by Tarique Ejaz
“In hindsight, there were signs, omens of the terrible things to come. The first one came with the rains. With the early snows blocking its mouth, the rains flooded the Gotham River, actually reversing its flow for three full days. The second sign came soon after. A lion at the Gotham Zoo gave birth to a deformed cub, a cub with two
heads. We should have seen it coming....”
Creepy. Intense. Weird.
That is three words extensively used in most of the reviews for this particular volume on Goodreads. This is just like most of the stories of the Dark Knight coming out of late ever since the days of colorful crime-fighting was shed by the hero in the picture. Dark, intense stories have become a part of his legacy now but this takes it to an absolutely another level. The hype around this was crazy and after it hit the shelves, almost every Batman fan I have
so far come across agreed...
‘It was worth it!’
Alluding to the iconic ‘A Death in the Family’ storyline among a crazy number of other references, ‘Death of the Family’ brings about the monumental occasion of Joker’s return. The Clown Prince of Crime has been absent from the scene for almost a year in terms of the comic book chronology, ever since his severed face was discovered in his cell at Arkham with him missing. This is a 5-issue story arc with tie-ins that bring in all the other members of the Bat-Family and as I say, each and every issue is essential if you wish to savor this psychotic delicacy that Snyder serves to the readers. Capullo makes sure that the artwork
is as compelling and eerie as the tale being told.
The entire tale can be traced down in the following order. I would try my best to limit the spoilers, but this is so frigging psychotic that I am psyched as I am writing about so if I end up spoiling more than I intend, do pardon. (Do read. It will only up the ante.)
1. Return Of The Jester
“So many variations! 'A clown in a Hawaiian shirt knocks on a door...' hee hee... or maybe 'A bat flies into the room' or even 'A clown walks into a police station looking for his face!'... hee hee”
A regular night at the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) is turned into a nightmare as the dreaded clown makes his return to his beloved city. The ease with which he walks about a blacked-out police station cracking numerous “A clown walks into *something something*” joke as he snaps the neck of one police officer after another is downright creepy. The helplessness which comes about in his mere presence resonates throughout the sequence and the mind skips back to the moments when the clown had made killing a form of morbid amusement.
He goes ahead to tell the Commissioner James Gordon with relative ease that he used to sometimes lie under his bed during his apparent absence from the world of crime, hearing Gordon breath and wanting to reach out to him with his own hands. When things are restored to normalcy (or whatever could be expected), Joker is gone and so is his mutilated face that had been kept in GCPD’s custody.
And the stage is set.
2. First And Foremost
“You have gotten fat, soft. Soft enough that you can’t even stop a bunch of old birds from roosting in your spires without help. Owls? Oh Batsss, your kingdom rots beneath you. It makes me frown, frown. Frown so deep that my jaw is breaking.
Joker has decided to reenact most of his firsts like the first time he telecasted his first murder, using the son of his first victim so as to get the details spot on. He lures Batman to where it all began. The spot where he as the Red Hood then, falls into a vat of chemicals which ends up ‘burning away his false skin so as to reveal his true nature’ in the clown’s words itself. He wants to help his old friend with pointy ears achieve the same. Thereby, disclosing
his main motive for returning.
To get rid of the allies that make the Dark Knight slow and vulnerable.
In fact, he goes so far as to reenact the first time they both went head to head at the Gotham City Bridge where he had tried to poison the reservoir that acted as the primary drinking water aid for the city. But this time, he wanted no distractions so he could talk to the Bats alone. So what did he do? He simply speed up his agenda. Blew the aqueduct before the ole’ Boy Wonder (current Nightwing) does so and kills the people who were supposed to
die at the end of the plan.He even kidnaps Bruce Wayne’s Butler for a celebration he says that he has in store for the Bat King. How romantic?
There is a dynamic change in motion. We could start to sense it.
III. Remember, Remember
“It’s like yesterday, isn’t it? Our adventures. The times we have had! The laughter! The tears of laughter! This whole place, my dear. A love letter to you! Slow down a moment, take a load off and absorb it all.”
The Joker reveals that he knows the identity of all the members of the Bat-Family including the Bat himself. This makes the Caped Crusader budge in a dilemma. ‘Does he know or is he bluffing?’ Joker leaves no stone unturned as he dangles a small note-book with a cover made out of a bat’s skin, claiming that it contains the names of the Bat-Family. Their true names.
“11% sodium hydroxide, 34% sulfuric acid, 5% chromium solution, zinc sulfide doped
in copper which gives it its green color.”
Batman recalls the nights he spent analyzing and over-analyzing the solution that gave birth to the monster he sees before him.He goes after the other members of the Bat-Family in a similar manner. Killing close friends of Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and carving an invitation to an event, where he had decorated his beloved circus with the dead of the circus, on the stomach of his ex-love interest. Making Robin (Damian Wayne) go up against a fake Batman, making him feel as if he killed his own father. Going after Batgirl’s (Barabara Gordon) mother and so on and so forth.
He forces Batman to disclose a memory he felt the need to keep close to his chest. A memory that referred to the fact that the Joker might have had access to the cave over the years.
A rift is born amidst the Bat-Family. The joke is set in motion.
IV. Arkham, Sweet, Arkham
“And ignore the fact that what you saw those tiny pupils do was expand. Expand for you after you stared back long enough. Ignore the fact that what you saw those black points expand with... was love.”
Joker has laid the breadcrumbs for the Bat to trail him all the way to the Arkham Asylum. Home, Sweet, Home. States the grim setting as Batman enters the institute.
Joker mocks the Dark Knight by making arrangements which are so screwed up in itself that it looks magnificent, if you could appreciate it from the psychopath’s view. He lines up an assortment of entertainment for his supposed Bat-King which includes:
It all leads to the Dark Knight being electrocuted and prepped in his throne for the main dinner.
V. Last Supper
“It’s a simple recipe. Just skin, separate and cool in a plate of ice. In 30 minutes, it is ready to be served. I hope you all like it... I made it with lots of love.”
The Joker has assembled the entire Bat-Family, bound and gagged, for the main supper. It is his favorite dish. A secret recipe. One of his own. And he has the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, all pale and wriggling with giggles to serve them.
Joker urges Batman to question his morals as he has arranged for everything in such a manner that the entire Family dies, most likely at the hands of the head of the family itself. He teases the Dark Knight with the very question that has confounded him for ages.
Why doesn’t he just kill the Joker and rid himself of all this misery?
The events that follow are chilling to the bone. Everything goes up in flames and Batman and Joker go head to head once again, as they are destined to do so.
“I know who are. Want me to whisper it to you?”
The Clown Prince of Crime falls to his supposed death and the family is broken. He has partly achieved what he had set out to do. And the joke unravels. Batman learns what it is that drives the madman.
A tale so brilliant that it leaves you captivated and a bit repulsed. As Bruce Wayne sits all by himself, brooding while waiting for the test results on the Joker gas – the new concoction to come up, it showcases the trauma, loneliness and distrust that a life along the lines of vengeance breeds.
“Ha” for Hahnium flashes on the screen. And the world goes dark.