Snyder and Capullo, the writer and artist of the New 52 Batman line are taking some serious chances with perhaps the most well established characters in the whole of comic-dom. And they are paying off big time. The latest proof of that is Batman #36 and the big reveal. But lets set it up a little first.
One of the biggest and most surprising twists Snyder has done is to send the Joker off into exile for most of this run. In the new 52, the Joker first appears in the Detective Comics #1, captured by Batman and sent to Arkham Asylum where he meets the Dollmaker. There the Dollmaker agrees to cut the skin off of the Joker’s face and pin it to his cell. The Joker escapes, leaving behind his face as tribute to who he and the Batman really are beneath their masks. This is in September of 2011.
The Joker does not return until the 23 issue run of the Death of The Family arc in October of 2012. A full year later! That is a full year in the Batman universe with no Joker! The arc ends with the Joker throwing himself off a cliff and disappearing once again. This is in January 2013. It also gives birth to the character, Joker’s Daughter, Duela Dent, who convinces the Dollmaker to sew the Joker face unto her. Duela later joins the Suicide Squad next to a very pissed off Harley Quinn.
Which brings us to Batman Annual #2. Fresh off the battles with the Court of Owls and Mr. Freeze, Batman is locked away in Arkham to test out one of its new wings and its security enhancements. Here he will meet and come to battle the Anchoress. He will also meet a new character, Eric Border, an idealistic doctor assigned to Arkham fresh from Metropolis. Unlike many of the doctors at Arkham, Eric is not opposed to working with the Batman and helps him in his fight against the super villains. This is October of 2013. Eric will appear several more times in the Batman comic line over the next year, always helping the Batman and working to become his ally. Lending the cape crusader a helping hand, until the events of Batman #36, on November 12, 2014.
The story arc Endgame begins in Batman #35 with Batman being attacked by the Justice League themselves, intent upon killing him. Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman and even Superman. Through it all the Batman asks over and over again who is behind it, until Superman grins wide, his face bleaches and the Batman knows.
Batman #36 follows with the defeat of the Justice League and Batman knows that the Joker has returned. Batman visits the ruins of Arkham, cell 801 ( the eighth and first letter of the alphabet spell HA! by the way) where the Joker was held, where his face was once nailed to the wall; trying to find a clue to where the Joker is. He is joined by Eric Border who wants to help but Batman tells him to leave. That he understands that Border wants to help but he must leave.
“…The thing is you’re right, Batman. When I first arrived in Gotham, I did want to help…it’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to help the inmates at Arkham, I wanted to help the city. I wanted to help you most of all. But then I saw…that there wasn’t any helping you. Because you don’t see a helping hand. Even when it’s right in front of your face…”
With these words, Eric Border wipes off his hair dye and flesh color and reveals himself to be The Joker.
Well played Snyder and Capullo. Well played.