I have to give it to Scott Snyder. The pressure to kill off a bat-family member must have been intense. The modern era of DC is defined by its willingness to kill off characters to make a story feel important. With a story called “Death of the Family,” the comics-reading world was justifiably worried for Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin.
It turns out that while the entire Bat Family is put through the mill with some unpleasant experiences, they all survive. Even Alfred, my personal pick to be the casualty in this story. Instead, the Joker sticks to some good, old-fashioned psychological torture, including a pretty mean trick on all of Bats’ sidekicks. It is a horrific scene, and very effective at showing how sick the Joker is. After the absolutely sick stuff last issue, though, this does come off as tame. That’s the problem with the constant escalation of violence; it takes more and more to shock the reader.
The reason this closing chapter works is because while there is some great combat and violence, the story hinges on the relationship between Batman and Joker. Joker’s love for Batman has been central to this story, and Batman does seem to at least understand the connection. He knows Joker pretty well at this point. I still think Batman needs to pull the plug and kill Joker; the guy has done too much awful stuff. But at least Snyder has some decent reasoning (based on fear!) for why Batman has never put the Joker down.
Greg Capullo never gets to draw the “real” Joker. This entire story has featured the over-the-top, faceless version of the character. The Joker’s face stapled on his skull goes too far outside believability for me. In the flashbacks, Joker is sporting the Heath Ledger scars from Dark Knight. Again, very effective in the film, but not the “real” Joker to me. It would have been cool to see Capullo do something with the classic purple jester look. Those climax pages in the cave are fantastic; Batman’s got a glint in his eye that promises a super-beat down for Joker. Part of reading vigilante comics is the catharsis of revenge, and Capullo delivers with Batman’s powerful punches to the Joker.