Staring in October, 2012, "Death of the Family" is second Batman cross over spinning out of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's relaunched Batman title, featuring Joker's return to Gotham City. Like The Night of the Owls before it, "Death of the Family" isn't a traditional cross over in the sense of the reader needing to read each title in a specific order, the main story will be told in the pages of Batman, while the other titles will tell their own stories within the larger arc. Titles that will tie into the story include Nightwing, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, Red Hood and The Outlaws, Catwoman, Teen Titans and Suicide Squad. While the story begins in the #13th issue of Batman, the tie in books will begin their stories in issues #14 or #15.
The first issues of each of the title's Death of the Family issues feature special die-cut covers illustrated by Batman artist Greg Capullo, in which a mask of Joker's skin/face folds over an image of the starring character in each book.
After being caught by Batman yet again, Joker was shortly transfered to Arkham Asylum, where he had already put plans into action to escape. Inside, somehow Dollmaker is able to enter Joker's cell, as the Clown Prince of Crime seemed to have been expecting him. While inside, Dollmaker carefully cuts off the skin from Joker's face, beginning yet another transformation of the character. Joker would leave the skin of his face on the wall of his cell, as a message, but wouldn't be heard from again in some time.
During his absence, rumors spread fast through out the entire DC Universe about Joker's ultimate fate. Some, like Captain Boomerang believe the Joker to be dead, as he relayed such sentiments to Harley Quinn during a Suicide Squad mission. Meanwhile, in Gotham, citizens begin to hold protests, believing either the Arkham Asylum staff or Batman had unjustly murdered the Joker, while keeping his face as a macabre trophy.
Months later, as Harvey Bullock plays a prank using Joker's face on a rookie evidence room attendant in the GCPD building, Joker watches on from the shadows in an abandoned building across the street, as he says to himself "time to put on a happy face!"
After a yearlong absence, Joker makes his return to Gotham City with an attack on the Gotham City Police Department, in order to retrieve his skinned face. During the attack, Joker kills numerous policemen and women, all while taunting his old "friend" James Gordon. By the time Batman arrives, Joker has already disappeared with his face. Later, while conversing with Alfred, Damian Wayne, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon, Bruce witnesses a TV broadcast by the Joker, where he uses the son of his very first victim as a puppet, to announce his plans to kill Mayor Hady at midnight. During a stake out to prevent any attack on Hady, Bruce feels as if something is wrong, and Joker revisiting past crimes seems a bit off. Something eventually clicks with Bruce as he soon finds that instead of the Mayor, Joker had poisoned all the police guarding him with a variation of his Joker Venom, that causes frowns instead of smiles. Within the toxin, three dumby chemicals are found that don't contribute to any of the toxin's effects, but Bruce figures out it's a message, as the first letter of each chemical spells "ACE," as in the Ace Chemical Processing Plant, where the man who would become the Joker, fell into a vat of chemicals that changed him forever.
Shortly after arriving at the Ace plant, Bruce finds Joker, dressed up in his old Red Hood gang attire, from the night he and Batman first met. Bruce, however, realises that the person in the Red Hood costume was not in fact the Joker, and so charges at Joker's accomplice, only to be knocked in an empty vat, which becomes locked and starts to fill with the same chemicals during the original accident that had created the Joker. It is then revealed that Harley Quinn is under the hood, and despite her absolute devotion to Joker, even she is visibly distraught, tearfully telling Batman that something is different her Mr. J, unable to even begin to describe his plan. As Bruce demands to know where the Joker really is, elsewhere in Wayne Manor, wearing his skinned face as a macabre mask, Joker brutally attacks Alfred Pennyworth with a hammer.
Having escaped the ACE Chemicals plant, Bruce comes back to his Manor to find Alfred missing. Searching through out his home, he finds an audio tape, of Joker addressing him, claiming he was throwing a party, and needed to borrow Alfred. The sounds of Alfred screaming while Joker burns his eyes with ammonia are too much for Bruce, as he crushes the tape and his stereo in anger, leaving to search for Alfred immediately after. Having noticed a label that simply said "Gordon" on the tape, Bruce concludes that James Gordon is Joker's next target, and tries to get him to go into hiding. Gordon refuses, claiming he doesn't want to leave his men on the front lines while he hides, but it's already too late, as somehow Joker managed to dose Gordon with a lethal amount of blood thinners, causing all of his blood to begin to empty from his body. Bruce manages to give Gordon a coagulant and get him to the hospital where he meets with Nightwing outside. Dick is the only person Bruce tells about Alfred, believing that if the other "family" members knew, their emotions would cause them to become reckless, thus putting themselves in danger. Bruce recruits Dick in his effort to stop Joker's next plan, which he believes to be a recreation of one of his original crimes, poisoning Gotham's water supply.
Sure enough, Bruce finds Joker waiting for him at the reservoir, but this time Joker has decided to get their "business" out of the way, perfectly choreographing what would have happened. He detonates a bomb at the aqueduct Nightwing is stationed at, and had already taken the liberty to personally kill the few that would have been poisoned if the plan had gone through like last time. Sickened, Bruce charges at the Joker, who manages to get him tangled up in heavy duty wires, lead by his signature chatter teeth. He begins to speak to Bruce, and reveal his true plan, and that is, to take out his "family." Joker feels as if the allies Bruce has surrounded himself with over the years have made him weak. Joker begins to address said allies who he knows are probably listening in through the raid, and plainly states: "I know who you are!" He continues to state that he knows every single thing about them, and believes them to be nothing more than a distraction to his king, Batman, who Joker says believes it too. Joker claims to know a secret that Batman has been hiding from all his allies, and that within 72 hours, they'll all be dead, and Batman will be the one who kills them. When the GCPD arrive to arrest the Joker, he has shot at with rocket launchers. In the struggle, Batman was poisoned and falls into the reservoir.
Batman wakes up in the Batcave, with Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, and Dick Grayson there looking for answers. Batman reveals to his "family" that years ago, in an early encounter with the Joker, afterwards when he returned to the cave, he found a simple joker playing card in a puddle outside of his boat. There was nothing too the card, and Bruce believed that Joker simply attached it to the boat to taunt him, saying that the evidence proved that there was no way Joker had infiltrated the cave and learned his identity. The rest of Bruce's allies have a hard time believing Bruce, but he attempts to reassure them that their identities are not in danger, then leaves to search for Joker's hide out. Batman then tracks down the cell phone that Joker used in order to detonate the bomb, which leads him to a guard at Arkham Asylum. The guard reveals that Joker has taken the Asylum hostage and black mailing many of the guards into working with him. With Joker's location in his mind, Bruce heads off to face his old foe.
In Arkham, Bruce finds himself confronted with many trials set up by the Joker, with the theme of the Asylum being Bruce's Castle, and the inmates his royal subjects. After making his way through the Asylum, Bruce finds Joker waiting for him in Jeremiah Arkham's living quarters, along with his "closet" subjects, Riddler, Two-Face and Penguin. Joker has a number of civilians dressed up like members of the Justice League, having them attempt to pull the electrified sword (chainsaw) from the stone, illustrating that he could have been the jester to any one of those kings or queens, but he chose Batman. Bruce manages to get past the blockage in the door after Joker ends up killing the man dressed as Superman, but before he's able to do anything, Joker alerts him to a number of screens showing all of his allies defeated, and captured by the Joker. With his allies captured, Bruce is forced to obey Joker, and sit in an electric chair, that causes him to pass out, proving Joker's point that his "family" makes him weak. With Batman knocked out, Two Face and the others contemplate killing him right then and there, but Joker doesn't allow it, dismissing them from his grand scheme. When Two Face becomes enraged, Joker locks him and the others behind a cage door, as Riddler, the only one who could find an escape, falls unconscious due to being poisoned by the Joker. Two Face is left to be berated by Joker, who starts to take Batman away to complete his plan, but before he leaves, he throws Two Face and Penguin a bone, showing them a surprise he has for Batman under a bloody silver platter.
Attacks on the Family
Prior to Batman's eventual capture by the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime targets many of his allies and some enemies too. Amongst his attacks, Joker kills Nightwing's close friend Jimmy Clark and ex-girlfriend Raya Vestri, before destroying much of Amusement Mile, where Dick had set up Haly's Circus as a permanent fixture. Joker lure's Batman's son Damian Wayne to the Gotham Zoo, where he forces the young Robin to fight a man he believes to be his father infected with the Joker toxin. Joker also manages to kidnap Batgirl's mother, and uses her severed finger to propose a twisted marriage to Batgirl. James Gordon Jr. manages to get involved by betraying his sister, offering her to Joker in return for his mother's life. Finally, Joker manages to kidnap both Red Robin and Red Hood, chaining them together to supposedly decide whose father dies and whose lives, while their respective teams, the Teen Titans and Outlaws travel to Gotham in search for their leaders, eventually teaming up to face Joker's distractions. All of these instances conclude with each hero being woken up by Joker, dressed in a tuxedo, presenting them with the silver platter he prepared for Batman.
Not only does Joker target many of Batman's allies, he also targets many of Gotham's rogues. He finds Catwoman and begins to play emotional head games with her, mocking her relationship with Batman, and trying to sever whatever tie she has with him. After enlisting Harley Quinn to help initiate his plans against Batman, their relationship turns sour as Harley refuses to go through a similar "transformation" to be more like Joker, having found some sense of independence on the Suicide Squad. The Joker also manages to recruit many of Gotham's other rogues including Clayface, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Two Face and Penguin, whose right hand man Ogilvy uses the chaos created by Joker to raise to power, taking Penguin's seat in Gotham's crime world.
Bruce wakes up in a cave at a dinner table where all of his allies sit around him, tied up with sacks over their heads. Joker reveals that he's doused the entire room in gasoline, and placed flints under Bruce's chair, so if he gets up, the room will ignite. Joker then reveals that Alfred is alive, but infected with Joker toxin, as he summons the butler to lift the sacks off all the family's heads, revealing them all to be wrapped in bloody bandages. Under each of their platters are what look to be their faces, as Joker explains that under his grin, is just more grin. Joker continues on to poke and prod at his and Bruce's relationship, until Bruce has had enough, and stands up, igniting the gasoline around him, but knowing where he is in the cave system, blows a hole in the roof to allow water to douse the flames. As Joker attempts to escape, Bruce attends to his family, finding all their faces to be intact, as Dick tells him to go after Joker. As Bruce leaves to chase down his old foe, a trap at the table triggers, filling the room with Joker's toxin, leaving the family to go wild and attack each other. Deeper in the cave, Bruce confronts Joker, having faith that his family will pull through, and devoting all his time to the clown. Bruce proclaims that it's over, their entire game, that he's "broken the spell." He informs Joker that he did what the clown couldn't, and looked all the way into his foe, finding out his name, his history, his family, much to the Joker's displeasure. Bruce attempts to whisper his information into the Joker's ear, but before he can, Joker covers Bruce's mouth with an electric buzzer and falls into the abyss of the river system within the caves. Bruce then returns to find that Alfred had somehow broken through the Joker's toxin and gotten the family to cease their fighting as well.
Sometime later, while Alfred recovers, Bruce tells him a story that he had never mentioned anyone. Shortly after he had taken Dick into his care, he visited Arkham Asylum with some of Gotham's elite. He managed to break free of the group and find his way to the Joker's cell, where he attempted to return the card left in the Batcave. Joker turned around and looked directly at Bruce, but more through him, as he didn't care to see who Batman was, not even reacting in the slightest. Bruce then informs Alfred that he has invited the family over to meet after everything that has happened, but soon finds that everyone has declined to meet with him, Dick being the only one to actually call to inform him. Alone, Bruce enters the cave and sits down at his computer where Joker's face still has an "IDENTITY UNKNOWN" label on it. The computer finishes deciphering an extra compound found in Joker's most recent toxin strain, the element hahnium, whose element symbol is "Ha."