"BATMAN, Vol. 3: Death in the Family," by Scott Snyder and James T. Tynion IV, illustrated by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, DC Comics, $24.99 (f)
They say it’s all jokes until someone gets hurt.
But what happens when the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime, is the one damaged?
In the latest Batman graphic novel, “Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family," that is answered. The story focuses on the Joker’s return to Gotham City after nearly a year spent away healing from wounds suffered when his face was carved off.
Yes, you read that right.
Now, Joker, instead of solely focusing on destroying Batman, decides to use the Dark Knight’s friends — like Robin, Nightwing, Bat Girl and Alred Pennyworth, the butler — as bait to mess with Batman’s mind and soul. He not only captures Batman’s fellow heroes, but also attacks them in a way that breaks them more psychologically than physically.
That’s the key to the Joker in this story. He’s out to psychologically damage Batman, and he does so in a chaotic, yet ordered, fashion. Joker’s goal to attack Batman’s heart and soul makes the climatic battle between villain and hero deeper than just a clash of fists. All of this makes this more of the Joker’s tale than Batman’s. It is the Clown Prince’s majestic and messy return to Gotham and the ramifications of that.
Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion combine to make art that is as impressive as the message and themes throughout. Both paint vivid scenes with elegant details that are necessary. From the tired eyes of Bruce Wayne to the stitches keeping the Joker’s face attached to his head, Capullo and Glapion build a sleek graphic novel that is worth viewing for the images alone. Concept drawings and more images are attached to the back of the graphic novel, too, and those images are certainly worth a second glance.
But the graphic novel has its faults. The text and dialogue boxes can be confusing. Each character has its own text box and font, but it’s more mind scrambling than organized. Sometimes a second view is necessary to understand who is talking and whether they’re speaking away from the action or not.
And the story works better as a series than as one graphic novel. “Death of the Family” was designed for a serialized, weekly comic style, as each section that ends with a powerful cliffhanger is erased instantly with a flip of the page. Those long weeks in between that build suspense and hype are wiped away by moving to the next page. Think of it like binge-watching a TV on Netflix.
“Death of the Family” is filled with grim images, violent themes and some sexual situations. Batman stories are often grim and gritty, and “Death of the Family” does not shy away from that.
Though it may be a darker take on the Caped Crusader and his tangles with the Joker, "Death of the Family" is filled with cliffhangers and twists, as well as compelling literary themes, that make it an excellent work of fiction worth a read.