by Paul Bowler:
Snyder and Capullo’s genre defining Death of the Family saga has struck right at the heart of the Dark Knights world. Now Batman must venture into the shadowy halls of Arkham Asylum itself if he is to save Alfred and confront the Joker before his maniacal plan comes to fruition. As he enters Batman discovers the terrified guards who Joker’s imprisoned, forcing them to dance in the waterlogged cells while wearing Batman and Joker costumes, with the Clown Prince of Crimes watching via CCTV – finger poised to electrify the floor at any moment.
After dealing with the threat, Batman explores further: encountering heinous acts of cruelty and depravity, a gang of torch wielding maniacs, a gut wrenching tapestry crafted to commemorate his past encounters with the Joker, chanting lunatics strung up like bats, and a plethora of enemies from his Rogues Gallery who have assembled to foil his attempt to reach the Joker’s inner sanctum in Jeremiah Arkham’s quarters.
But the Joker is not alone; he has brought Two Face, Penguin, and Riddler with him for this final act, along with four captives who he has dressed up as members of the JLA. As Batman struggles to break down the door, Joker gets each prisoner to play a bizarre game of Russian roulette with an electrified chainsaw. Batman breaks into the room, but metal bars slide down to keep him at bay, while the Joker reveals what he has done to Batman’s allies on a bank of television screens. Shocked by what he sees, Batman has no choice but to agree to the Joker’s demands and sit down of the throne that has been specially prepared for him…
Batman #16 is one of Scott Snyder’s finest issues to date. His incarnation of the Joker is so unashamedly evil that it makes your skin crawl, there seems no limit to the Joker’s madness this time, and Snyder uses every opportunity here to make you almost jump out of your seat. There is one particularly horrifying moment where even Batman seems to almost lose his lunch as he searches Arkham, it picks up an almost irrelevant plot thread, douses it in gasoline and sends it charging right out of the page to sear your mind with nasty afterimage you won’t easily forget in a hurry.
If just the just prospect of Greg Capullo drawing Arkham Asylum left you drooling in anticipation at the end of last issue, then Batman #16 will send you teetering over the abyss of gothic glee as you descend into the bowels of Gotham’s most nefarious institution. Not only do we get to see Greg Capullo illustrate every nuance of the Joker’s deranged plan within the inky depths of Arkham‘s corridors, we also have Capullo drawing nearly every one of Batman’s greatest foes in one issue, and I don’t mind admitting to a little fan boy squeal of joy as my personal favourite Bat-Villain, Clayface, lunged at Batman in a spiral staircase.
Most shocking of all though is the Joker’s appearance in Batman #16. Since his return his face has been stretched over the raw flesh of his skull, now it seems to be decaying. Every close up of Joker shows flies buzzing around his head or crawling around his scalp, its revolting in the extreme, yet its impossible to not be fascinated by the deliciously macabre glint in his eyes that almost seems to bulge from their lidless sockets in anticipation of his greatest victory.
The previous back up stories by Snyder, Tynion IV, and Jock, have all served as mini prequels to the principle storyline. Judgment differs significantly in this respect, acting as a direct continuation of Batman #16’s shocking conclusion, which sees the direct aftermath where the Joker venomously turns on Riddler, Penguin, and Two Face. I loved the way the Joker picked away at Two Face’s psyche, almost as if he were teasing Harvey Dents scabbed face away with words – just as the Dollmaker removed his own face and pinned it to the wall. The Joker almost does the same thing here to the trio of captive rogues, but does so without even breaking a sweat or spilling a drop of blood, all the more terrifying in the light of the special delicacies he’s prepared for dinner.
With a cover that shows the Joker waiting for Batman in the kingdom he has built for him, his overalls adorned with the clothing of the vanquished members of the Bat-Family, we can only begin to imagine what the final act of Death of the Family will hold for us.