Batman #23.1: The Joker Review

(w) Andy KubertBM_23-1-Joker_js43a0q4ji_

(a) Andy Clarke

I don’t know if this is Andy Kubert’s first foray into writing. I’ve enjoyed his artwork for years now, but I’ve never followed the man enough to know if he has any writing credits. But artists-turned-writers are not that uncommon now at DC Comics. The ‘New 52’ started off with big-hitter David Finch co-writing Batman: The Dark Knight, Francis Manapul co-writes The Flash while also providing the artwork most months, and Chris Burnham added Batman Incorporated #11 and a short story in Batman Incorporated Special #1 to his resume. It’s a good time for artists to take a stab at writing.

 

That being said, Batman #23.1: Joker is not terribly interesting. Maybe it’s because we got such an in-depth look at Joker during “Death of the Family”, or maybe it’s because the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin will — most likely — be featured in the current “Zero Year” arc, but this issue doesn’t add a lot to Joker’s mythos.

** SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION **

Batman #23.1 focuses on Jackanapes, a young gorilla Joker “adopts” and raises as his sidekick, more or less. The concept is meant to humanize Joker a bit, presenting a side of him that desires structure and familiarity of some sort. “Family” is, in practice, a tool of social order, which is something we’re not used to the Joker understanding. Unfortunately, it feels like Kubert didn’t go far enough. Obviously, the Joker is still insane because he murders the mother gorilla in order to secure the baby. Yet, we also see him genuinely invested in the life of his adopted gorilla son. It almost works until the final pages when Jack doesn’t pop the escape wings in his backpack and seemingly falls to his death in the river below.

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Joker seems upset; he frowns and wonders quietly to himself “Why Jack? Why didn’t you pop your wings?” But that sentiment quickly fades away when Joker does what he does best and makes a sick joke about wanting a refund for swimming lessons. Normally, I’d say this kind of behavior makes sense for Joker, but in Batman #23.1, it feels forced, like Kubert didn’t know how to end the story, so he fell back on the Joker’s penchant for compartmentalizing his emotions. It’s a bit cheap and unsatisfying.

As far as the art goes, Andy Clarke does a bang-up job on this issue. Joker’s facial expressions and Jack’s final pages are mesmerizing and full of emotion.

Batman #23.1: Joker is a missed opportunity to give the Joker more depth. Introducing the character Jackanapes may have sounded good on paper, but by the end of the issue, it didn’t feel like a Joker comic book much at all. Mostly, it felt like DC wanted to introduce Jackanapes and didn’t know how else to do it, which is not a good enough reason.

GRADE

4/10

REVIEW: TEEN TITANS #16

(w) Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza
(a) Brett Booth

I usually take the time to express my opinions on a given comic book issue as best I can. I put effort into what I write because the people writing and illustrating the comics I read put effort into the work they produce. Unfortunately, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza seemingly do not respect their readers enough to not treat them like dimwitted know-nothings, so I’m not going to give the same effort I usually give for this review of Teen Titans #16.

First off, Red Robin’s internal monologue at the beginning of the issue is as ridiculous and asinine as ever, but the real kicker is that Lobdell tries to convince us readers that Tim Drake and Jason Todd are so close, they’re like brothers. Any fan of DC knows that this is a BIG FAT LIE. In what world are Tim and Jason close? The one where Jason died before Tim was even introduced into the Batman mythos? Or the one where Jason came back from the dead and tried to kill Tim, who was Batman’s sidekick at the time? I would say he was Batman’s Robin at the time, but we all know how Lobdell dropped the ball on that one. 

Also, Tim says there’s no one he’d rather have by his side than Red Hood when facing the Joker. Really? Not Batman? Or Batgirl? Or Nightwing? Or any of the other people in the DC universe that are more trustworthy than Red Hood? What an absolutely stupid idea. Seriously, Scott Lobdell, stop insulting my intelligence.

Oh, and the big thing.

WHY DOESN’T RED HOOD SHOOT JOKER? Jason has his gun the entire time he’s conscious. If 17 issues of Red Hood and The Outlaws, not to mention years of pre-‘New 52’ character development that stayed in-continuity, have shown that Jason has no problem using a gun to kill people, why doesn’t he lift his arm up and unload into the Joker? Because Scott Lobdell can’t write. It’s such an obvious plot hole that can’t be ignored.

Almost forgot about the gas bomb dummy Jason shoots up instead of the Joker because Joker apparently had all the time in the world to keep talking to Red Robin and Red Hood while also escaping without them noticing him replacing his body no more than ten feet away. WHAT? I nearly closed the book at this point because there’s no way this could have happened in a way that would make sense.

There’s a lot of dialogue to hate in Teen Titans #16, but my favorite bit of awfulness comes from Wonder Girl speaking to Arsenal who is right next to her: “So, Arsenal isn’t the moron he made you out to be.” Like nails on a chalkboard, this sentence sounds. She refers to Arsenal in the third person then references some unnamed person who described Arsenal with no further information. So frustrating.

And Raven pops up for no reason other than to awkwardly set up the next arc. And Lance from Team 7 is around for some unexplained reason. God, I just wanted it all to end and it just kept going.

In conclusion, this issue was awful. Just awful.

GRADE
.5/10

And the ‘.5’ is only because the stupid fight between Red Hood and Red Robin was kind of cool looking. Kind of.

REVIEW: BATMAN #16

(w) Scott Snyder
(p) Greg Capullo
(i) Jonathan Glapion

Batman #16 is probably the weakest issue of “Death of the Family” so far. Tie-in issues aside, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Joker narrative has been one of the most intense and terrifying Batman stories in years, bringing the ‘New 52’ a Joker that has lost the little humanity he may have still possessed and now intends to make the world as meaningless as he perceives it to be. Unfortunately, Batman #16 is pigeonholed as the fill-in issue, complete with guest stars and a cyclical plot point that doesn’t amount to anything by issue’s end.

A big part of Batman #16 is showing how the Joker’s plans are starting to fall apart the closer Batman gets to the heart of the matter — with every advantage Batman gains, Joker’s scheme loses traction. And this month, part of the plan includes some of Batman’s most notorious enemies: the Penguin, the Riddler, and Two-Face. Why are these villains included in the plans of a whack-job whose return has been characterized by destroying personal relationships and alliances? Well, because they’re important to Batman, and what’s important to Bats is important to Joker. Including these rogues in his grand spectacle — even if only for one act — is telling of Joker’s true emotional disparity when it comes to Batman. Since his return, Joker has insisted that he’s necessary to keep Batman strong and to challenge the Dark Knight where others cannot. Batman #16 makes it more clear that it’s Joker who needs Batman in a demented hyper-dependency kind of way. Perhaps in the year he was gone, Joker came to realize he was nothing when not standing against Batman. But, that’s just the conjecture of one blogger. 

Other than Joker’s twisted sensibility, not much goes on this issue. Batman journeys through Arkham Asylum, but the entire sequence feels rushed, like Batman could have spent an entire issue being poked and prodded by Joker’s various booby traps and hired men, both regular and super-powered. In fact, Batman’s quick trip through the spooky asylum puts Joker’s plans in jeopardy as not everything is in place when Batman arrives. Cue extended sequence of monarchy metaphors relating to Batman’s place amongst his rogues, and that’s basically the entire issue. Near the end, Joker proves that when it comes down to brass tacks, Batman becomes weak as a result of his family, but didn’t we already know that? And I’m assuming that’s going to be part of next month’s big finale, so why did Joker have to point it out to all of his villain friends? It just seemed like unnecessary plot development for an issue that wasn’t all that stupendous.

Almost every other review I’ve read for Batman #16 praises the issue for showing how twisted Joker is, but haven’t we been reading about how twisted the Joker is for the past three months? I’m all for taking the time to flesh out a story, but the events of this issue didn’t do much more than reinforce already established ideas by throwing more Batman villains at us. I’m all for seeing Greg Capullo draw more Bat-villains. In fact, I’m all for Greg Capullo drawing more of everything because his art is incredible. Joker’s stretched-face look has been creepy the entire run of “Death of the Family”, but for some reason, he looks even more insane and broken than in previous issues. 

I won’t tell you to not read this issue, because it’s one of the main issues of “Death of the Family”, but if you’re wondering whether it stands on it’s own as a good issue, that’s up for debate. Sure, it’s a penultimate issue to a five-issue-long storyline, but that means there should be a whole lot more going into the end of the issue to ramp up readers for the grand finale! Instead, we get a contrived situation that Batman will obviously escape from because it’s Batman. Which is a shame because Scott Snyder truly understands that the Joker’s terror doesn’t come from his physical prowess, but rather from his mental acuity. Even though the man is a psychopathic, murderous criminal, he’s probably the most intelligent, psychopathic, murderous criminal Batman has ever faced.

GRADE
7/10

REVIEW: TEEN TITANS #15

(w) Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza
(p) Brett Booth
(i) Norm Rapmund

In the new year, I’ve resolved to moderate myself a bit more when it comes to my dislike of certain comic books and/or their creative teams. In that spirit, I’ll give it up to Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza for staying consistent in their use of overbearing inner monologue. In issues past, the’ve confined this technique to the character on-panel, but in the case of Teen Titans #15, Lobdell and Nicieza go the extra mile by injecting Red Robin’s awkward and creepily accurate inner monologue into the sequences featuring the rest of the Teen Titans, thereby making Tim Drake an omniscient narrator in the story he’s in…and…wait…

Red Robin’s personal thoughts seem to predict his teammates exact sequence of actions, and after reading the part of this issue featuring Tim and the Joker, it makes a bit more sense — Tim’s thoughts are being broadcast to the world. There’s no other way to explain how Joker knows exactly what Tim is thinking. How Tim doesn’t know his mind has been hijacked on that scale is anyones guess. Well, except for Lobdell and Nicieza.

Besides the inner monologue, the rest of Teen Titans #15 is enjoyable. The guest appearance from Batgirl is a welcome addition to a team that doesn’t have a lot of direction without a shadowy leader. Wonder Girl stays in character with her needless opposition to Batgirl’s driven style. Kid Flash also gets the spotlight, but in a horrific way as his actions lead to a city-wide Joker serum epidemic. While the connection between the Red Robin/Joker confrontation and the terrors befalling the Teen Titans is a rather thin one, it’s still fun to see just how broken and twisted the Joker has become. In a way, it shows not only the Joker’s madness, but also how predictable adolescents can be, to the point that Joker was able to assume their every move and stay one step ahead the entire time.

Teen Titans #15 is a fun read, if not a strong tie-in to “Death of the Family”. Yes, the Joker does indeed psychologically torture Red Robin, but he’s been doing that to all the Bat-allies, and this meeting didn’t seem to have much meaning to it besides informing Tim that his teammates would be responsible for genocide. Why is Joker going after Tim’s teammates? Isn’t the whole point of his rampage to get at Batman, not Red Robin? It seems like Lobdell and Nicieza are using the transitive property to justify an attack on the Teen Titans. Hopefully, Tim will get that pesky thought-projecting bug taken care of by next issue so Joker doesn’t have as much to work with.

GRADE
6.8/10

REVIEW: NIGHTWING #15

(w) Kyle Higgins
(p) Eddy Barrows
(i) Eber Ferreira

Dick Grayson’s adventures in the ‘New 52’, as a whole so far, have been somewhat up and down in terms of quality and content. After an initial arc dealing with Haly’s Circus, Kyle Higgins has had trouble finding his footing with Nightwing, including an underdeveloped arc about a cult of anarchists looking to ‘take back’ Gotham, and a short story about Lady Shiva, probably one of the most uninteresting villains ever. Nightwing #15, however, swings into action and utilizes it’s “Death of the Family” tag to it’s fullest. In other Bat-books, the Joker’s methodology has been somewhat hazy–while everyone has theories about what’s going on, Scott Snyder isn’t letting the cat out of the bag, and there’s only so much that can be said before a big reveal–this issue sees a very fleshed out attempt to break Dick Grayson. Not Nightwing, but Dick Grayson. This month’s Batman #15 included Bruce’s assurance that the Joker does not know the Bat family’s identities, but it’s pretty obvious he does.

Dick is under a lot of pressure. He’s the owner and operator of Haly’s Circus and he’s trying to keep his newfound entertainment business in Gotham City permanently so as to build up the city’s profile while also establishing more structured lives for his performers. It’s a noble task, and one that Dick’s impassioned about, but it’s also a project that keeps getting sidelined for Nightwing-related activities. This month, Dick’s heroic life meets his personal for the second time in the ‘New 52’ as Joker frees Raya from Blackgate Prison to make everything even more personal. Joker’s shtick for Nightwing is the idea of being a ‘knock-off’, a pale comparison to the almighty Batman. Higgins employs a classic Batman trope by having Nightwing find Joker in a warehouse that used to make knock-off Wayne Enterprises products. It’s poetic justice, and something only Scott Snyder has really been utilizing recently.

Nightwing #15 is one of the strongest tie-in issues for “Death of the Family” yet. Unlike the other Bat-allies, Dick’s life is literally crumbling right before his eyes: everything he’s spent the last year building is being destroyed in a succinct and straightforward way. This is what Joker’s reign of terror needs to feel like across the board, in all the Bat-titles tying into “DotF”–full of terror, death, and lots of Joker’s insanity.

GRADE
8/10

EXTRA! EXTRA! (DEC 12-18, 2012)

Batgirl #15
(Simone, Benes)

While Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s main “Death of the Family” storyline is a vehicle for a much scarier and focused Joker, the model of car seems to be different depending on the title you’re reading–last week’s Batman and Robin #15 was incredible, but while this week’s Batgirl #15 adequately conveys the story, it falls flat more than once. It feels like Gail Simone really doesn’t know what to do with Barbara and the Joker together besides dredge up Barbara’s feelings of anger and rage, which wouldn’t be out of the question normally, but this is supposed to be the sort-of king of all Joker stories (in recent history, at least), and I supposed I just expected more from Simone after a poignant and suspenseful 14th issue. Also, a lot of what was set-up last month in Batgirl #14 doesn’t really move forward so much as stays stagnant while the Joker waxes poetic about the hardships of life; not the most interesting use of panel space, but not totally boring. If you ignore the flashback scenes (which I’m sure will be important down the road, but show no indications of being so here), Batgirl #15 is a passable issue that builds upon the greater “DotF” narrative, but only a little bit.

GRADE: 7/10

Fantastic Four #2
(Fraction, Bagley)

After a fun and energetic first issue, Matt Fraction effectively hits the breaks this month and gives readers yet another full issue of build-up to the Fantastic Four’s voyage into multidimensional space that’s just kind of boring. As well as Fraction writes, it’s a bit off-putting to see such utilitarian use of dialogue and narrative–Ben Grimm screaming at Yancy Street seems over the top, Reed and Scott Lang’s scientific discussion has no emotional core, and the origin of Darla Deering as a member of the Fantastic Four is very, very weak. Obviously, things pick up next issue, as Reed launches his family into a portal at the end of Fantastic Four #2, but it’s just annoying to have to wait yet another month to see Marvel’s First Family on their ridiculously awesome adventure. A ‘slow burn’ story isn’t bad, but this issue just feels like filler.

GRADE: 7/10

Green Lantern Corps #15
(Tomasi, Gleason)

“Rise of the Third Army” is becoming more and more of a misnomer because none of the GL titles are actually dealing with the rise of this Third Army, and Green Lantern Corps is a prime example–instead of focusing on the Corps fighting this monstrous parasitic force, Tomasi is focusing on Guy and John exclusively, giving them more personal stories when they should be at the front lines of this incursion. Yes, I know, the Guardians are sneaky and all that, but we’re talking about GUY GARDNER, who normally doesn’t take crap from anyone, and JOHN STEWART, who’s got years of military experience telling him something is wrong. Yet, I like Green Lantern Corps #15, and the story of Guy and his family is told extremely well, it just feels superflous and unnecessary–why do I need to know so much about Guy’s father (he’s been in three issues so far)? The Third Army seems less like a universe-threatening force and more of an annoyance off in the corner of the of narrative, and if that’s how it’s supposed to be unfolding, then it’s doing so in a clunky and unbecoming manner.

GRADE: 6/10

Iron Man #4
(Gillen, Land)

Things are looking better for Iron Man (not literally, as Greg Land’s artwork is pretty underwhelming), as Kieron Gillen puts Tony in his ‘Heavy’ armor this week for a trip to France to find yet another illegal Extremis virus. Deep in the catacombs of Paris, Tony must fend off a legion of Extremis-infected women who’ve been stripped of their personality and humanity, effectively making them mindless killing machines. Tony’s ethical dilemma over killing people who are effectively dead already is a testament to Gillen’s ideals, but the concept struggles to come across smoothly, and the entire issue suffers from a lack of emotional depth. I’m a big fan of Kieron Gillen, but Iron Man has been fairly disappointing since it’s fantastic first issue.

GRADE: 6.5/10 

Superboy #15
(DeFalco, Silva)

“H’el on Earth” hasn’t been too understandable, so far–H’el himself doesn’t have much of a backstory beyond claiming he was Jor-El’s assistant, the narrative has been somewhat choppy and fragmented, and the three members of the Super family seem to have weirdly different personalities depending on the title you read. Fortunately, Superboy #15 hits all the right marks by focusing on Superman and Superboy while leaving H’el out of the picture until the very end. The main point of this issue is to show Superboy effectively inheriting Superman’s Kryptonian armor, as it’s the only thing that can possibly save Superboy’s life after H’el’s fatal beating. While I still despise Tom DeFalco’s inner monologue for Superboy, the narrative is a lot stronger this issue than in Superman or Supergirl, and that’s saying a lot for a series that’s struggled to find it’s footing since day one.

GRADE: 7/10

REVIEW: BATMAN and ROBIN #15

(w) Peter J. Tomasi
(a) Patrick Gleason

After two months of so-so “Death of the Family” tie-in titles, Batman and Robin #15 comes out swinging. Not only does Damian take center stage on his mission to find Alfred while Batman’s off tracking down the Joker, but Patrick Gleason’s interpretation of the new, faceless Joker might be the scariest and creepiest version of the Clown Prince of Crime yet.

Much of Batman and Robin #15 is a psychological game between Robin and Joker. Damian’s only been Batman’s partner for a short amount of time, and from what I’ve read in the ‘New 52’ so far, it seems like Damian’s never encountered the Joker. That’s a big deal. Damian already has a penchant for being egotistical and brash when it comes to his ability oppressed by Batman’s paternal instincts. Add the Joker’s snide attitude and loss of all humanity, and Damian quickly recognizes the Joker is seriously deranged. But when the youngest Wayne sees a video of Joker blinding Alfred by pouring ammonia in his eyes, Damian is all to quick to renounce his oath to not kill anymore by promising to kill the Joker. On the one hand, it shows how determined Damian becomes after he fully understands the terror of Joker’s mental instability. On the other, the whole sequence feels rushed and somewhat lacking. If it had only been a page longer, it would have really packed a huge punch. Instead, Damian’s promise to kill Joker comes across as childish from a boy readers know doesn’t have any philosophical issues with murder outside his father’s opinions nagging at the back of his mind.

But really, this issue comes down to one single idea: “Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death.” Joker lays it out as simply as he can because that’s exactly what needs to be said. Strip away the insanity, the murderous tendencies, and the tricky dialogue, and what you’re left with is a character who is actually speaking truths, however twisted they might be–Batman’s allies drag him down. They make him weaker because he has to care for them instead of performing at peak efficiency. It might not be what we want to hear, but it’s real. This isn’t to say that Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Red Robin should be done away with (though, I guess we’ll see the status quo at the end of “DotF”), just that we, as fans, need to recognize that one of Batman’s weaknesses is his family. Of course, when you add the crazy back into Joker, he wants everyone dead!

Batman and Robin #15 is by and far the best “Death of the Family” tie-in issue yet, and is simply one of the best issues of the series overall. Damian Wayne is brash and confident to a fault, and it comes to a head when he faces the Joker, a villain who feeds on traits like overconfidence and uses it to his advantage. This series went through a bit of a rough patch for a few months in the late summer/early fall, but these past few issues have been fantastic. Peter J. Tomasi comes in at a close second for best interpretation of the Joker. And really, the only reason for that is because Scott Snyder developed the Joker’s ‘New 52’ persona, so he’s kind of got the best hold on him. If you’re looking for a good “Death of the Family” tie-in, but you don’t want to go overboard with issues, stick with Batman and Robin.

GRADE
8.5/10