Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Return of the Joker

Fans and insiders alike have known about the Joker's impending return this fall, starting with Batman #13, as the five-part Scott Snyder-penned "Death of a Family" story arc kicks into gear. This is Joker's first true starring appearance in The New 52 (an impressive feat to think about; not using the most iconic villain in history for an entire year of an important initiative) and as a result of his initial cameo in Detective Comics #1, where his face happened to be cut off, a new look was designed for him by Snyder's artist Greg Capullo.

Naturally Capullo wanted to keep the new look under wraps until the issue came out, but between the recently released solicitations and teasers, we have a fairly complete picture. Capullo expressed his dissatisfaction with the DC Powers that Be in typical fashion, claiming he is mature enough by now to not inflict property damage with his rage, and hinting at a marketing/editorial conspiracy where they decided to in effect inoculate the public to the massive impending horror the story will bring. This is perfectly in line with the man I saw at the Batman panel of NY Comic Con last year, as well as the one who in an interview, when asked about his reaction to getting to draw Joker, explained that "Well, as soon as I heard, my pants got very tight and my nipples stiffened." Thus confirming my theory that artists should generally not be interviewed (and Germany loves David Hasselhoff.)

In truth the new Joker is rather disturbing. He was not terribly comforting or aesthetically pleasing before, but the childlike aspect of his image, the purple suit and the flower (when you overlook that it shoots acid) felt familiar, somewhat comforting, and even enhanced the surprising nature of his psychopathy. Now with his face cut off, and him forced to quite literally hold his deviant smile in place, he has become physically separated from his familiar iconic deformities. A villain who already had considerable personality issues before he was able to remove his face was scary enough.

"Death of the Family" is obviously a twist on the Batman story "Death in the Family" in which the Joker famously takes a crowbar to Jason Todd and ends his tenure as Robin (by popular consent.) While I know no details, it seems Mr.s Snyder and Capullo have committed themselves entirely to a pure injection of the horror genre into the flagship Batman title. While the Court of Owls story that preceded it gave us a long elaborate plot with re-imaginings of Batman's very role and Gotham's past, not to mention the history and humanity of Bruce Wayne himself along with some pleasing superheroics, "Death" is shaping up to be a short, quick, intense dive into the horrific. According to Snyder Joker is a villain with a plan, armed with knives and traps, looking to shock and with a deliberate mission. The title of the arc implies that not everyone is making it out alive (look for great Robin and Batgirl confrontations) but Snyder is also comparing it to Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum, making it his definitive take on Joker and attempt to make us remember his capacity for evil. Combining the unsettling, moody manipulations of Hitchcock with the gore and violence and malevolence of modern grindhouse and torture blockbusters, I can quite honestly see Snyder scaring the bejeezus out of me. And as glad as I am Capullo has no hand in the dialogue, the idea of his newly redesigned Joker showing up in my apartment has a completely different effect on the state of my pants.

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