If you are a true fan of the comic book genre then you likely have, on more than one occasion, engaged in more than one heated debate about a comic character, concept or a theme that you have read. Comics breed a sort of unbridled passion in fans of the medium because we, as readers, all grow up following a particular story and/or character and often, as a result, feel very strongly about the way a story is interpreted. This sort of "unbridled passion" (if you can excuse my flair for the dramatics) erupted in a heated debate on the most recent Comic Vine podcast (which you are more than welcome to listen to here). During the discussion I found myself at odds with Comic Vine's Editor in Chief. He thoroughly enjoyed the final issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's 'Death of the Family' story arc while I felt that the story fell sort of flat. You can read Tony's review (and the official Comic Vine review of the issue), here.
Being that Comic Vine encourages dissenting opinions and we are a community that respects that not everyone will agree on everything, I felt this a good opportunity to bring back a segment titled 'Brutally Honest' where I discuss my opinions on a particular subject be they controversial or not in an always honest (although not always brutal) sort of a way. Being that I grew up reading Batman, and the character is the very reason I read comic books today, I felt very strongly about issue #17 of BATMAN and thought it would be good to broach the subject, well, honestly. Batman is both a character and a series I feel very strongly about, and issue 17 was one I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, it is also one that left me feeling relatively disappointed when I reached the final page.== TEASER ==
Last week Batman fans saw the release of the final issue of 'Death of the Family,' the 17th issue of Scott Snyder's BATMAN series. The story, which followed Batman's first 'New 52' encounter with the Joker challenged the character in ways that we had not seen before. In this series, Snyder questioned the relationship between Batman and the Joker: how deep was it? Do they need one another? Who is the Batman without the Joker and vice versa? The theme was a compelling one that truly questioned the roles of these respective characters in the greater scope of the story. Not only did Snyder touch on the role of the Joker and how it relates to Batman, but he also questioned the role of the family Batman has built for himself over the course of his existence. How important is his family, and, will he do what he can to protect them? What is the role of Alfred, Barbara, Tim, Jason, Damian and Dick? How much do their lives mean to Bruce Wayne?
When we first heard about the Death of the Family we wondered what it could possibly be referring to. Would this be the literal death of Bruce's family? Would it be a metaphorical death? Would it be the final nail in the coffin that is the relationship between the Batman and the Joker and would it, ultimately, lead to the literal death of the family and the dissolution of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and those that mean the most to him? Now that the story is over, it is clear to see the Bruce Wayne has lost everything: everything that actually meant something to him. He has lost the trust of those who meant the most to him. He has placed their lives in danger and risked each and every one of their deaths all because he played the Joker's game. He gave his adversary what he wanted. See, for Batman, there was no way out. If Batman had consented to killing the Joker, the Joker would have won because he would have been the reason Batman would have killed: and Batman "doesn't kill." However, allowing him to escape and endangering the lives of those he loves has ultimately pushed them away, which was the Joker's goal from the very start of this arc. For Batman this was a "lose/lose" situation. No matter the end result, the Joker would have won in the end. The real issue here is, what matters most to Bruce? His pride and moral compass and his promise to never kill, or the safety of his family? How far will he allow himself to be pushed in the end? Evidently, very far.
Batman was born of the murder of his parents. The day that Joe Chill shot and killed Thomas and Martha Wayne was the day that Bruce Wayne died and Batman was born. His entire existence, who he is now, is because of that death. Yes, he has committed a life to fighting crime and not to kill, but even he, being "human" would be pushed to his limits, right? I mean, we all have limits. Alexander Hamilton once said, "I never expect to see a perfect work from an imperfect man," and there is tremendous truth to this statement. Humanity is flawed. Man is flawed. Batman is merely a man; he is not a God, and therefore he is flawed. It is the flaw of man that makes for the most compelling stories. It is the defense of honor, family and love that makes a character interesting. In my opinion, Batman was given the opportunity to question his principles if it meant protecting his family. In the end, he chose his principles. For a man that lost his family once, one would think that he wouldn't risk losing his family a second time. That he would at the very least question whether his principles should come after his family.
In one of the final scenes in Death of the Family Batman has a grip on the Joker and he is hanging him over the ledge of a cliff. This moment, which should have been the pinnacle moment of this entire arc, the moment that the creative team was leading up to, could have been infinitely more profound if Batman had only asked himself "what if I did kill the Joker? What if I chose to protect my sons and Gordon's daughter?" In that moment, Batman should have remembered Alfred's kidnapping, Barbara being shot at point blank, and Jason being beat with a crow bar. He should have recalled the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the Joker and asked himself whether the life of a psychopath was worth more than that of the innocent. He could have at the very least begged the question 'what if?' He could have been brought to the edge and even pulled back by some external force instead of allowing the Joker the luxury of making the decision for him. He could have killed him because, after all, the Joker would have won in the end regardless of the result.
To me, it is the humanity and flaw in Batman that are some of his most compelling characteristics. I read his stories because I know he's "human" and he can die. He can err just like any man. Yet in that moment, he showed no "unbridled passion," and the story was infinitely less interesting for it.
Writer Scott Snyder is one of the nicest guys working in comics today, and he defends his final issue by bringing up some interesting points. According to him, killing the Joker solves nothing:
As for why he doesn't kill the Joker, I really do believe by Batman breaking his code, Joker would win. Even if Joker claims he himself wouldn't, he would, as Joker would have made himself that special case he wants to be for Batman. That exceptional one.
And deep down, Batman would lose something essential in the killing - he'd be diminished. And I truly truly feel (and again, this is my take) that Gotham would punish Bruce for it, for failing that trial, and to punish him, it would bring the Joker back worse, and/or create someone new who would immediately come along to kill and maim and terrorize to a degree that would demand the same action by most logic. Gotham tests its heroes by trying to break them more than any other home in literature. That's why Batman killing the Joker would be a failure, and he would be punished worse. That's just my two cents though!
So: I think the closest my personal Batman would come is doing what he did at the falls in Batman #17 [and don't read this if you don't want SPOILERS!:)] : the idea is that Batman knows Joker cannot (likely) survive the drop. But - he can't kill Joker without breaking his rule. Should he break his code, no matter what Joker says about winning and losing, Batman knows he himself would lose. Still... this time, he's willing to see Joker die.
So... he plays Joker's own joke on him - claiming to know who Joker is - to get Joker to "kill himself" by forcing Batman to drop him.
Of course, last moment, Batman impulsively regrets it (hence the "no").
Anyway, that's my thinking on Batman killing the Joker. He allows Joker to "die" here, even if he does it with a moment of regret that startles and disturbs himself. This way, he hasn't technically broken his rule, but he has seen the Joker die. Joker dies by his own joke.
And so the title, "Death of the Family" is meant to refer to the death of Batman's relationship to Joker and the rogues - whom joker claims are his true family - as well as to the Bat-allies, who break from Bruce because he didn't trust them with enough in the story.
Again, just my take. Thanks from Gotham. S
In the end (in my personal opinion) we had a lot of build up for an ending that fell a little bit flat. Sure, there were certainly developments and yes, the Joker succeeded, but there was also an opportunity to show Bruce at his weakest point. As a human man defending a family and remembering the feeling of what it was like to lose his parents. That, to me, would compel anyone to at least question their convictions when forced to come face to face with an adversary that caused him so much pain. In that moment where Batman had the chance to drop him, he easily could have, and could have lived with the repercussions of his actions. If not that, then he could have been stopped by members of his family. He could have shown weakness and have been held back by some external force, and I think that would have been more interesting. And what if the Joker had died at his hand? That would be a cross that Batman would have to bear, and it would have made for an an infinite number of compelling stories, would it not? After all, nobody in comics dies forever, right?
What did you think of issue #17 of BATMAN? Do you think that Batman should have killed the Joker? Did you enjoy the issue?