(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.