Review: Batman “Death of the Family” – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman Death of Family Review(Note: the Death of the Family arc compiles issues 13-17 of Batman)

When I reviewed Batman #13, the first issue of “Death of the Family”, back in December, I posed the question of this arc’s place within the Dark Knight’s story hall of fame. Would it be able to stand up to the likes of The Killing Joke or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, some of the greatest works in comic history, or would it pass by leaving the Batman mythos largely unchanged? Following the conclusion of the arc in Batman #17 less than a week ago, it’s safe to say that not only is this a fantastic look at the Batman- Joker relationship, but leaves the entire Bat-family in an interesting predicament.

The Joker takes centre stage for the arc, and the creative team make sure you know it. Capullo pulls no punches in creating a truly terrifying rendition of the character – his face rots before the reader’s eyes in horrifying beauty. This is some of Greg Capullo’s best work on Batman – the Joker’s face pulls and twists as events play out, and Capullo manages to portray emotions of a man who lacks many of the features that people actually need to do so. It’s twisted, disgusting and beautiful all at once.

Art elsewhere is also a treat. Aside from the Joker, there are many other gruesome scenes that colourist FCO Plascencia and Capullo craft excellently. Alongside the story beats, Bruce Wayne’s emotions run wild in this arc – Capulo shows anger, desperation, and sadness, seemingly with ease. I’m a huge fan of his take on an enraged Batman, and this is delivered in large doses.

In the end, art wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t up to the same standard. Thankfully Scott Snyder delivers in producing one of the most interesting takes on the Joker/Batman dynamic. Snyder places Batman on a pedestal for the Joker, showing an almost fanatical love for his nemesis, much in the same way a patriot would love their king. The Joker feels that the Bat-family drags Batman down, that his family isn’t what makes Batman – it’s the Joker that does. The Joker honestly believes he understands Batman better than anyone, and that his plan will restore his “king” to his former glory. It’s a sick and twisted love story – and just in time for Valentines Day.

Snyder also creates tension with Bruce’s understanding of his nemesis as well. He holds his family at arms length, feeling that his understanding of the Joker is what can save them, and that this is something only he can handle. The way Bruce deals with his family is patriarchal, and leads to some great moments of tension.

These events all come to a head in an explosive final showdown, providing one of the most memorable exchanges between these two characters. Not only does it highlight their relationship in a succinct manner, but it also provides character development that I honestly did not expect to see. Without spoiling anything, this is best exchange between the two since The Killing Joke. Hands down.

When The Death of the Family finally reaches its phenomenal finale, it wont be what you expect. Snyder successfully manages to defy the expectations of what a status quo changing event can be, setting up a new world for Bruce Wayne to deal with. Snyder and Capullo’s take on the Joker  is not only one of this creative team’s best stories, but one of the best Batman stories ever. This is what events in superhero comics should aspire to be.

Score: 10/10

Review: ‘Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits’ – Garth Ennis and William Simpson

350px-Hellblazer_-_Dangerous_Habits(Note: The Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits TPB collects Hellblazer issues 41-46)

Dangerous Habits is the one of the best character studies of John Constantine. It deals with all elements of his flawed character: his hard alcohol and cigarette abuse, his exploitative use of friends, and his con-man status to the many ethereal beings of our universe, from both heaven and hell. It also shows the progression of the often morally grey anti-hero, as he deals with coming to terms with his eventual death at the hand of one of his many vices: his much loved pack of silk cut cigarettes.

For the uninitiated, John Constantine (pronounced Con-stan-tyne, as in fine) is a British occult magician/con-man/ arsehole who is modelled after the famous musician Sting. Known for his drinking and smoking habits, as well as his dry wit, he has been a mainstay of Vertigo Comics for well over twenty years. Dangerous Habits marks the entry of Garth Ennis to the series in 1991, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hellblazer storylines since the series’ inception. It deals with Constantine’s newfound knowledge of his terminal lung cancer, and as he says goodbye to the ones he loves, he formulates a plan that will at the very least, see him die swinging.

This story arc is Hellblazer at its most poignant. Constantine’s quest for redemption with what little friends he has left sees him backed into a corner as he fights for what little time he and his dying allies have. From the liver cancer-stricken Matt, to his old friend Brendan Finn, each allow Ennis to delve into the tortured mind of our anti-hero as he comes to terms with his mistakes, and all the friends whose deaths he blames himself for. John Constantine is a person hiding behind the con-man persona – too afraid to get close to anyone he cares about for fear of their safety. This story breaks down Constantine to his bare minimum: a man who despite his sins, wants to leave with having done more good in the world than wrong.

It is also to Garth Ennis’ credit that he chose lung cancer as Constantine’s downfall over a more supernatural curse as it both humanises and undermines his place in the world. Here is a man who deals with some of the most powerful beings in the universe, only to be taken under by one of the most basic of diseases. It allows Constantine to reflect on one of the of the most interesting issues faced in life:  this is not how, and when, I planned to go.

Ennis also allows Constantine to show off his expertise as a con-artist, as the final stages of the story arc culminate in potentially one of the most badass displays of arrogance ever witnessed in comic form. He manages to pull off the most impressive cons I have seen in potentially any medium, and it leaves the series in an interesting place by the arc’s end.

The art in this arc is merely serviceable to the story presented here. On one hand, William Simpson’s drawings can be equally weird and fitting, as Constantine’s world is one part disgusting to two parts dark. On the other hand, certain panels that focus solely on characters look plain bad – their distorted faces resemble closely those of demonic caricatures, as odd angles and stretched faces lead the reader to often be looking up the nostrils of Constantine.

As mentioned, Dangerous Habits marks Garth Ennis’ entrance into the series and it is heralded by a bang, as he systematically sets up the title character to die, exploring Constantine’s own demons, while allowing him to battle some monsters as well. While Simpson’s art may not be up to par with the writing; the Dangerous Habits storyline manages to create not only a powerful part of John Constantine’s own story, but a classic in comic books overall.

Review: Batman #13 – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

batman13Ask any fan of Batman comics who they think the Dark Knight’s greatest nemesis is, and you’ll be sure to hear The Joker’s name more than once. The quintessential Batman villain, The Joker has always been the other side of the same coin, a product of similar tragedy that turned him into a murderous madman. So when it was announced that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were bringing a new story featuring The Joker, especially on the heels of his fantastic character study of Bruce Wayne in his previous arc “The Court of Owls”, it wasn’t hard to be intrigued.

The stage for Batman #13, which marks the beginning of his new story arc “Death of the Family”, takes place a year after the events of Detective Comics #1. The Joker had allowed his face to be removed by another villain known as The Dollmaker, and he returns a year later beginning a series of ‘greatest hits’ – previous crimes that were perpetrated in famous Batman stories of the past. As we soon learn though, his motives are much more sinister. These events don’t end up as Bruce expects, and it hurtles towards a fantastic cliff-hanger at the issue’s end.

Snyder creates a wonderfully dark entrance for the Clown Prince. The inner monologue of the Batman, combined with his uncanny ability to channel The Joker’s demented dialogue to a tee, helps create a truly dark and twisted story. Snyder manages to instil a true sense of dread and horror within the pages of Batman #13, especially in a chilling assault of the Gotham P.D. at the onset of the issue. The horror isn’t merely blood and gore either, as the Joker’s dialogue throughout the sequence is truly evil and terrifying. Without spoiling anything, you’re going to want to look under your bed. While many of the stunts resemble fairly “standard” (whatever that term may mean in this case) Joker crimes, it sets the mood for how the arc will play out, and still leaves the reader guessing where the action will end up next.

Synder also works in a subtle character moment for the Dark Knight in this issue. As he communicates with the rest of the Bat-family about The Joker’s return, you learn that he intends to keep details, and even the investigation itself, between him and his nemesis. It is a moment where you realise that Bruce either wants to protect the ones he loves, or is willing to bank on his own skills and hubris to bring The Joker down, which is an important theme tackled in the “The Court of Owls” arc. It’s interesting that Snyder chose to revisit this theme, considering that Bruce Wayne should have learned his lesson in “The Court of Owls”, and it will be interesting to see how it will play out.

Greg Capullo’s pencils combined with Jonathan Glapion’s colours gives the art in the issue a strong resemblance to the Batman: The Animated Series of the late 1990s. It’s suitably graphic without relying too much on gore, and when The Joker’s face is finally revealed, it will give you chills down your spine. Its dark and twisted, and it really works.

It should also be worth mentioning that picking up Batman #13 without any previous interaction with Snyder’s run will be of no real detriment to the story he is writing here. While it may drop in a couple of references to his previous encounters with The Joker, it only requires a base understanding of how the villain works.

When Scott Snyder’s run on Batman moved towards the event “Death of the Family”, and the inevitable return of the Clown Prince of Gotham,  the questions were asked regarding whether this new take on this villain would live up to the standard set by The Killing Joke, and other Joker tales of times gone by. After Batman #13 perhaps we should begin to ask a new question:

What if the “Death of the Family” is better?