With all the talk about Batman 17, and after listening to the most recent podcast today, I want to air my view of the issue, the story arc, Snyder's Batman, and storytelling in comics in a more general sense.
Firstly, whatever you feel about 17 and DOTF, we must recognize that having fans react so strongly in any way is a mark of honor for the storytellers and it's something that ought to be commended. Any time a comic can completely divide and polarize the fan base is really a good time for comics--it gets us talking and thinking about how stories are told in comics and it's usually the time when most of us bare our true colors in terms of our passion and love for the characters.
Secondly, I don't think anyone can deny that DOTF has been a wild ride and a great Batman tale. Surely, years from now, we will look back upon Snyder and Capullo's run and talk about this story. Do I think this is Snyder's best arc? No; so far, The Black Mirror still reigns from on high for me. Do I think it's better than 90% of the books DC has put out in the past ~2 years? Absolutely. Is Greg Capullo the best penciller working today? Quite possibly. There's also the matter of Snyder-fanboyism. A lot of people are starting to throw around the notion that Snyder is overhyped and that certain comic book reviewers have conflated their personal feelings with Mr. Snyder with their professional opinions of his work. I won't address the latter part, because frankly, we'll never know if that's the case and it's really none of my business--or anyone elses--to simply speculate; let's give the professional reviewers the benefit of the doubt here. They definitely deserve it. I, personally, do not believe Snyder to be the best writer right now, but he certainly holds a spot in the top 5. My complaints with his work are not many, but I do have certain reservations about his work that don't allow him to occupy the number 1 spot in my list. The major issue that I have is that a lot of his work is thematically redundant. For example, every time a new story is being hyped up by the DC propaganda machine, Snyder is always recorded in interviews saying something very similar to "...it's going to be twisted/frightening/dark/etc..." Twisted and dark is his thing, I get that. That's what he does best, and honestly, I wouldn't want to read anyone else for that type of stuff. But, there's a certain point where that type of story becomes overdone and unnecessary. Snyder has been doing dark and twisted in Gotham since he started The Black Mirror--save for maybe a single issue, which featured Harper Row--and I do at times yearn to see what else he has in his tool bag. At this point, no one is really sure if he can do any other type of story and execute it well. I'm not saying I want any Batman story to be light-hearted or anything like that. But I think it would be interesting to see where Snyder can take Batman outside of what scares Bruce and what brings out his weaknesses. Batman is a character with so many dimensions, and if you take a long look at the whole of Snyder's run so far, a lot of it is focused on examining a very narrow portion of the character in a fun house mirror. I want more. I want to see how Snyder invisions Batman in totality. I'm counting on the Riddler story that he's got planned to bring out Batman's intellectual side, and I'm looking forward to the future to see what other aspects of Batman's character Snyder can tease out in the months ahead.
As for the events of 17, I think it's unfair and stupid to say that nothing happened, and I don't really want to have a conversation about whether or not something did or didn't happen or whether or not fans were purposefully misled. We don't need physical death in comics in order for something to be a big deal. The very notion that we do is hobbling to the industry and, as fans, we should be insulted by any reliance on the "comic book death." We should demand that writers stive for more mature and hard-hitting stories; stories that move us in ways that the death of a character could never do. And that's what Snyder has done with DOTF. He deserves much commendation for trying to break the mold.
The final moments of 17 disturbed me deeply. I was left thinking about them long after I closed the book and I found myself enamored by what the Joker did. In a lot of ways, it shows the worst parts of a sadistic man, and all the faults that Batman possesses as a character. Bruce is so badly emotionally damaged, and to see that be his ultimate downfall here is something very, very disturbing.
That said, I wanted nothing more than to have Batman kill the Joker in 17. I thought it would be the perfect beat for the story to take and it would introduce possibly years of new, interesting stories into the Batman mythos. When he said "No. Not like this. Not by accident." when Joker came to the cliff, my heart dropped, and I smiled a bit. I was rooting for Batman to do what he has never been able to do. I wanted him to pull the Joker off the edge and beat him to death with his bare hands in a fit of rage; the ultimate show of weakness and strength all at the same time.
But, it never happened. Instead, Batman did what no man would ever do in the face of such tragedy and emotional havoc. He totally gave up. He completely lost his nerve and as a consequence, it came off--to me--as a total moment of weakness and cowardice. How could anyone look to a man that not only allows a murdering psychopath to live and torture his loved ones, but actually saves him from certain death? This was such a disappointing moment for me in terms of how I view Batman as a hero. I completely lost faith in him.
Perhaps I'm too violent a man. Maybe I want my heroes to take vengeance rather than justice. But, whatever the case, I saw Bruce's inability to put the Joker down like a rabid dog as a fatal flaw. On the podcast, the conversation was about how Batman killing Joker would have been a show of weakness, and something that would make for interesting stories. And, to a certain extent, I agree. However, I think there's something to be said for it being a show of absolute strength as well. It would be Batman breaking his own personal code for the safety of his family. It would have been a man doing what he had to do, and Batman's most relateable characteristic is that he is just a man. Instead, we see Batman completely wimp out, and show his hand as an emotionally damaged man without the capability to handle the threats that he faces for real.
One more thing I want to touch on is something Tony said. That if Batman were to kill Joker, it would lead to a domino effect of him just killing other enemies. I disagree. If a man kills someone--especially with just cause, in defense of his loved ones--that doesn't make him automatically someone who will kill again. If someone broke into your home and you killed him in self defense, are you going to now go out and murder other criminals at night? Not likely. There's no reason why Bruce couldn't have killed the Joker in cold blood and not be turned into the Punisher.
Think of all the interesting stories that could be told with Batman trying to deal with crossing that line. The possibilities are endless. However, I don't let my disappointment in Batman ruin the consequences of the issue for me. I think Joker having driven a wedge between Bruce and the rest of the family is deliciously evil and I'm excited to see the fallout. However, I think all of that could have remained the same and hit harder and closer to home if Batman had actually done what any man would do.