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Batman #13

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

A dark stormy night has engulfed Gotham City as Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock discuss the strange events of the last few days up on the rooftop of GCPD. Early snowfalls have blocked the mouth of the Gotham River, now swelled by torrential rain; the river actually reversed its course for three days. Then a deformed lion cub was born at the zoo, a sickly creature with two heads. It’s been a long day, and Gordon still has one or two things to finish up before he goes home, so he leaves Bullock and heads back downstairs just as a van draws up outside the GCPD…

Soon Gordon has a lot more to worry about than trying to hide his cigarettes from his daughter when the Police Station is plunged into darkness. The Joker stands in the doorway, his macabre madness concealed only by the flicking shadows of the emergency lighting. With his officers in disarray, Gordon can only watch and listen helplessly as the Joker systematically beaks each officers neck, taunting Jim from the darkness as his colleagues scream in terror. He stalks Gordon around the room, claming that Batman already has his calling card, before the lights come back on and Batman appears behind Gordon – who is now surrounded by the corpses of his murdered officers. But the Joker has gone, vanishing into the rain swept night having taken the remains of his face – which he’d allowed the Dollmaker to remove – from an evidence locker.

The lights come back on and Batman appears behind Gordon

Later in the BatCave the troubled Dark Knight is joined by Alfred and Damien as he tries to make sense of the mad design behind the Clown Prince of Crimes return. There is still the mystery of why the Joker would allow the Dollmaker to remove his face, before disappearing and spending nearly a year away from Gotham City. Bruce confers with Nightwing, Batgirl, and Red Robin by comlink, warning them that the Joker is back. But as they talk a TV News channel begins to show the Joker torturing a hostage, forcing him to announce the Joker’s return to Gotham, before he kills  his victim and gleefully announces that the Mayor will also die at midnight!

Batman refuses to accept the help offered by the rest of the Bat-Family, preferring to deal with the Joker alone. Batman has Gordon keep the Mayor in his office, surrounded by Police Officers while he monitors the situation from an elevator shaft, but even Batman is dismayed when the Officers guarding the Mayor all die suddenly – their faces all twisted by horrific frowns! Realizing that he has made a crucial mistake, Batman gets Alfred to analyse the new Joker toxin – and the results reveal the warped meaning behind the Jokers “calling Card”. This leads Batman back to the chemical plant where the Joker once fell into a vat of chemicals during their first encounter, but instead of confronting the Joker, he faces a showdown with The Red Hood himself. Batman quickly sees through the impostors disguise, but as the Joker’s voice is relayed through the doppelgangers mask, Batman is bludgeoned from the walkway by a giant mallet and tumbles into an empty vat. Trapped inside as the vat begins to fill with a bubbling liquid, the Dark Knight is taunted by the Joker who threatens to take out Batman’s allies, but just as the Red Hood is revealed to be Harley Quinn a nasty surprise begins to scratch at the door of Wayne Manor for Alfred Pennyworth…

After his year long absence from Gotham City, the Joker’s return has become one of the most eagerly anticipated events in The New 52 range of Bat-Titles. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder; here Scott Snyder turns that heart of insane villainy pitch black as he unleashes the Joker on Gotham City. I don’t think the Joker has ever been as horrifically malicious as he is during his attack on GCPD. The way he takes out a room full of armed officers in the dark is truly the stuff of nightmares, playfully snapping their necks in a sickening flourish of callous humour, and leaving Gordon cowering in a corner after knocking the Commissioners torch from his hand. This scene is perfectly pitched by Snyder, and in this brief moment, he makes us feel like a simpering child again – all alone and scared of the dark.

The Joker’s horrific attack on GCPD!

The live broadcast on TV where the Joker forces John Claridge – the son of one of the first people the Joker murdered with his lethal Joker Toxin – to announce his return to Gotham, before blowing his hostages brains out, gives us our first glimpse of this madman’s labyrinthine intellect. Joker also coldly compares his threat on the Mayor’s life to killing a baby bird with a crowbar – a suitably cruel reference to A Death in the Family for Batman. It is only later, when the Police Officers guarding the Mayor are slaughtered by a new Joker Toxin cunningly dabbed on their uniforms and activated by the detergents on the recently cleaned floor, that Batman finally begins to piece together the clues behind the Joker’s new obsession with his first crimes. Indeed, the twist of making the Joker’s “calling card” a joke is in itself a stroke of genius by Snyder, one that keeps the reader, and the Dark Knight himself, constantly on edge. It’s this new unpredictability that is so unnerving. Even Jim Gordon seeks a moment of reassurance from Batman when the two confer in an elevator just before the Mayor’s office is turned into a frowning bloodbath. In a way they both know the Joker so well now, each has been touched by the fear that he can instil in others, and they know the price of that fear if you’re foolish enough to show it.

After tracing the clues in the new Joker Toxin back to A.C.E Chemicals Batman expects to find the Joker, instead he apparently encounters The Red Hood. Naturally enough, Batman sees through Harley Quinn’s disguise, but he is quite unprepared for being trapped in one of the vats himself. It is here, as the Joker mocks Batman for his failings against The Court of Owls – saying how it made him frown to see the Dark Knight falter against the birds roosting in his kingdom – that the Joker claims he has returned to save Batman, intending to make him strong again by killing his associates one by one. It seems that the Joker has been observing events from afar, watching and waiting for his time to strike. His mockery of The Dark Knights handling of the Talons assault on Gotham is particularly telling; and his disappointment with his old adversary’s reliance of his allies is a chilling example of how deranged the Joker’s twisted logic has become.

The art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion is like dark a tapestry of oozing menace: from the opening monologue of the strange occurrences that have befallen Gotham City, with rivers running backwards, and two headed monsters being born – the imminent return of the Joker as his van approaches GCPD unfolds like a satanic teardrop from hell. When the lights go out the way Capullo and Glapion portray the tension is almost unbearable, contrast this with the brightly lit massacre in the Mayor’s office, and you almost feel like the Joker has snuck up behind you and cut off your eyelids to let you savour every moment of his vicious depravity…

Snyder seems to have the perfect handle on how the Joker actually thinks; giving the reader a ringside seat for the unfolding horror, almost supplanting the Joker’s giggling voice in your mind as you turn each page. Yet it is Capullo who makes Snyder’s vivid take on the character such a resounding success, even though Joker spends much of Batman #13 cackling from the shadows, using his victims like puppets as he draws Batman further and further into his deadly web of misdirection. Those final moments, where Alfred investigates the strange scratching sounds at the door of Wayne Manor and discovers the two headed lion cub on the doorstep, catapults you towards the horrifying climax as Alfred turns around and finds himself face to “face” with the Joker!

Batman ponders the warped meaning behind the Jokers “Calling Card”

We have been teased with Capullo’s new look for the Joker for months now. The first glimpse of the Joker reflected in Alfred’s eye is a distorted, fun house image, trapped in a mirror of gleaming horror before being revealed in its entirety as the Joker steps from the darkness of the hallway to attack Alfred with a hammer. It is rare that a horror film can make your blood run cold these days, let alone a comic book, but that final image from Batman #13 is as astonishing as it is unsettling. The Joker now wears his face like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, strapped to his scalp, his hair flailing wildly in greasy clumps as he lurches towards Alfred. We have seen Alfred come face to face with Bane and The Court of Owls in his time, but there is something about seeing him alone in the Manor – with the Joker poised to strike him down – that makes this final page unimaginably terrifying. The two headed lion cub also serves as a grim reminder of the duality shared by the Joker and Batman, each born of Gotham, bound together by fate, and locked forever in a battle to destroy the other.

The back up story in Batman #13 by Snyder, Tynion IV, and Jock serve as a dark interlude to Batman’s arrival at A.C.E’s Chemicals, and shows just how far the Joker is prepared to go this time – even using his beloved Harley Quinn as a decoy when he forces her to dress up as the Red Hood. Tease is a haunting little prequel to these events, especially when the Joker advances towards the terrified Harley, cutthroat razor in hand, hinting that he would like her to share his experience of having his face removed by the Dollmaker. But instead of lashing out, he places the Red Hood on her head, leaving her alone to face Batman as she calls out forlornly for the Joker to answer her…

Snyder and Capullo have given us only the briefest of glimpses of the mad revenge that the Joker has planed. Death of the Family has gotten off to a tremendous start, and I’m sure that after reading this issue, Commissioner Gordon wont be the only one checking under the bed tonight…