brubaker’s brilliant but similarly brief The Man Who Laughs) to make up for the briefness of the main event. However, that’s not what happened. Bruce Timm and co. instead decided to expand the tale to feature length, which was a real mistake. The opening half hour in particular is essentially a disconnected narrative that doesn’t remotely live up to what follows. In fact, it’s kind of brutal.
The opening section of the movie focuses on Batgirl (Tara Strong) and, admittedly, the motivation behind that decision was noble. In recent years there has been criticism flung at The Killing Joke because the brutal attack on Barbara Gordon is considered misogynistic for how it dismissively destroys an iconic female hero in a sudden aside. For me, that doesn’t feel quite right. It was designed to be a shocking, disturbing, unexpected and evil act that comes out of nowhere. Moore didn’t limit Barbara’s role out of dismissive sexism, but for maximum visceral impact that would deeply upset readers because of the years of devotion to that particular character. However, that’s not how many fans feel and the folks behind this animated feature decided to overcompensate.
The movie opens with a Batgirl plot, and not a particularly good one. We see her fight a generic gangster character while crushing hard on Batman and cattily discussing it with her stereotypically gay friend in the library. At a certain point Batman and Batgirl have sex. Why? Purely to be shocking according to writer Brian Azzarello (who to be fair, has written some great comics). By defining Batgirl almost entirely by her sexuality and cornball romantic/jealous girlishness in the opening half hour, the movie actually comes off as more sexist and dismissive towards Batgirl than the original comic. The damage control went the wrong way and feels completely out of place given that the rest of the story is almost exclusively focused on The Joker and Batman—even though they are after thoughts in the first half. It unbalances the movie and feels tonally awkward. Quite frankly, that 30-minutes represents some of the worst work that the DC animation team has done in their direct-to-Blu features.
Thankfully, the flick was also deliberately constructed so that once that unnecessary business is over, it’s a pure and straight forward adaptation of The Killing Joke that represents some of the best work that the DC animation team has ever done. Dialogue is lifted almost entirely from Moore’s original comic script and sounds wonderful brought to life. Director Sam Liu (All-Star Superman) lifts as many frames and transitions from the book as possible and the look finds a nice balance between the angular house art style of Bruce Timm and Brian Bolland’s more expressive touch. None of the harshest beats from the grisly tale are ignored. It’s a nasty Joker story; one that’s rarely been topped and has the feel of a horror film when it reaches the Joker’s mind shattering funhouse. The dependent dichotomy between Batman and The Joker remains and wraps up with an ambiguous ending that should please those who have theorized endlessly about what it means (especially Grant Morrison’s murderous interpretation).
The voice work is also spectacular. Kevin Conroy’s base tones remain the definitive Batman and he handles the mixture of calm negotiation and pushed-to-the edge rage required perfectly. Even better is Mark Hamill’s Joker, who was clearly having a ball spitting out Alan Moore’s words. It allows him to push the playful version of the character that he developed on The Batman Animated Series to the horrifying psychotic limit that Moore created long ago (plus the origin flashbacks let him drop the theatrics for more heartbreakingly human work). Hearing him sing his climatic song in the middle of a fairground nightmare is the highlight of the piece and a brilliant bit of Joker horror. Ray Wise steps into Jim Gordon’s role for the first time and handles it well, especially considering the desperate places he must take the character. Tara Strong is a strong Batgirl, as always. She’s likely the best part of the forgettable first half and handles the horrors of the second have quite well.
The best approach to watching this adaptation of The Killing Joke is to start at 31:04 where Alan Moore’s story begins. After that, you’ll get a brilliantly performed, beautifully animated, and impressively faithful adaptation of The Killing Joke that is everything fans could have hoped for (despite the fact the slightly expanded script needlessly implies rape a little more than even the original tale suggested). Even though it’s ultimately a simple tale about the never ending Batman/Joker game pushed to intelligent and terrifying extremes—by Alan Moore at his most playfully vicious—with an added tragic Joker origin for good measure, this is a great ripping Gotham City yarn that is impossible to forget given the twisted places it goes. It’s a shame that the folks behind the feature felt the need to tack on such an unfortunate opening extension that adds nothing but disappointment to the proceedings. Thankfully fast-forward buttons, scroll bars, and chapter select technology all exist. So you can make your own version of The Killing Joke and only watch the good stuff. If you do that, this release rivals the brilliance of this team’s The Dark Knight Returns adaptation. If you don’t…yeesh…you know what just skip the rest. It’s not worth it.
The actual Killing Joke adaptation: 9/10
The nonsense opening: 3/10
Now, onto the Blu-ray itself. The HD transfer is gorgeous, with colours that leap off the screen and a beautifully evocative score that fills out sound systems with atmosphere. Bruce Tjmm’s team might have added a few extra fight scenes to the tale, but for the most part it plays as written: a character and dialogue driven psychological horror. As a result, the moody score and carefully coloured visuals add a great deal to the tale’s nightmarish tone.
Sadly the special features aren’t as abundant as in previous releases. There’s a 17-minute documentary on the legacy of The Killing Joke that is an interesting piece filled with appearances from DC comics veterans and a few members of the film’s production team, but sadly there’s no input from Moore, Bolland, Conroy, or Hamill, which is a real shame since that essentially just makes it a fan appreciation doc. They cover the book’s impact in depth and attempt to explain the opening half hour of the feature, but it feels a little light compared to other docs that have appeared on these releases that really let viewers into the filmmaking process as well as the origins of the book. There’s a nice 10-minute documentary on the score as well and oddly enough that’s where Mark Hamill shows up. As always, it’s great to see him recording the voice, but sadly he doesn’t get into much detail about his approach to the Joker or his love of this material (which is a real shame since this will likely be the last time he voices the character). Oh well.
After that there are extended adds for a variety of DC Animated features, including the upcoming Justice League Dark that looks like it will be a damn fun anti-hero team up (plus it’ll have a proper Swamp Thing, which is a dream come true for this particular dork). There is also a pair of appropriate old Batman Animated Series episodes. The first ever Joker episode “Christmas With The Joker” is there, which isn’t the best but it’s nice to have Hamill’s first Joker performance included with his final one as bookends. Then there’s “Old Wounds,” a tale of why Dick Grayson left Batman to become Nightwing that explores the Batman/Joker/Batgirl dynamic in a more playful way than the main feature.
Sadly that’s it. This isn’t an overstuffed release like The Dark Knight Returns, which is likely the result of Moore’s disinterest in discussing this book, Hamill’s Star Wars schedule, and the fact that Blu-rays just don’t sell like they used to. Unfortunately this isn’t likely the dream release that fans may have hoped for, but at least there is finally an animated version of The Killing Joke. It’s a bit of a miracle that even happened, so suck it up.
After 28 years of being published, Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, is being animated for fans to enjoy this summer. The first trailer of the film and a preview featuring the creative team showcases just how much work is going into this incredible project.
“One of the main thrusts of the Killing Joke is a series of flashbacks that the Joker is remembering about how he actually became the Joker,” said Bruce Timm, executive producer on the project, famous for his work on Batman: The Animated Series. “His literal one bad day.”
The Killing Joke animated movie is not strictly a direct-adaptation of the comic. The film will feature a prologue about Barbara Gordon and her adventures as Batgirl, adding even more reasons for fans hearts to clench when we see the character’s inevitable fate.
“I think it was really important to show Batgirl in action in the story,” said Mike Carlin, creative director of animation at DC entertainment. “She wasn’t just somebodies daughter, she was someone important to Gotham city and Batman in particular.”
This will not be the only original piece of content added to the film because of the need to lengthen it to a full feature run time. Timm anticipates the movie will get a PG-13 rating instead of the hard R rating that fans expect.
Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their respective roles as Batman and the Joker as well as Tara Strong playing Batgirl. The art style of the film is inspired by Brian Bolland’s iconic artwork but has been toned down in detail in order to be animated.
The Killing Joke will have its premiere at this years San Diego Comic Con.
Lego Batman have chosen their Batgirl for the upcoming animated feature slated for an early 2017 release.
The trailer for the Batman: Arkham Knight Batgirl: A Matter of Family DLC has been released.
This will be the first time players will get the chance to play as Batgirl.
The story takes place before Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batgirl teams up with Robin to save her father from The Joker at a theme park. The DLC also features Harley Quinn, teaming up with The Joker. The action packed trailer shows Barbara Gordon fighting clowns using her strength and different tools to save her dad.
Side quests, collectibles, and Easter eggs will be included in the pack.
Batgirl: A Matter of Family will be released July 14 for season pass holders or July 21.
For more information, watch the trailer below.
DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. are set to launch a new initiative catered to enticing more girls to the DC Comics Universe with “DC Super Hero Girls” this fall.
After seven years of brilliantly mind-bending work on the caped crusader, this fall marked the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. It was a stunning, trippy journey that I’ve written about in detail on this site before. However, the final piece of the DC’s Batman/Grant Morrison legacy was just released in this last Batman Incorporated trade paperback, collecting the final seven issues of Morrison’s run along with a two non-Morrison issues wrapping up the series (well, it’ll be the end until DC releases the inevitable back breaking Grant Morrison Batman Omnibus anyways). It’s a curious trade to read in isolation as it thrusts viewers into the middle of a climax 7 years in the making and would be damn near impossible for any first time reader to pick up and read with any reaction beyond intense confusion. But let’s face it, this release is for fans, and it was one hell of a satisfying finale to one of the strangest and most epic Batman stories ever told.
Summarizing the plot of everything that came before this finale would be pointless. So, I’m not even going to try, and a full-on SPOILER WARNING (all caps) is in effect. Our story kicks off at the inevitable low point before Batman’s final triumphant victory. Talia Al Ghul has finally revealed herself to be the head of Leviathan and has effectively defeated Batman and his international team of Batmen in one swift attack. All that’s left is the final push. First with the harsh, yet inevitable death of the loathed and loved Damien Wayne, then with Batman’s triumphant manbat juice enhanced final assault and Morrison’s final statement on the character. It’s an emotionally intense and action packed ride weaved together as only Morrison can. All the threads dangling in his epic narrative come to a conclusion, and in the end Morrison happily hands the legendary superhero off to Scott Snyder and others to use as they wish.
Some folks were let down by this ending to Morrison’s Bat-epic, and it’s easy to see why. Morrison has never been an author fond of spoon-feeding his audience, nor does he tend to conform to current comic book trends. Though the tale is as dark and shadowy as any Gotham City adventure should be, it’s also an acid trip fantasy that reclaims the strangest forgotten aspects of Batman’s career. The goal of Morrison’s run was to incorporate everything from Batman’s long comic book history into a single story. Over the course of seven years, Morrison created a tale that presented a Batman who could have started in Frank Miller’s Year One, but also engaged in all the weirdo science fiction stories of the 50s and the giant prop pop art adventures of the Adam West era. The guy even found a psychologically compelling use of Bat-Mite for Gods sakes! By the time Batman Incorporated came along, the title had a double meaning. Not only did it refer to the name of Batman’s international crime-fighting campaign, but also the nature of the character who was at this point in the story a compilation of every Batman ever created.
So, this narrative is dark and twisted, but also surreal and goofy. Humor, adventure, dread, and despair mix to form a unique Bat-cocktail of Morrison’s making. Aided immeasurably by the exaggerated yet gritty art style of Chris Burnham, it’s a Bat-book that looks like no other. Had Morrison delivered this style of story at the start of his Bat-tenure, it would have felt bizarre and out of place. Coming at the end, it feels somewhat perfect and a fond farewell. The death of Damien is of course a stunning and disturbing moment that echoes the death of Jason Todd’s death in the same way that Morrison echoed countless events in Batman’s past throughout his run. It’s the emotional peak of this collection, followed by an action-centric assault on Talia that wraps up all the narrative loose ends and a glorious final issue that offers Morrison’s final statement on everyone’s favorite rodent-loving vigilante. In the end, comics scholar Grant Morrison didn’t deliver a grandiose statement on the nature of Batman like no one had seen before, but instead dedicated his final issue to the ephemeral and legendary nature of the character. His final statement was essentially that there is no final statement to be made. Batman is bigger than any single writer. He is a cultural icon that will continue as long as comic books exist and is all the more powerful for it. Some readers found this ending disappointing and I can see why. However, it’s ultimately the only possible ending for Morrison’s ultimate Batman tale. His point from the start was to incorporate all of Batman’s history into a single story, and so it’s only fitting that he end it all with a passing of the torch (including a couple direct references to Scott Snyder’s current Zero Year run) so that his tale can include all future iterations of Batman as well. It’s simple, yet complex and all Morrison.
The trade also includes two additional Batman Incorporated issues. One about the Japanese Batman written by artist Chris Burnham to give him more time to draw the final issues, and the Batman Incorporated annual featuring short stories dedicated to all the Batman-style side characters Morrison created (yes, including Bat-Cow… and it’s the best story of the bunch). Ultimately, these stories are afterthoughts that prove there’s no need for the characters’ adventures to continue without the guiding hand of Morrison. The author created all the international Batmen as thought experiments to explore aspects of Batman as part of his overall examination of the superhero. The characters were never meant to stand on their own, and while there is certainly fun to be had in these side stories, they ultimately prove that DC made the right decision to cancel the series after Morrison’s departure. It’s nice that these issues were included for the sake comic book completists (of which there are many). However, you’ll buy this book to wrap up Morrison’s overall Batman narrative, not out of Batman Inc fandom. It’s certainly a must-own for any true Bat- aficionado, but only those who have read and/or collected Morrison’s complete run up to this point. If you haven’t sampled Morrison’s Batman run yet, I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m deeply jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. For me, the journey is officially over. Sniff, Sniff… it’s tough. Morrison, we’ll miss you in the Batcave, but look forward to whatever mind-bending comic book adventures you plan to take us on next.
Ever since he took over Batman at the start of the New 52, Scott Snyder has been putting on a Batman master class. He didn’t come out of nowhere for the run, having previously delivered the finest non-Grant Morrison-Dick Grayson-Batman story in Black Mirror (not to mention his brilliant and award-winning American Vampire series for Vertigo). However, his modern classic Batman launch series Court Of Owls announced, in no uncertain terms, that there was a new master in the batcave and that our beloved caped crusader was in good hands for the New 52. When it was revealed that Snyder would be delivering his take on the Joker after finishing his Owls run, fans were drooling in anticipation. After all, Joker had been missing from Bat-books for a year at that point, and the character was also missing his face. Thankfully, Snyder delivered. The Death Of The Family cross-franchise event might have been hit-and-miss in a way that diluted its overall impact (see last week’s review of the Joker: Death Of The Family collection for more), but now, in an isolated trade paperback, it’s clear that Snyder’s arc is one of the finest Joker stories ever conceived. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous given that it’s not even a year old, but honestly Snyder’s vicious little story is just that good.
The tale opens on one of those ominously dark n’ rainy nights where only bad things can happen. Commissioner Gordon even comments on that cliché in the opening monologue… and then all his worst fears come true. The Joker suddenly arrives at the Gotham Central, tells a few bad jokes, kills a few good cops, and leaves with his discarded face. Now sporting a clown-flavored Leatherface ensemble, Joker then starts reenacting some of his earliest crimes. Harley pops up at Ace Chemical wearing the old red hood costume claiming that her puddin’ has changed. The Gotham reservoir once again seems in danger. Then things get personal. Alfred is kidnapped. In pursuit, Batman suddenly runs into Joker on a bridge where he claims that he’s tired of the old games and has something a little more personal planned for Batman this time. He announces on a police radio that the whole Bat-family can hear that he knows every single masked avenger’s true identity, and he plans to come after them all. He does it and saves the best for last and for Batman. Reenacting another Bat-classic, he invites Batman to join him for a private party in Arkham Asylum. You see, the Joker has turned the place into a psychotic theme park dedicated to the relationship between himself and the Caped Crusader. He wants to show Batman how much he loves him and how the Joker and the rest of the rogues gallery of Bat-villains are the Bat’s real family. They make Batman stronger while Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and the rest just make him weak. The plot is the Joker’s love letter to Batman and his punchline? Well, it’s in the title.
Batman and The Joker are of course the greatest and most popular hero/villain team in comics. Their relationship and duality has been explored so many times and in so many ways by so many great writers, artists, and filmmakers, that it can feel like there’s no more marrow to be sucked from those bones. At least, that’s how it feels until a book like Death Of The Family comes along. The Joker was booted out of the comics for a year not because the fans stopped loving him, but because it was difficult to find things to do with the character, particularly after Heath Ledger’s searing performance in The Dark Knight finally introduced the Joker known only to comic book fans to the masses. With Death Of The Family, DC and Snyder delivered a Joker story that could never be on film, if only because it would be rated a hard R. Snyder came into superhero comics after making a name for himself in horror comics. While plenty of other Bat-tales of the past have taken advantage of the franchise’s gothic potential, Snyder was one of the first writers to bring out the horror elements of Gotham City to their full potential.
He did it first in Court Of Owls and really does it to the Joker here. The central facemask image is nauseatingly terrifying, instantly replacing any of the character’s camp with full frontal monster movie psychosis. Backed by former Spawn artist Greg Capullo’s stunning visuals, Death Of The Family and its Joker are absolutely terrifying. The rotting facemask is sickening from the start (the way Capullo gradually charts the facemask’s fly-attracting decomposition over the run is gag inducing). Panels are laid out in classic film editing suspense structures that deliver big jolts. Then there’s the Joker’s plot, which involves a live flaming horse, the worst family dinner since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a living portrait of Batman/Joker adventures painted onto a canvas of prisoners connected by their smiles, limbs, and innards like a human centipede. This is the type of material that could never be in a Batman movie or TV series. This is a story only the comics could tell and Snyder/Capullo revel in that freedom to create a Joker story straight out of Bruce Wayne’s nightmares. On a purely visceral level, it’s a presentation of the Joker that even makes The Killing Joke seem tame, and in an age when the most dominant image of the character in pop culture is the Heath Ledger/Chris Nolan version, it’s exactly what Batman comics needed to remain ahead of the curve.
Beyond the gore and stunning atmosphere, Snyder also crafted a viscous little tale that presents a new side of the Batman/Joker relationship. The story sees the Joker come to Batman out of love. That’s obviously a theme that’s been played in comics since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but Snyder has a unique take involving the Bat family. In his story, Joker claims that the sidekicks make Batman weak, but the villains make him strong. He goes so far as to even suggest that Batman always lets his villains live, not because of a moral code, but because he couldn’t live without them. At the same time, Batman is always willing to let his sidekicks face mortal danger because he secretly doesn’t love them. That’s a pretty twisted take on Batman that somehow no writer had ever touched on before and that Snyder was not only smart enough to acknowledge it, but steeped enough in Batlore to know that the Joker was the only character who would come up with the idea in Gotham. That theme gives Death Of The Family something that adds to the Bat-mythos and makes it more than simply a stunning crafted bit of horror Bat-fiction.
After Death Of The Family, it feels like the Joker has undergone yet another transformation that will flavor the character for years to come. Obviously, there’s the whole “missing face” thing that will play into continuity for at least one more storyline, but more than that, the Joker has now gone to a new level of perversion, psychosis, obsession, and love that writers have to build on from here. The story, art, and ideas hit as hard as any classic Joker yarn, and I’m confident that within a few years it won’t be possible to compile a list of The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told without including Snyder’s effort. It’s also arguably the tightest and most successful Batman story that Snyder has written to date. Court Of Owls petered out a bit towards they end thanks to an overambitious tie-in climax and a questionable plot twist. Black Mirror was great but as a Dick Grayson/Batman story, it’ll always be a second-run arc. Death Of The Family is exciting to read issue-by-issue, fascinating to examine as a collected work, and features some of the finest and most unsettling art Gregg Capullo has ever created.
Death Of The Family is a little Batman masterpiece, and it only makes sense that Snyder’s finest Batman story would be a Joker tale. After all, a hero is only as strong as his villain, and there’s a case to be made that the Joker is the most fascinating and iconic villain in pop culture. Thank God Snyder will be on Batman for the foreseeable future because he only seems to be getting better at writing this universe and diving deeper in his examination of the mythology with every arc. He’s even promised one more Joker storyline before he leaves Gotham behind. He’s said that Death Of The Family was his Joker story rooted in a love for Batman. The follow up will see the Joker driven by hate. Given how terrifying the love story was, I’m almost scared to read the next one. Obviously, I will though. As good at Snyder is at writing Batman, he’s even better at feeding the Joker’s madness.
Notes on the trade: The brass at DC are clearly as gushy about Death Of The Family as I am and delivered a gorgeous hardcover collection. Capullo’s art has never looked better than on these glossy pages, filled with nightmarish details a monthly printing just can’t provide. The cover is also wonderful. A clear plastic slip over has the Joker’s skin mask as was featured on the first issue of every Death Of The Family arc. However, when you pull the face back on the trade you won’t see a Bat family member underneath, but the Joker’s skinless, scarred face stuck in a rictus grin. It’s a pretty grisly drawing from Capullo and one hell of a cover. It should also be noted that Snyder has actually changed some dialogue from the original printings for the trade. It’s only a few scenes and mostly in the final issue, but hard to miss if you’re looking for it. Essentially, Snyder rewrote some dialogue to make the Joker’s message and the theme of the book more obvious. The new material does clear up some ambiguities, and it reads better as a standalone story as a result. Yet a few pointed exchanges between Bats and the clown are missing from the original printing that I wish were included here somewhere (particularly when Batman maliciously calls his foe “darling”). However, it is an overall improvement and Snyder was right to do it. It just means that completists might want to hang on to their original issues rather than selling them off for the trade.
After disappearing for a year and leaving his tattered face on the wall of Arkham Asylum as a goodbye present, the Joker finally returned to Gotham in 2012. Since he’s not just the greatest villain of that franchise but of comic books as a whole, DC decided to make a whole event out of it. For a huge junk of last year, The Joker went after the entire Bat Family in a massive crossover event masterminded by current Bat-guru Scott Snyder. While Snyder’s story was a new masterpiece (see my review of the upcoming Batman: Death Of The Family trade next week for more), the crossover event was a bit of a mixed bag. It’s always nice to see the Joker step up to the forefront, but Snyder’s tale was fairly self-contained and the Joker’s attacks on Batman’s gallery of sidekicks felt incidental to the central narrative. The house writers of each bat book essentially got a chance to weave their own Joker story that loosely tied into Snyder’s. As you’d expect, the results were hit and miss. None of the spin offs lived up to the main story, and as a result the event was considered a minor letdown overall. However, looking at all the Death Of The Family tales again in DC’s gorgeous new trade paperback, it’s clear this event was far from a failure. There were a number of wonderful stories as well as the clunkers. The best approach is probably to look at them all separately since that’s how they were written.
Detective Comics 15-16 Rating: 73
Writer: John Layman
Artists: Jason Fabok and Andy Clark
With Snyder weaving a new classic Joker tale in the issues of Batman, it seemed pointless for John Layman and his Detective Comics team to do the same. So instead they came up with a clever side-story. Detective Comics 15 and 16 instead focused on the effects Joker’s return had on the criminals and citizens of Gotham. Taking a brief break from their ongoing storyline, these issues see gangs painting their faces like clowns to celebrate the Joker’s return as well as a look at how treating the Joker turned an Arkham doctor insane. It’s a clever little story and boasts some nice artwork. Ultimately, though, it adds nothing to the Death Of The Family narrative as a whole. You kind of have to take this story on its own terms, and it is certainly an interesting examination of the Joker’s relationship to Gotham. It just feels like a concept forced into the Detective issues to fill out the event, and it’s not particularly essential to the overall event.
Catwoman 13-14 Rating: 55
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
From there, the trade moves on to easily the worst arc in the entire event. In a move that feels more like Silver Age Joker silliness than the psychopath at the center of Death Of The Family, the Joker challenges Catwoman to a citywide game of chess. The story is just as silly as it sounds and was clearly created simply so that all Batman-connected titles featured the Joker. The weird thing is that in Snyder’s tale other Batman rogue villains were central and Catwoman easily could have been a part of it. Instead, Ann Nocenti eventually meanders to a finale in which Catwoman declares she has no real loyalty to Batman and is not part of his family. So… probably no need to even write this story in the first place then, right? You may as well skip over this chapter in the trade. There’s little of interest here.
Suicide Squad 14-15 Rating: 77
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Fernando Dagnino
Finally, three stories into this trade we get to a tale that actually connects to the Death Of The Family arc. Harley Quinn played a small role in Scott Snyder’s narrative and even got her own back-of-issue B-story (which is included as well). Adam Glass expands on that here with a vengeful Joker coming after Harley for her decision to fight for good as part of the Suicide Squad and to take up a new lover without a speckle of clown make-up on his face. The Harley/Joker relationship is of course one of the great twisted love stories in comics, so it’s always nice to see a new chapter. Glass even adds a few intriguing twists their relationship like the Joker’s claims that she is but one of a series of Harleys that he’s had throughout his life. Harley gets some wonderful moments here that continues her redefining arc as part of the Suicide Squad. It’s an interesting tale with some wonderful art from Fernando Danino. Sadly, the whole thing is dragged down by useless side-plots involving the rest of The Suicide Squad and an irritating twist ending, neither of which have much to do with the central Harley tale and seem to be there purely to try and coax new readers into continuing the series after picking up these issues as part of the Death Of The Family arc (a good decision for business, but a bad one for storytelling).
Batgirl 13-16 Rating: 92
Writer: Gale Simone
Artist: Ed Benes, Vincente Cifuentes
Gale Simone’s Batgirl Joker arc is so good, it justifies the entire crossover event as a whole. It makes sense too. After all, Simone helped transform Batgirl into one of the finest DC books currently on stands and the character has a bit of a history with the Joker thanks to that whole Killing Joke fiasco. The Joker’s return obviously shakes Barbara deeply, and that only worsens when the clown prince of crime makes kidnaps her mother. Why you ask? Well, the Joker is hoping that Barbara will marry him to set the mother free. It’s a sick and twisted little plot that could only come out of this iconic villain’s brain and Simone nails his psychotic voice perfectly. The way Barbara finds the courage to fight back is oddly moving, and the Joker’s plan is suitably sick, even bringing in a fan favorite Gordon family member who Snyder famously reworked in his first Batman arc. Simone’s Joker tale is so strong that it would have been a wonderful run on its own divorced of this series and features some of the more disgusting art of the Joker’s new skin mask in the entire trade paperback. The collection is worth picking up for this story alone (which is probably why it also got its own solo release)
Nightwing 15-16 Rating: 87
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Eddy Barrows
Kyle Higgins’ Death Of The Family story is just downright harsh. This is by far the most vicious of the tie-in tales and the one with the highest body count. Without getting into spoiler territory, major characters in Higgins’ Nightwing mythology die in the midst of a Joker plot so elaborate, it’s remarkable that even a master criminal like him could have pulled it off in addition to all the other crazy tales in this event. Higgins has a strong grasp of what makes the Joker so frightening, and his unapologetically nasty tale feels very much in line with Snyder’s version of the character. If all the Death Of The Family side stories had been this strong, the whole event would have been a major success. That didn’t happen, but at least there are a couple of great Joker stories in this trade. A deliciously dark tale well worth a read.
Red Hood and The Outlaws 15-16 and Teen Titans 15-16 Rating: 66
Writers: Scott Lobdel and Fabian Nicieza
Here’s a weird one: a crossover within a crossover. For whatever reason, the Teen Titans and Red Hood and The Outlaws teams decided to combine their Death Of The Family narratives together. The central premise isn’t bad: The Joker kidnaps the two former Robins together and forces them to fight each other. The execution, on the other hand, is muddled. With the Joker also having to deal with each former Robin’s new crimefighting team, there are just too many characters that the writers struggle to spin at once and in the end this mini-arc feels overstuffed and confusing. Combining the two former Robins and current team leaders was a clever idea, but it also sadly robs the Red Hood writers the chance to write a story drawing deeply on the Death In The Family series in the same way that Gale Simone echoed The Killing Joke in Batgirl. Still, the story has its moments and at least it’s not a complete waste of time like the Catwoman storyline. So that’s something.
Batman And Robin 15-16 Rating: 85
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
One of the most underrated runs in the New 52 Batman line has been Peter J. Tomasi’s excellent Batman And Robin series. So it should come as no surprise that he does his Death Of The Family tie-in justice. The story is fairly simple. Robin sets out to find Alfred and ends up kidnapped by the Joker in a zoo where the clown prince of crime enjoys doling out some physical torture and psychological torment. It’s a creepy little tale that feels like part of Snyder’s overall arc rather than a separate Joker story that the writer wanted to tell that got folded into the event like so many other stories in this collection. Patrick Gleason’s art also deserves special mention, it’s a nightmarishly dark vision that features some of the most terrifying images of the Joker in the entire event (particularly when he taunts Robin with his face on upside down and his tongue poking through the eye holes…. eck!). This is what the entire event should have felt like.
In addition to compiling all of the above storylines, DC included the final issue of Snyder’s Death Of The Family storyline and Batman And Robin 17 as an epilogue. It’s a bit weird that the entire Snyder storyline wasn’t included to make this a definitive collection, but I suppose less books would be sold that way. The final issue is the most appropriate to include since it pays off the cliffhanger at the end of all other Death Of The Family stories and ties together Joker’s ultimate plot involving the Bat Family. It’s weird that early scenes in Snyder’s run that brought the family together and set the story in motion weren’t included, but maybe the collection was getting too large already. Regardless, including this issue highlights the major problem of the event, which is that with few exceptions none of the Death Of The Family side stories had much to do with Snyder’s arc and made his final issue feel a bit anticlimactic because it was so specific to one story rather than the event as a whole. Regardless, Batman 17 was a great issue filled with disturbing revelations and eye-meltingly good art. The inclusion of Tomasi’ Batman And Robin 17 was a nice touch as well. It’s only very loosely connected to the event, but it’s a wonderful standalone issue showing what Batman, Robin, and Alfred dream about at night that should tickle fans and send readers of the collection out with a smile on their face (which is no easy task given all the Joker-flavored horror witnessed in the proceeding pages).
Overall, this is a big, pretty book that deserved to be released to honor DC’s big ol’ Joker event. The entire collection might have been brought down by some stinker storylines, but Joker fanatics will want to pick it up for the Batgirl, Nightwing, and Batman And Robin arcs alone. All of them were excellent Joker stories that probably would have been considered the best representations the character received in years, were it not for the fact that Scott Snyder was crafting one of the greatest Joker stories ever told at the same time (more on that next week). Joker: Death Of The Family is definitely worth picking up for fans of the character, but don’t judge the entire series on this collection alone. This is more of a companion piece to Snyder’s masterpiece and a nice collection of Joker tales for fans. It’s a shame the whole event couldn’t live up to the twistedly brilliant work being done at the center, but I suppose that was inevitable. Getting this many great Joker yarns at once and complaining that they aren’t all masterpieces may sound a bit greedy. But with the incredibly high standards that Snyder has set for Batman lately, that seems to be a problem that Bat fans are facing as they thumb through the new release rack every week.
Over a decade ago, while Chuck Dixon was writing the adventures of Dick Grayson as Nightwing, he went back to the beginning for the character, and penned a four-issue mini-series called Robin Year One with Scott Beatty, with each issue being 48 pages long.
Not long afterwards, Dixon and Beatty returned to roughly the same era, and told a slightly different origin story, with Batgirl Year One, telling the tale of Barbara’s first tentative adventures as Batgirl. Ever since DC Comics rebooted their continuity with the New 52, we’ve gotten some curious new trade paperbacks collecting pre-New 52 material, with this particular collection the latest addition to the back catalogue. On pure value alone, this volume is a fantastic deal, as you get the four-issue Robin Year One, which is like getting eight comics, as the issues are double-sized, plus you get the seven regular-sized issues of Batgirl Year One, for essentially 17 comics for just $28.99 CDN. It does make sense to combine these two mini-series into one volume, as they share the same writers, as well as the primary artist behind the books, as Marcos Martin handles the artwork with Javier Pulido on Robin, and then takes on the sole artistic chores for Batgirl. Both books have a similar sensibility, in large part because of Martin’s artwork, and take place in a time period that is very similar, so it’s a natural step on DC’s behalf to package these books together.
Although both mini-series had their respective strengths, it’s Batgirl which is far the more charming of the pair. Beatty/Dixon craft a timeless retelling of the origins of both Robin and Batgirl, although it should be said that in Robin’s case, we sidestep the actual origin of Robin, and instead are shown his partnership with Batman progressing, despite some rocky moments in the early goings on. My few issues with Robin’s mini-series include modifying his portrayal somewhat, so that at times it almost feels like we’re seeing elements of Jason Todd’s personality grafted onto Dick Grayson. That being said, I do like seeing Robin and Batman disagreeing and not quite gelling as a finely tuned team yet, and it does expose the natural difficulties the two individuals would encounter as they begin their partnership. In fact, at times when reading this mini-series I realized that there are some parallels with how Peter J. Tomasi wrote Damien Wayne in Batman & Robin, with both getting in over their heads with some particularly bad customers, during a temporary break in their partnership. The two mini-series also complement each other well, as through Robin, we see Batman first realizing the danger he’s put Robin into, before eventually making his peace with it when he realizes that Dick Grayson is a tough young man, and a fitting partner in the war on crime. This sentiment carries over to Batgirl, as Bruce is at first very reluctant to let Barbara operate as Batgirl, partially because of how he dealt with letting Robin in on the crime fighting game in the first place. Commissioner Gordon also plays important roles in both stories, as he questions the safety of a young boy joining Batman in his dangerous mission, and then does the same when a young woman similar to his daughter starts using the bat-symbol and takes the moniker Batgirl.
In case the stories weren’t as entertaining as they are, the artwork would be more than enough of a reason to pick up this collection. This is a young Marcos Martin at work, still developing and tweaking his style, and at times bearing similarities to Darwyn Cooke in all the right ways. Nowadays his artwork feels like it has descended from John Romita Sr. and Steve Ditko, but over a decade ago his style felt more like Darwyn Cooke, as he captures a certain timeless nature in his storytelling style. There’s a delightful innocence in the artwork, and it helps that he’s illustrating these young heroes in their formative adventures, back before the world of DC Comics became dark and cynical, long before Dick Grayson allowed Blockbuster to be murdered, without raising a finger to stop it from happening, and long before Barbara Gordon was shot, paralyzed and molested by the Joker. Before all of that stuff happened, to darken and make these characters more “realistic”, they were written with a sense of humour and fun, and it’s that era that these two mini-series makes you think of and remember fondly.
Both Batgirl and Robin Year One are heartfelt tales of innocence, of kinder, simpler days, when Robin and Batgirl tentatively took their first steps towards their long, colourful and adventurous careers in crime-fighting. Dixon, Beatty and Martin are at the top of their game in these stories, and by the end of Batgirl Year One, you’ll be ready to go back to the beginning and read these stories all over again, as they’re just that good. Highly Recommended!