(P) Greg Capullo
(I) Jonathan Glapion
"What?! You've heard this one, too?"
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have brought back the Joker. I have a feeling this plan to keep Batman's archnemesis out of sight and out of mind for a full year was completely deliberate. There have been interviews where Snyder explains how he wanted to do the "Court of Owls" first, but the opening pages of Batman #13 might suggest differently. Not once in the entire "Court of Owls" arc was I as terrified as I was during this issue. Somehow, Snyder has tapped into the most frightening, pathological version of the Joker ever seen, and it's comic book dynamite.
The opening scene revolved around the Joker returning to Gotham City to retrieve his face from the GCPD. If you remember last year, in Detective Comics #1, Joker allowed his face to be cut off by the Dollmaker, a symbolic gesture towards Gotham and it's citizens more than anything, a sign that he was gone but not gone. It's when the lights go out and a mysterious figure stands in the doorframe that Jim Gordon understands what is happening, and he does everything he can to stop the Joker from going on a rampage through the police department, snapping necks as he goes. The entire scene is absolutely chilling. It's hard to write blackout dialogue - the use of darkness makes it hard to discern who is speaking to whom. But the lettering throughout this scene is what makes it so damn scary. The Joker's word balloons are scratchy, jagged, and nearly broken, much like the man himself. It not only makes it easier to read, but it adds that extra layer of creepiness.
The rest of the issue is mostly dedicated to Batman searching for the Clown Prince of Comedy. First, Bruce is forced to field a volley of communications from Nightwing, Red Robin, and Batgirl concerning Joker's return. Batgirl's the only one Bruce is reluctant to contact, but soon gets chewed out by Barbara herself when she discovers her father was attacked at his job. During the investigation, Joker takes over TV broadcasts and forces an innocent civilian to proclaim the Joker's return before he's shot in the temple. Snyder is amazing at writing horrific melodrama, and this might just be some of the best work he's ever done.
I usually don't discuss artwork too much because visual art is so often in the eye of the beholder. There are, of course, times when it's appropriate to discuss the panels and pencilling because they have some important connection to the story in general. In Batman #13, Greg Capullo works overtime to make sure Snyder's gritty scripts are coming across correctly. Without Capullo's intricacies, the scene with Joker in the GCPD wouldn't have been nearly as haunting, and his Joker re-design is simply the most horrifying he's ever looked. Again, without this level of visual quality, Snyder's words wouldn't have nearly as much impact.
One of the best things about Batman #13 is how much Snyder is able to stuff into one issue without coming across as detail-obsessed (William Faulkner, anyone?) The murder of a man on live television and the claim that Mayor Hady would be dead at midnight all connects back to the Joker's first appearance (according to Batman) and must have some importance in the present. Then there's the Harley sequence! Yes, Harley Quinn adorns the original Red Hood outfit - worn by Joker before he was Joker - to confront Batman, hoping to catch him off-guard and get him away from his cave. That's all I want to give away because the final pages are just so damn amazing.