Review: Batman #13

Batman #13

Batman #13

Written by Scott Snyder
Pencills by Greg Capullo
Inks by Jonthan Glapion
Colors by FCO Plascencia
Letters by Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt, Katie Kubert
Backup Story by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Backup Art by Jock, Sal Cipriano, Katie Kubert
Cover by Capullo & Plascencia

40 pages / Color / $3.99 US

Published by DC Comics

Coulrophobia. A fear of clowns. There’s any number of reasons to be skeeved out by a clown, especially for the introverted. But there’s a primal reason so many of us distrust their appearance and behavior. People in long white coats say it has to do with the juxtaposition of a familiar human form with an unfamiliar, inhuman face. As many children respond gleefully to that kind of thing as are repulsed by it. Liken it to the canted or Dutch angle in film (also known, coincidentally, as the “Batman angle”). It’s that moment when you peer down a hallway as framed by a tilted camera. While frequently abused, the technique is designed to trigger a subconscious anxiety, a level of unease or even dread. When our world shifts, even slightly, it upsets our balance and calls into question even the most reliable constants. Like any phobia, Coulrophobia, deconstructed, often stems to a fear of comprehension–of control–relinquished.

The Joker is scarier than most clowns. Coulrophobia is but one of several phobias swirling through his unique, potent cocktail. The fears he instills often don’t have scientific names as they’re so ubiquitous and rational that you could hardly label them disorders. He is a murderer after all. He is a terrorist. Unlike a bundle of snakes or a black cat perpendicular to our path or a somersaulting clown, his menace is certain rather than hypothetical. Maybe it’s that mixture that makes him so consistently frightening. As a threat, the Joker is predictably lethal, but the nature of his mania makes him equally unpredictable. By behaving so badly in a skin just slightly Dutch to our own, he reminds us what we might be capable of if we take that wrong turn at Albuquerque, if we give in to the monster in the mirror.

Few comic writers have so capably tapped into psychological horror in recent years as Scott Snyder. That knack and obsession has served him well in his tenure on Detective Comics and Batman. In a relatively short time, he’s introduced some delightfully creepy new elements to the Gotham mythos, much of it playing into the “Black Mirror” motif. While Batman has faced an endless mob of psychotic rogues over the decades, Snyder’s villains register as especially intimate challenges for the Dark Knight, often exposing our heroes deepest insecurities and psychoses. It’s a recurring theme that’s hardly overstayed its welcome, and its added great definition to both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. It all started with Dick’s own paths-not-taken, both with James Gordon Jr. and more recently with the revelation that he was nearly groomed to serve the Court of Owls as a Talon. Bruce, of course, confronted his own reflection earlier this year when Lincoln March claimed to be his brother Thomas Wayne Jr., long assumed dead or imaginary.

But now we return to one of fiction’s most compelling tangos. The Batman has dueled with the Joker countless times, and for as many victories our hero has secured, the Joker is the lasting reminder of Bruce’s failings. The Joker killed Jason under Batman’s watch. The Joker paralyzed Barbara Gordon and forever tainted Jim Gordon’s resolve. The question remains. To what extent is the Joker a product of the Batman? Just how incestuous or perversely symbiotic is their bond?

Last year, the Joker lost his face. Or perhaps he relinquished his face to make some twisted point in another of his long cons. This week he returned to Gotham to reclaim that face, an act of war with repercussions yet to be fully discerned. Snyder wisely zeroes in on Jim Gordon at the outset of this new chapter in the Joker’s reign of terror, beginning with a haunting rooftop rundown of its grim portents. Gordon and Bullock tally the strange happenings about Gotham, from the near Biblical deluge to the birth of a two-headed lion cub in the city’s zoo. Snyder has shown a real affinity for Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, but his Jim Gordon is just as nuanced. Gordon is valiant, his spirit bruising with each calamity suffered by his city. When the Joker returns under a cloak of darkness, its Gordon he strikes first. And the commissioner is appropriately frightened. This might be the New 52, but this interaction carries all the weight of the characters’ entire history. The Joker comes just short of breaking the fourth wall in his allusions to The Killing Joke and other iconic moments. Snyder’s Joker commands that eery prescience, a comprehension of his place in the mythology of the Batman. It’s a story he’s telling himself, a self-fullfilling prophecy he’s desperate to enact upon the real world. It just so happens, it’s a mythology to which we as readers already subscribe. Again, it’s not quite metafiction, but it lends the character something of an astuteness that other characters can’t claim because they’re not eager to share in his fantasy.

"Stop me if you've heard this one..."

The Joker lost his face and then put it back on again. But this turn started before that. Something happened to make him welcome that injury. That’s unsettling even for this character. Even for a Snyder story. Luckily, it’s rendered to horrific perfection by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO. This team had a dominant stride from the word go, so by now it’s simply a question of what new experiments they might employ next. Here, it’s restraint. The Joker attacks in complete darkness. By the end, he’s revealed with his own shorn face messily buckled to his head with a belt strap. It’s only as disgusting as it needs to be, which wouldn’t be true with many, many other artists working right now. Even more striking, though, is the evolving expression of panic on Jim Gordon’s face throughout this ordeal. This team’s handling of human emotion is sublime.

As of that wasn’t enough, Snyder teams with James Tynion IV and Jock for an inspired epilogue. It’s maybe not the best employment of Jock’s aesthetic, but it makes for a wonderfully ethereal vignette between Harley and the Joker. It’s a smart use of the backup venue and a change of pace from the serial that ran in the previous story line. Functioning like a character-centric deleted scene, it adds welcome context to the climactic scene of the main story. And that tentative, outstretched arm in the final panel speaks volumes. One of the most haunting images from a consistently spooky issue.

It’s evident that this is the start of something special. That the entree has been well worth the wait. It’s not just another Joker tale with a clever twist on the clown motif. This goes deeper. A character study. A series of them in fact. A long game. The writing is beautiful and sinister with allusions to past classics and a chilling invocation of Peter Pan and his shadow and his Darlings. That we only see the Joker revealed in the final page teases at the level of suspense and horror to be had throughout the rest of the tale. Brash young Damian is unimpressed at the prospect of the villain’s return, but this is the kid at the campfire laughing off the urban legends of escaped mental patients with hooks for hands waiting in the wings. There’s already a substantial body count. The Joker has reclaimed his face and gathered up his portents. And he’s just started one mother of a knock knock joke.

Story: 5 / Art: 5 / Overall: 5

(Out of 5 Stars)

 

Comments

  1. As an enjoyer of Uncanny Avengers, I’m thoroughly confused by the dense, multi-layered characterization, sharp dialogue and detailed art. Comics that take more than 3 minutes to read hurt my head.
    *Snark-asm off*

    Great review of a stellar comic, Paul. This issue/arc deserves its own damn podcast. 95% of iFanboy nation can’t be wrong.

  2. tschafer tschafer says:

    not pick of the week??? wow

  3. MaxPower MaxPower says:

    In Snyder’s detective run, everything about the scene where Jim Gordon Jr & Sr meet at the diner is absolutely and serenely terrifying. Snyder knows how to make the mundane grotesque and the silent deafening. So, give him a force of pure abstract horror such as the Joker and you have a formula for uneasiness the likes of which we have not seen in a mainstream superhero book. Great review Paul, as always, and thanks for pinpointing what it is about clowns that makes me curl into the fetal position.

  4. Alexferrer Alexferrer says:

    Fantastically written, Paul!

    Your reviews are as central to this website as Snyder is to DC right now!

  5. I’m still dealing with the scene where Gordon pulls back the shower curtain in the Black Mirror. I don’t know how I’m going to handle all of this and yet, I simply cannot avoid reading it.

  6. FOOFAN007 says:

    Great review Paul. I couldn’t agree more about this issue. There are two things that I found to be very interesting regarding the joker’s return. The first thing is that he alluded to the fact that he thinks Batman has gone soft because he has so many allies now. When the Joker first debuted is was just Batman and since then there have been multiple members of the Bat-Family to assist Bruce in carrying out his mission. He said he wanted Bruce to return to be the Bat-Man like he originally was in the first issues of Detective Comics. This version of the Joker feels almost like a villain in a slasher movie, a true force of nature. He is the cerebral equivalent to Doomsday. Joker always returns stronger and better than before and nothing can stop him. Last few pages of the Joker’s interaction with Harley was awesome as well. It really says a lot when even Harley doesn’t recognize her Mister J anymore. The art was brilliant and I actually felt bad for Harley. Great issue, it really freaked me out because I read it at night with nobody else around, it really set the mood.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Great observations. I hope we see even more interaction between Joker and Harley as that relationship is especially telling.

      If you haven’t already, check out this week’s Don’t Miss podcast with Snyder. He touches on a couple of points you’ve mentioned and his analysis of the Batman/Joker/Bat Family dynamic is extremely thoughtful.

    • MaxPower MaxPower says:

      It’s an interesting point when compared with Morrison’s run, wherein he states the first rule of the Batman: He was never alone, he has his allies/friends/family.

    • FOOFAN007 says:

      Thanks Paul. I have a feeling we have not seen the last of this new Joker/Harley dynamic. I will absolutely check out that podcast with Snyder.

  7. A 5/5 review of a book that is not POTW? Dissenion at iFanboy HQ?

  8. mark. mark. says:

    and this was the story i came back to single issues for.

    what i absolutely loved about hearing snyder discuss this on the don’t miss podcast is that he clearly has put a lot of thought into the psychology of the joker. morrison’s take is fine, but (as a psychologist) i role my eyes whenever i hear the term “super-sanity.”

    snyder on the other hand really gets this idea of the joker as a dangerous obsessive. that point he makes where he says “if that person isn’t about batman, then he’s sort of invisible”? that’s gold. this was excellent and i am so looking forward to the rest of the story.

  9. 85 85 says:

    Great review!! *Applause* *Applause*

  10. Mono0521 Mono0521 says:

    I love the Joker. I might have to pick this up.

  11. Batman #13 is good fun all the way through to the end where Joker is about to crack Pennyworth over the head with a hammer. Good fun! So much so, that Batman Inc. pales in comparison. Yes, the 2 titles are not set in the same continuity (I think), but Morrison is spinning the story into a convoluted soup in order to tell what’s basically a simple premise. And it leaves me thinking, “I guess I’ll pick up the next issue.” On the other hand, Snyder’s writing has a beginning, middle, and end to each issue. I was wondering if I had to buy all the crossover titles to enjoy this and I’m glad I don’t.

  12. KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

    My favorite part was the final three panels on page 4, when Gordon sees Joker just standing there in the doorway in his janitor’s outfit. Joker is small in the frame, and his face is entirely in shadow but the ordinary-ness of his posture (plus Jim’s reaction to it) is just chilling. Great job by the whole creative team.

  13. It was my pick of the week that’s for sure.

    The lettering on Joker really made him all the more scary for me. Betancourt and Kubert did an amazing job setting the tone for Joker before you can even read his word balloons.

  14. GS says:

    Excellent review! Now can you explain to me why the hell this isn’t the ifanboy pick of the week?

  15. konkrypton konkrypton says:

    Snyder, Glampion, et al have made Batman the book I most look forward to each month. The Court of Owls was spectacular, and this first installment of the Joker’s return was truly terrifying. Joker doing his own neck-breaking is scary. His threat to remove Harley’s face went all the way to ghoulish.

    Thank you, Scott Snyder & Co. for creating a comic book that is beyond great.

  16. That makes twice this year where I put down an issue of Batman and said out loud “this might be the issue of the year…”