When all is said and done, Batman fans may look back on Scott Snyder’s run as the primary storyteller of the current Batman universe and come to the conclusion that he has simply written some of the best and most horrific tales in the lore of the Dark Knight. In Death of the Family, a 23 issue arc, Snyder turns to the most iconic comic book villain of our time – The Joker.
In 2011, DC Comics relaunched many of its titles under the heading of the New 52. For the most part, this was a generally viewed as a bad marketing move. Storylines were halted, and the DC Universe began anew. As part of this move, Detective Comics #1 in November of that year sees the Joker captured and sent to Arkham Asylum by the Batman. Only what the Batman does not realize is that this was the mad clown’s plan all along. In Arkham, the Joker meets the Dollmaker and has his face surgically removed and pinned to his cell wall. The Joker then escapes, leaving his face behind, and is not heard from in any Batman comic for a full year.
In Detective Comics #12, of October 2012, a shrouded figure is shown overlooking Gotham. His eye is on the Gotham City Police Department building. Death of the Family is the story of the return of the Joker. Though it covers 23 different comic books, the main story is told in the five issues of Batman #13 – #17.
Joker returns to Gotham and attacks the GCPD, murdering 19 police officers in the process. His aim was to recover his preserved face which he then straps on like a hockey mask a la Jason of Friday the 13th fame. The Joker leaves clues for the Batman to follow, first in reference to his first known victim and then to Ace Chemical plant where he was disfigured so long ago. At the Ace Chemical plant, the Batman is trapped in a chemical vat by the Red Hood who he realizes to be Harley Quinn. She is shaken by what is going on and tells him that the Joker is not the same. While the Batman is escaping from the trap at Ace Chemical Plant, the Joker visits Wayne Manor and kidnaps Alfred Pennyworth. This leads Batman to be concerned that the Joker may actually know his secret identity. Something it seems, that the Batman has always been fearful of.
Clues are left at Wayne Manor that point to Jim Gordon as being the next target of the Joker. The Batman saves Gordon and then is led to the Gotham Reservoir where he first comes face to face with the Joker. The Joker reveals his plan. He will kill each of the Batman’s allies, believing that they have made the Batman weak. That he also knows each of their true identities. They battle but the Batman is paralyzed by Joker venom and the Joker escapes.
The Batman is saved by the Bat-Family and taken to the Batcave where he finally confesses that after an early battle with the Joker, he discovered a Joker playing card in the Batcave. Leading him to believe, that the Joker knows the whereabouts of the Batcave and possibly all of their secret identities. The family is angered that the Batman would keep this from them and feel it is a betrayal of trust.
The Batman returns to Arkham for further investigation and finds the Joker, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, Clayface and Two-Face all waiting for him. The Joker traps the Batman and shows him a video of the Bat Family all captured. Using the family as leverage he forces Batman to sit in an electric chair and tortures him into submission.
The Batman awakens in the caves that lead to the Batcave. He is bound to a chair at an immense dinner table. Also at the table are Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Robin, Robin and Red Hood. They are doused in gasoline and everyone with the exception of the Batman has his face bandaged. A brainwashed Alfred serves dinner and as he lifts the lid off each of the dinners set before the family, the dishes contain each of their own faces. The Joker had removed the faces of the family just as his own was.
In horror, the Batman breaks free and sets off the blaze and with his knowledge of the cave system, blows a hole in the roof allowing water to rush in and put out the fire. As he frees the others, he holds Robin; who is Damian his own son, and peels back the bandages. It is revealed that all off the family still have their faces. It has all been another of the Joker’s twisted jokes.
The Batman pursues the Joker through the cave system and they end up on a cliff over an underground river. The Batman claims to know the Joker’s secret identity and threatens to whisper it to him. The Joker, refusing to hear, throws himself over the edge and falls to what is possibly his death. His face comes off and drifts onto the water below. The Batman finds the notebook that the Joker claimed had all of the family’s secret identities and finds the pages blank.
Afterwards, Batman tells a recovering Alfred Pennyworth about finding the Joker’s playing card in the Batcave. He confronted the Joker at the time in Arkham as Bruce Wayne. The Joker failed to acknowledge him and the Batman realized that the Joker does not care who he is underneath the cowl.
Death of the Family is a reference to A Death in the Family which is the Batman story where Jason Todd, the second Robin and current Red Hood, is murdered by the Joker. In the side stories to Death of the Family, Scott Snyder also brings into play the past each of the Bat Family shares with the Joker.
But in the end, Death of the Family is about the Batman and the Joker. A relationship that is at once terrifying as it is symbiotic. They exist as a team. Two separate entities that without each other would not survive. Chaos and order. Rules and anarchy. The family, as it were, just got in the way. Snyder does this justice. Expounding on the relationship and showing it to be more love than hate. Two great gladiators locked in an eternal struggle.
Though they survive, the family is damaged. There is now a schism between Batman and the rest of them. A broken trust. So in many ways the Joker succeeded. He did in many ways kill the family. For now they will never be what they once were.
Years later would come Endgame, Scott Snyder’s tale of the final battle between the Joker and the Batman that would end in their deaths. Of course current Batman readers know that the Bruce Wayne was revived, though somewhat damaged, so does that mean that the Joker will as well? If so we can only hope it is in the hands of Snyder or some other writer who respects the lore of the Dark Knight.