Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder
(a) Jeremy Haun
After a disappointing first issue for Villains Month, Batman #23.2: The Riddler is a huge step up from Andy Kubert’s whiffed attempt at giving the Joker depth. The years before the ‘New 52’ had not been kind to Riddler, as he was somewhat pigeonholed as the villain who gives away his plan through riddles. Two years into the line-wide relaunch and it’s clear that this is not the same Edward Nigma we knew from before. This Riddler is much more vicious, more cunning, with more drive than I’ve ever read the character before.
Riddler is an extremely intelligent man. He finds his own clarity where others only see complexity. His riddles aren’t meant to be a plot device to clue Batman into whatever’s going on anymore. No — now Nigma’s wordplay is a bi-product of the pressure and pain of his mental acuity mixed with a few too many dashes of insanity. The only way Riddler resembles his pre-reboot counterpart (aside from the green and purple suit) is that Nigma’s riddles are for his own entertainment. Joker acts out to affect others while Riddler only works to serve himself. He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone because he’s proved to himself — time and time again — that he is the most intelligent man he knows. It’s egotistical, yes, but not inaccurate. But just because someone is intelligent doesn’t make them perfect, and that is the root of Riddler’s psychosis
Fawkes’ framework for the issue is also incredible. Nigma wants to break into the most secure area of Wayne Tower by beating the nigh-impregnable security measures installed throughout the building. It’s a perfect way to showcase Riddler’s talents as a criminal mastermind. One of the scariest elements of this new Riddler is that you don’t know what’s coming next. His obsessive nature pushes him to demand nothing less than perfection from himself. When an unexpected guard throws off the rhythm of his riddles, Nigma gets noticeably bent out of shape, if only for a few moments.
Batman #23.2: The Riddler ties for my favorite Villains Month title so far (next to Green Lantern #23.1: Relic). Scott Snyder’s story written out by Ray Fawkes is surprisingly minimal with a big punch at the end that actually gives the Riddler more depth.
(a) Greg Capullo, Danny Miki
After only two issues, it’s become evident that “Zero Year” is going to be more than just a straightforward tale about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. We kind of already knew this would be the case due to the Riddler being the central antagonist of the 11-issue mega-arc. But really, the level to which Scott Snyder is raising Batman’s mythos is simply incredible. This is not a Batman origin story that features the Riddler. This is a narrative that explores who Bruce Wayne believed he was, and who he became when those preconceptions washed away. This is a story that features ‘The Batman’ as the underlying tone for a story about a man who wants to be more.
As a writer, Edward Nigma speaks to my heart: his words are chosen carefully and for purposeful reasons. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been misunderstood simply because the person listening did not understand that diction, syntax, and meaning are all equally important. Nigma understands this, and that passion for deeper meaning is what drives him to become the man we know he will be. He has a complete and utter devotion to psychological meaning and endeavors to change the world because of it. Snyder’s Nigma is a fascinating character because he doesn’t hide anything, he simply presents himself in the most cryptic way possible: through riddles.
Similarly, the Red Hood Gang represents the beginning of Gotham’s quick descent into darkness. This is a time before the Joker, before Two-Face and Mr. Freeze and Man-Bat. There’s still crime, but there aren’t monsters for Batman to fight. The Red Hood Gang is a symbol of what could have been had Bruce chosen a different path. Bruce Wayne believes his actions are righteous, but the dramatic irony is that readers watch as he makes decisions that alter the course of history. If Batman never came to be, would Red Hood One have ever become the Joker? If Oswald Cobblepot wasn’t abducted by an impersonator using his likeness to take on criminals, would he ever have descended into corruption? If Bruce listened to Alfred, would he have a life full of joy and happiness unbound? These are the potentials touched on throughout Batman #22. Snyder is truly examining the Dark Knight in ways we’ve never seen before.
Everyone should be reading “Zero Year”. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been doing amazing work on Batman since the first issue, but this newest arc has a depth and suspense to it like nothing I’ve read from this team. It’s intuitive about Bruce Wayne’s formative years in the same way The Dark Knight Returns is intuitive about the future of Gotham City and it’s Batman.
(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.