The Ninjabot

The Last Laugh: Death of the Family Concludes

Posted on February 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm by Tyler Waterman

By now, everyone has heard about Batman #17, the epic conclusion to Death of the Family. I know everyone has heard about it, because everywhere I look, everyone is talking about it. Of course, that in itself doesn’t surprise me; Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s latest Bat-epic had everyone talking well before it was over, including myself. The response itself, however, has been really surprising. While mostly positive, a good number of fans have expressed disappointment at the lack of a “shock” moment, whether it be a major reveal, or an actual, well, death in the family. And regardless of which of those they wanted, they all make the same claim: nothing really happened.

I can understand this sentiment. As comic fans, we’ve been conditioned to expect all major crossover events to end in a death of someone, whether it be a hero, a villain, or a particularly important significant other or family member. If not a death, then there must be some fantastic reveal we never saw coming. After all, all of these events promise that “nothing will ever be the same” once they’re over, so the expectation is always high that these conclusions will include a truly shocking moment, some two-page spread that everyone will talk about once it’s over. With all this considered, it makes sense why at first glance so many people feel like nothing happened once Death of the Family ended. With no one dead, and no obvious shocking reveal, at first glance the conclusion may seem to fall a bit flat.

To those who feel that way, I encourage you to take a second glance.

Joke or not, this moment was pretty shocking!

Joke or not, this moment was pretty shocking!

Understanding why Death of the Family was so effective isn’t as simple as reading the book and looking for cause and effect; it’s about remembering who this story was all about in the first place. Had this event been perpetrated by any other Bat-villain, I’d be just as disappointed with the outcome as those who feel let down. But this wasn’t one of Freeze’s ice-cold capers, or the end result of one of Hatter’s tea parties, or even the result of a Two-Face coin flip. This was a Joker story, and like the Joker himself, you have to look deeper to realize the full extent of the madness that was Death of the Family.

As I mentioned, those who feel unfulfilled by DotF either lament the lack of a death, or feel there was no major revelation uncovered. But looks are always deceiving when the Joker is involved, and where some feel neither of those acts occurred  I would argue we got both.

Make no mistake about it: the Joker intended to kill the Bat-family, and I don’t believe he ever intended it to be literal. If Joker wanted Batgirl and that small army of Robins dead, they’d be dead. He had each at his disposal, and could have just as easily presented Bruce with a table full of bodies as opposed to the trap he presented instead.

But nothing about Joker is ever that simple, and this wasn’t about killing the extended Bat-crew. Instead, Joker sought to drive a wedge between them, to kill the trust and extend a void where there hadn’t been one before. As Batman #17 came to a close, we watched each member of the family walk away when Bruce asked them to come home, each clearly unable to face Bruce at this time, something we haven’t seen since the New 52 began. While I don’t doubt they’ll come to Bruce’s aid if he needs it, the damage has been done, and the Bat-family’s solidarity may no longer exist as it did before. This is what Joker wanted, and this time, Joker got his wish.

When DotF started, the family came when Bruce called. Now, not so much.

When DotF started, the family came when Bruce called. Now, not so much.

If a symbolic death isn’t enough, this event absolutely had a major revelation as well. Toward the end of the issue, Batman recalls a story to Alfred that I simply never could have imagined. After finding the Joker card in the Batcave, Bruce had to know whether Joker truly made it into the cave, or if the card just managed to follow him in. To determine this, Bruce did something unheard of: he went to Arkham Asylum and confronted him about it, as Bruce Wayne. As he recalls, Joker simply didn’t care; without the cape and cowl, the Clown Prince of Crime simply wasn’t interested. But don’t let Joker’s reaction let you ignore the significance of the act. Bruce intentionally revealed that he was in fact Batman, to one of his greatest and most dangerous adversaries ever. That is a sentence I never thought I’d be able to say, and as far as huge reveals go, that’s got to be one of the biggest to occur in Bat-comics in a long, long time.

You know he said that in the Batman voice.

You know he said that in the Batman voice.

It’s also important to point out another thing that really separated this event from other Batman events, or even comic events in general. Typically, a major crossover event is focused around a major villain trying to achieve a massive goal, and heroes trying to stop it. We can look at the other events occurring in DC right now as examples; H’el on Earth is following H’el trying to destroy the Earth to restore Krypton, for instance, and Throne of Atlantis follows the rise of Aquaman’s brother attacking the surface world. Death of the Family was entirely different. Joker didn’t have a crime to accomplish, an item to steal, or even a desire to create massive chaos. What we saw in DotF was a massive attack on Batman and his family. Hurting the heroes wasn’t the fortunate byproduct of Joker’s “real” plan, it was the plan, and that alone really sets this event apart.

The deaths and reveals encapsulated in Death of the Family are far more subtle than what we’ve come to expect from our comic events, and while some may not like that, that’s exactly why DotF is so unbelievably effective. This was a Joker event, and both Snyder and Capullo clearly never forgot who they were dealing with from start to finish. When it comes to the Joker, what you see is never what you get, what you expect is always wrong, and the madness involved always takes time to truly reveal itself. The Joker wanted to sow the seeds of dissent amongst one of the tightest-knit groups in comic history, and where so many others have tried, he actually succeeded. The Bat-family will never be the same, and even worse, their trust in Bruce has been shaken to the core. Yes, everyone lived; now we have to wait and see whether the family itself survived.


Follow Tyler on Twitter @BatmanIncVP.

    • thejerd

      So much I want to say… lol

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