|BATMAN No. 17, April 2013|
This conclusion to the twenty-three issue cross-title story-arc, “Death Of The Family”, and the third best-selling comic of February 2013 having sold a staggering 150,684 copies, owes more than a fleeting nod of acknowledgement to ‘slasher horror flick’ director Tobe Hooper. Whether it be a dazed, chair-bound Batman groggily waking to see a hand-puppet made from the bones of a dead animal, or a ‘Leatherfaced’ Joker proudly revealing to the Dark Knight that he’s sat at a macabre meal beset with flies and ghoulish gourmets, the similarities between Scott Snyder’s script and the 1974 “Bryanston Pictures” distributed film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are claustrophobically close. Indeed one could argue that the only thing missing from this thirty-one page parody of the Texan movie-maker’s best known production is a chainsaw and perhaps a wizened semi-mummified relative sat at the end of the dinner table in a rocking chair.
As such “The Punchline” will doubtless appeal to many a horror fan. But such a sinisterly sickening storyline is perhaps just a little too dark, grotesque and unfunny for a caper involving the Clown Prince of Crime. Especially when it is revealed part way through the narrative that the crimefighter’s arch-nemesis has supposedly hacked off the faces of the rest of the Bat family, Bruce Wayne’s young son included, and promptly has the bloody skin served to them on ice as an appetiser. As the Joker himself says “That’s not… funny.”
Such a villainous plan is admittedly diabolical and shocking but it is also disgustingly disconcerting, and thus arguably unworthy of being printed within the pages of “DC Comics” premier comic book title; at least one supposedly being aimed at attracting an adolescent audience. Fortunately, the green-haired ‘faceless’ clown has actually done no such thing, and when Batman finally comes to his friends’ aid their mutilation is revealed to be all part of “a twisted joke.”
What then follows is far more typical of Jerry Robinson’s co-creation, as the Joker spends a couple of pages duking it out with his “old friend”, toe to toe, in the catacombs of a cave. There’s even the obligatory madcap scene of the psychopathic murderer somehow managing to lay his hands upon both a huge axe and then later his infamous signature crowbar. Sadly the climax to this ‘dance’ is bitterly disappointing as the homicidal maniac throws himself into an abyss rather than hear his cowled foe whisper to him “who you really are under there.”
Greg Capullo would also seem to be somewhat ‘out of sorts’ with his artwork during this troubling tale of facial disfigurement, grinning butlers and double-headed kittens. The New Yorker’s pencils are outstanding, albeit grisly, when depicting the plot’s two main adversaries. But just as soon as the bandages are removed from the Bat family members' heads, his illustrations take a discernible turn for the worse. Most notably when drawing the flawlessly fresh-faced Nightwing, Red Robin and Damian Wayne.
|The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 17 by Tony S. Daniel|