There's always been an essential tension to the whole Batman franchise for me. On one hand, you have the gritty yin/yang "we're not so different you and me" duel of duality between Batman and the Joker. On the other hand, you have The Batman Family, the very phrase bringing to mind the entire crew (including Ace the Bat-Hound and a sullen Jason Todd) sitting around a table for Thanksgiving dinner.
You've seen this tension play out as the Batman movies rolled out since 1989; the very Batman/Joker-focused "Batman" gives way slowly to the addition of Robin, more villains than you can shake a stick at, and finally Batgirl in 1997's "Batman and Robin." So when Chris Nolan took over, he was like: "no more Bat Family!"
In the current Bat-Event running through most of the Bat-Titles, "Death of the Family," this tension between the two "styles" of Batman storytelling seems to be at the fore. And "Batman" #15, hitting stores Wednesday 12/12, really is the "tipping point" in the crossover series that puts this question to the test: can Batman really maintain this jovial (at times bickering) Bat-Family and also keep the iconic purity of the Batman/Joker conflict?
According to the Joker, this answer is a resounding, quite bloody, "NO."
And while I won't spoil the ending of this particular issue, it really gets to the heart of this deep, elemental conflict between Hero and Villain that might seem, to some, a controversial interpretation (an interpretation that I will be happy to delve into and explore once this comic hits stands).
The "Bat Family" convenes
That said, a lot of "Batman" #15 also involves what is a central Bruce Wayne character trait, one that both has saved his ass on many occasions, and has also gotten him in a lot of trouble. And that is: he doesn't trust enough the people closest to him. Whether he's building "fail-safes" against his own Justice League members and spying on them -- or, as in the case in this issue, keeping vital information from his kith and kin -- Bruce just doesn't fully TRUST. He doesn't let people get close enough to do this, and he doesn't let people get close enough to him because he doesn't want to feel completely crushed when they die (like, of course, his parents did).
And thus lies the paradox of the "Batman Family" concept to me. And the fact that me and the Joker are even anywhere close on the same page regarding this paradox is a scary thing -- but this is a scary book.
To me, the danger awaiting Bruce Wayne at the end of "Death of the Family" isn't so much the death of this character or that -- though that could most certainly happen -- but the death of the bond of friendship that served as the "glue" of the Batman Family. And I think that's what writer Scott Snyder is going for here. In this sense, the Joker is just a metaphor for things that were always nibbling and gnawing away at the relationships between Bruce and the rest all the team.
Batman ruins a perfectly good dinner
Special mention should be made for Greg Capullo's art in this issue, as once again he provides the perfect moody backdrop for a dark, ofter disturbing story. Capullo shows his range by presenting an almost idyllic, smiling Bat-Family in one scene, and quickly switching into the macabre without missing a beat. He also does great "pull-out" panels, ones in which he really kicks the artistry up to 11 and adds extra detail and texture; reference the one panel where Bats almost punches Joker's face off for an example.
Where do we go from here in "Death of the Family?" Ironically, this issue might seem tame in comparison to what is to come -- and the last time in a while we see the whole gang "sitting around the dinner table," so to speak.
Batman #15 hits stores tomorrow, 12/12/12!