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DC Relaunch Batman:

“Death of the Family” (2012-2013)

A year after DC relaunched its entire continuity, the Joker hadn’t been seen since its first month, when Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1 had stirred discussion by having the Joker’s face cut off. 12 months later, it was time for the Joker to return in grand fashion: in a crossover running through most of the Batman titles.

Death of the Family checklist

The main story ran in five issues of Batman Vol. 2 (#13-17). In the first chapter, the Joker made his dramatic return with a raid on Gotham’s police headquarters. In that chapter’s climax, the Joker attacked Alfred in Wayne Manor while Batman was distracted with Harley Quinn.

In the second chapter, Commissioner Gordon was attacked. In that chapter’s climax, Batman met with the Joker, who claimed to know the secret identities of the entire Batman Family and promised to kill them within 72 hours.

In the third chapter, Batman met with the rest of the Batman Family and discussed the Joker’s assertions, during which Batman revealed that the Joker might have penetrated the Batcave years before. Batman didn’t believe it to be possible, but the rest of the Batman Family was understandably upset not to have been told. Later in that chapter, Batman followed up on cellular phone traffic, leading him to confront one of the Joker’s goons, who revealed that that Joker had been running Arkham Asylum for the past year. Batman then entered the Asylum.

In the fourth and penultimate chapter, Batman made his way through the Asylum, confronting various obstacles, including other villains whom the Joker had coerced. In that issue’s climax, Batman discovered that the Joker had beaten and captured the rest of the Batman family, and he effectively surrendered, allowing himself to be electrocuted.

In the fifth and final chapter, Batman found himself seated at a table with the captured members of his vigilante family, whose bloody faces were wrapped in bandages. It seemed that the Joker had cut off their faces, as he had done to himself. But this was a ruse, and Batman escaped, confronting the Joker. In a nice turn, Batman teases the Joker by claiming he has learned the Joker’s identity, the way the Joker claimed to know the Batman Family’s identities. The Joker fell, his removed face falling cinematically — the last we say of him in the story. In the epilogue, Batman reveals that he had visited Arkham Asylum after the Joker’s potential violation of the Batcave. He believed then and still believes that the Joker didn’t know the Batman Family’s identities and wouldn’t have cared, but he didn’t know how to explain this certainty to the others. His claim to know the Joker’s identity, likewise, was a bluff.

It was a good story, filled with melodramatic turns that mostly manage to work. In many ways, “Death of the Family” reads as the ultimate Joker story, in which he orchestrates an organized offensive against the entire Batman Family and their loved ones. The assault on Alfred, mirroring the Joker’s earlier killing of Jason Todd (in “Death in the Family,” after which this storyline was named) is effective. Subsequently, Batman does seem too little affected by the fact that Alfred is being held (and presumably tortured) by a madman, and he fails to notify the others of Alfred’s capture (a failure that is both illogical and unforgivable, since it suggests the Joker might know everyone’s true identities). But Batman’s secrecy and ability to use his own allies has been a part of the character for years (e.g. the “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storyline). The way Batman tracks down the Joker (through cellular phone calls) is a bit unconvincing, as is the idea that Batman wouldn’t notice the Joker was running Arkham for so long. But the Batman’s journey through Arkham is atmospheric and effective. And the bizarre meeting of the Batman Family, over a dinner table in which all are made to believe their faces have been removed, is a wonderful turn. The final conflict with the Joker is also well-done, with Batman’s taunting (a lie, we interestingly find out) providing a nice twist.

True, it’s not clear why the Joker wouldn’t have removed the Batman Family’s faces. And while it’s a nice idea that the Joker, who’s sometimes been considered a postmodern individual without a true identity, wouldn’t be concerned with such things, it’s not clear how he could have done everything he did without this information. Nor is it clear how the Joker could be so scheming in the story, yet be said to be a representative of chaos who wouldn’t at least see the efficacy in knowing the Batman Family’s secret identities. (This same contradiction, between the Joker’s scheming and him being considered a representative of chaos, is also present in the film The Dark Knight, although there the chaos talk is all self-serving bluster, whereas we’re apparently supposed to take it a bit too seriously in “Death of the Family.”) Also, Batman’s rather bad behavior to his colleagues, which endangered them and their loved ones, is never fully addressed. Still, the story largely works, has several memorable sequences, and (rather impressively) manages to fulfill its promise as a major Joker story.

The story also pays homage to past Joker stories, acting in some ways as their culmination — although it can’t really be this, since everyone knows the Joker will inevitably return. Many past Joker stories are referenced. But so too is the theme, especially present in The Dark Knight Returns (by Frank Miller) and Arkham Asylum (by Grant Morrrison and Dave McKean), that the Joker loves Batman. Here, that’s presented more as an emotion than a homoerotic tension, but it’s impressive to see this theme addressed so strongly in the monthly Batman titles.

Far less impressive, however, were the various tie-ins across the various Batman titles. For one thing, the Joker seemed to be everywhere at once, attacking everyone and orchestrating everything. This strained logic, but it also ran against the idea of the Joker as a creature of chaos. For another thing, it’s hard to fit many of these stories into continuity.

There are really only two main places during the central story in which other stories may easily take place. The first is during the first chapter (in Batman Vol. 2 #13), after the Joker’s return (and attack on police headquarters) but before he threatens the mayor, which leads directly into the issue’s climax. There is, between these two events, an unspecified span of time during which Gotham is aware that the Joker has returned but before he’s made his next move, and several stories must be inserted into this gap. Afterwards, Alfred is captured, and while we may be used to Batman being somewhat cold, it’s hard to imagine him rather cavalierly battling villains like Clayface without so much as mentioning that the Joker’s holding Alfred. Moreover, the events of the second chapter (in Batman Vol. 2 #14) take place over a single day, during which Commissioner Gordon is also attacked and culminating in the Joker’s claim to know everyone’s identity. If it’s hard to imagine Batman behaving normally while Alfred’s being held prisoner, it’s equally hard to imagine others (including Batgirl, who’s the daughter of Commissioner Gordon) not reacting to news of his attack.

After the Joker’s claim to know everyone’s identity, Batman’s left unconscious. When he revives, some unspecified time later, the rest of the Batman Family is around him. There’s a little bit of room, while Batman’s unconscious, for the Joker to get up to a bit of trouble; indeed, some stories must take place here. But a far greater gap occurs after Batman’s revival and conversation with his colleagues. In the third chapter (in Batman Vol. 2 #15), Batman immediately leaves this conversation to pursue the lead that takes him to Arkham Asylum and the Joker. But between this conversation and Batman’s arrival at Arkham, a slew of tie-ins occur, during which the Joker captures the Batman Family, one by one. Strangely, the Batman Family is apparently so dysfunctional that it doesn’t learn of these disappearances, despite them happening sequentially (since the Joker is involved in each). It’s also astounding that that Joker could accomplish this in such a short span of time. On the positive side, each of these particular stories ended with the Joker offering the captured character a bloody platter, setting up the dinner table scene in the final chapter (in Batman Vol. 2 #17).

Of course, the quality of these tie-ins varied. And with DC publishing so many Batman titles each month, this storyline had more issues connected to it than had been published of most of DC’s relaunched series.

“Death of the Family” didn’t lead to any lasting change. Despite the capture of the entire Batman Family, and the story’s echoes of “Death in the Family,” the Joker didn’t succeed in killing anyone. Even the Joker knowing their secret identities was undone by the ending. The story is a memorable Joker tale — an impressive feat. But it didn’t alter Batman’s status quo.

Yet a single month later, Damien Wayne would be killed off in the pages of Batman, Inc., leading to another, smaller Batman crossover, entitled “Requiem.”

The Joker Returns

Batman Vol. 2 #13

“Death of the Family: Knock Knock” -- 24 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion
  • one year after (the Joker’s appearance in) Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1, the Joker attacks the Gotham Police Department headquarters, retrieving his face
  • the Joker issues a threat on Mayor Hardy, then kills those in the room with the mayor
  • Batman heads to ACE Chemicals, where he sees a character in the Joker’s original Red Hood costume and gets captured, but the person in the Red Hood costume turns out to be Harley Quinn
  • while the Joker is distracted at ACE Chemicals, the Joker attacks Wayne Manor, threatening Alfred Pennyworth

“Tease” -- 6 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; art by Jock
  • the Joker insists that Harley Quinn accept the mutilation of her face and puts her in a Red Hood costume (placing this before the ACE Chemicals sequence in this issue’s main story)
  • this story must take place during Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #14-15, which isn’t impossible, although it’s hard to square this story’s more submissive Harley Quinn with the version shown there

cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Dec 2012; published 10 Oct 2012

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The Joker Returns: Batman and Damien

Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #13

“Eclipsed” -- 20 pages

  • written by Peter J. Tomasi; pencils by Patrick Gleason (pages 1-15) and Tomas Giorello (pages 16-20); inks by Mick Gray (pages 1-15) and Tomas Giorello (pages 16-20)
  • although not labelled a “Death of the Family” tie-in, the story reflects that the Joker has returned, placing this during Batman Vol. 2 #13 (after the Joker’s raid on the police headquarters but before his attack on the mayor, since Gordon here refers to “round two” coming soon)
  • Batman and Robin investigate an eclipse (interestingly, an omen not unlike those at the beginning of Batman Vol. 2 #13) that’s causing technological problems, but flesh-eating zombies appear in Gotham
  • Robin, searching for Joker clues in the sewers, is captured by zombies

cover by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Dec 2012; published 10 Oct 2012

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Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #14

“Devoured” -- 20 pages

  • written by Peter J. Tomasi; pencils by Patrick Gleason and Tomas Giorello; inks by Mick Gray
  • continues from Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #13
  • in the zombie lair, Robin battles the Saturnian, who’s preparing to feast on many humans
  • Batman rescues Robin and reveals that the Joker is secretly pulling the strings, the confronts his own fears of Damien getting hurt

cover by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Jan 2013; published 14 Nov 2012

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The Joker Returns: Catwoman

Catwoman Vol. 4 #13

“Burnt Offerings: A Death of the Family Prelude!” -- 20 pages

  • written by Ann Nocenti; pencils by Rafa Sandoval; inks by Jordi Tarragona
  • labelled a “Death of the Family” prelude issue, though there’s no reason not to place it later
  • Selina Kyle pursues a shadowy figure who ambushes her with toys
  • at the end, Catwoman rescues a child imprisoned within a chess piece during an explosion

die-cut cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Dec 2012; published 17 Oct 2012

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Catwoman Vol. 4 #14

“Death of the Family: To Skin a Cat” -- 20 pages

  • pencils by Rafa Sandoval; inks by Jordi Tarragona
  • continues directly from Catwoman Vol. 4 #13 (despite this not being labelled a prelude issue and potentially blowing the Joker’s reveal in Batman Vol. 2 #13, unless both issues are placed after)
  • the Joker is revealed to have been behind the events of the previous issue
  • after the Joker tortures Catwoman, the two fight until Catwoman accuses the Joker of being the one in love with Batman, and the two simply stop

cover by Trevor McCarthy; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Jan 2013; published 21 Nov 2012

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The Joker Returns: Other Villains

Detective Comics Vol. 2 #15

“The Dirt Nap” -- 20 pages

  • written by John Layman; art by Jason Fabok
  • features Commissioner Gordon before he’s hospitalized in Batman Vol. 2 #14 and makes no reference to Alfred’s kidnapping, although Batman says that the Joker is threatening Gotham (since little time occurs between Alfred’s kidnapping and the attack on Gordon, these facts suggest and early placement for this story)
  • reveals that Clayface has been under the influence of Poison Ivy for a month
  • Batman battles Clayface, who’s on a rampage because Poison Ivy has disappeared
  • unknown to Clayface, the Penguin has had Poison Ivy, whom he considers an eco-terrorist who’s threatened the gangster’s operations, buried alive
  • the Penguin is leaving town, due to an agreement with the Joker struck following “Men of Worship”
  • Batman cures Clayface of Poison Ivy’s influence, and the false memories of their love that go along with them, and Clayface escapes
  • in the end, Ignatius Ogilvy, the Penguin’s lieutenant, digs up Poison Ivy and declares himself Emperor Penguin

“Love in Bloom” -- 8 pages

  • written by John Layman; art by Andy Clarke
  • following the events of “The Dirt Nap,” Clayface sits in the sewers and recalls how he fell under Poison Ivy’s influence
  • Clayface leaves the sewers and meets Poison Ivy at a rendezvous point, only to assault her (the story ends ambiguously)

die-cut cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Feb 2013; published 5 Dec 2012

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The Family Under Threat

Batman Vol. 2 #14

“Death of the Family: Funny Bones” -- 22 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion
  • continues directly from Batman Vol. 2 #13
  • Batman escapes from ACE Chemicals (without encountering Harley Quinn again)
  • returning home, Batman finds that Alfred has been captured
  • Batman visits Commissioner Gordon, having deduced he’s the Joker’s next victim, and barely saves him from bleeding to death due to an anti-coagulant
  • some time later, with Gordon in the hospital, Batman sends Nightwing to the Aqueduct while Batman heads to the Reservoir (both sites of a previous Joker face-off)
  • at the Reservoir, the Joker blows up the Aqueduct by remote and reveals to Batman that he knows the Batman Family’s secret identities and will kill them within 72 hours

“Men of Worship” -- 6 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; art by Jock
  • the Joker meets with the Penguin to deliver an ultimatum, although we aren’t told what it is (leading into Detective Comics Vol. 2 #15)

cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Jan 2013; published 14 Nov 2012

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Batman Vol. 2 #15

“Death of the Family: But Here’s the Kicker” -- 21 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion
  • continues directly from Batman Vol. 2 #14
  • the police intervene at the Reservoir, engaging the Joker’s men, and the Joker infects Batman with a new toxin
  • sometime later, Batman revives with Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, and Barbara Gordon around him, and they all talk about whether the Joker knows their identities
  • Nightwing mentions that the Joker freed Raya from prison (placing this after Nightwing Vol. 3 #14), and Barbara mentions the Joker captured her mother (placing that sequence after the beginning of Batgirl Vol. 4 #14)
  • Batman reveals that the Joker may have gotten into the Batcave, but he rejects this possibility, despite it being supported by the Joker’s recent actions which suggest he knows their identities
  • Batman traces a cellphone call to a guard at Arkham Asylum and learns that the Joker has been running the asylum for almost a year
  • in the end, Batman enters Arkham Asylum to confront the Joker, narrating that he saw love in the Joker’s eyes at the Reservoir

“Red Light, Green Light” -- 7 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; art by Jock
  • the Joker talks to — and frees — the Riddler in Arkham Asylum, then shows the Riddler his plans

cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Feb 2013; published 12 Dec 2012

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Batgirl Vol. 4 #14

“Death of the Family: A Courtship of Razors” -- 20 pages

  • written by Gail Simone; pencils by Ed Benes and Daniel Sampere; inks by Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere, Mark Irwin (pages 11-12), and Vicente Cifuentes (pages 13-20)
  • Barbara Gordon gets a phone call and believes the disguised voice on the other end, who insinuates that he knows her secret identity, to be the Joker
  • Batgirl stops an ambush at her house, then searches for the Joker
  • when Batgirl finds the Joker, he says he’ll kill her mother unless Barbara marries him, and he shows her her mother’s ring finger, cut from her hand
  • the first 11 pages of this story must occur before or during Batman Vol. 2 #15 (in which Barbara mentions her mother’s kidnapping), while the final 9 pages of this story begin a sequence that runs to the end of Batgirl Vol. 4 #16 (her final appearance before Batman Vol. 2 #16-17)

cover by Ed Benes; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Jan 2013; published 14 Nov 2012

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Capturing the Family: Nightwing

Nightwing Vol. 3 #15
occurs after the talk with Batman in Batman Vol. 2 #15; briefly features Batgirl (making this best read before Batgirl Vol. 4 #15-16; published by DC Comics; cover-dated Feb 2013
Nightwing Vol. 3 #16
concludes with Nightwing’s capture; published by DC Comics; cover-dated Mar 2013

Capturing the Family: Jason and Tim

Red Hood and the Outlaws #15
published by DC Comics; cover-dated Feb 2013
Red Hood and the Outlaws #16
published by DC Comics; cover-dated Mar 2013

Capturing the Family: Batgirl

Batgirl Vol. 4 #15

“Death of the Family: Collision, Part Two — Engagement” -- 20 pages

  • written by Gail Simone; pencils by Daniel Sampere; inks by Vicente Cifuentes
  • continues directly from Batgirl Vol. 4 #14
  • Batgirl decides to kill the Joker but is stopped by concealed snipers, and she agrees to marry him, winding up in a church with the Joker’s henchmen as witnesses
  • in flashbacks, Dr. Yi interviews the Joker, who talks about getting married in his own psychotic way

cover by Ed Benes; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Feb 2013; published 12 Dec 2012

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Batgirl Vol. 4 #16

“Death of the Family: Collision, Part Three — Ceremony” -- 20 pages

  • written by Gail Simone; pencils by Ed Benes (pages 1-10) and Daniel Sampere (pages 11-20); inks by Ed Benes (pages 1-10) and Vicente Cifuentes (pages 11-20)
  • continues directly from Batgirl Vol. 4 #15
  • Barbara Gordon stops the marriage ceremony in process and attacks the Joker’s goons, whereupon her brother (James Gordon Jr.) appears from the shadows and says their mother is safe
  • as Batgirl continues to fight, James Jr. knocks her out, intending to trade his sister for the life of his mother

the Joker takes Batgirl, and the James Jr. flees; as Batgirl awakes, she sees the Joker holding a cupped platter with something bloody contained within; cover by Ed Benes; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Mar 2013; published 16 Jan 2013

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Capturing the Family: Damien

Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #15
Batman does not appear; published by DC Comics; cover-dated Feb 2013
Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #16
continues directly from Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #15; ends with Damien captured; published by DC Comics; cover-dated Mar 2013

Conclusion

Batman Vol. 2 #16

“Death of the Family: Castle of Cards” -- 22 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion
  • Batman journeys through Arkham Asylum, encountering various villains along the way until he makes it to the Joker, where he learns that the Joker has captured the Batman Family and surrenders
  • from the end of the previous issue, through this one, and through most of the next issue, both Batman and the Joker are occupied, prohibiting their appearance elsewhere

“Judgement” -- 6 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; art by Jock
  • continues directly from “Death of the Family: Castle of Cards”

cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Mar 2013; published 16 Jan 2013

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Batman Vol. 2 #17

“Death of the Family Conclusion: The Punchline” -- 31 pages

  • written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion
  • the Joker puts a captured Batman at a table, with a Jokerized Alfred and the rest of the Batman Family sitting, their faces wrapped in bloody bandages, having apparently been removed and set in platters on the table (though this proves to not be the case)
  • Batman escapes and tells the Joker that he knows his identity (later shown to be a lie)
  • the Joker falls, perhaps to his death (though his body is not seen), and the Batman Family recovers

cover by Greg Capullo; published by DC Comics; $3.99; cover-dated Apr 2013; published 13 Feb 2013

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Aftermath

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17

“Don’t Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out!” -- 20 pages

  • written by Scott Lobdell; pencils by Ardian Syaf, Robson Rocha, and Ken Lashley; inks by Wayne Faucher, Julio Ferreira, Ken Lashley, Jaime Mendoza, and Le Beau Underwood
  • clearly occurs in the immediate aftermath of “Death of the Family”
  • begins with Jason contacting his teammates (Arsenal and Starfire) for the first time since he was captured by the Joker
  • Jason says goodbye to Damien, Nightwing, Bruce, and Alfred, who are still at Wayne Mansion (but not Batgirl, who explicitly has already departed)
  • in the end, Jason is struck down by the Joker’s booby trap left in the Red Hood helmet (in the previous issue)
  • Jason references how he worked with Damien in Batman, Inc. Vol. 2 #4 (placing that story before “Death of the Family”)

cover by Mico Suayan; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Apr 2013; published 20 Feb 2013

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Red Hood and the Outlaws #18

“Last Dance, Last Chance… for Death!” -- 20 pages

  • written by Scott Lobdell; art by Tyler Kirkham
  • although this issue is marked as participating in “Requiem,” no mention is made of Damien’s death, and the story clearly continues directly from Red Hood and the Outlaws #17
  • Jason Todd, affected by the Joker’s toxin, hallucinates and recovers

cover by Mico Suayan; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated May 2013; published 20 Mar 2013

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Batman and Robin Vol. 2 #17

“Life is but a Dream” -- 20 pages

  • written by Peter J. Tomasi; pencils by Patrick Gleason; inks by Mick Gray
  • begins with Batman and Robin back to crimefighting as normal (thus placing this story after Red Hood and the Outlaws #17-18)
  • after returning home, Batman, Damien, and Alfred have nightmares relating to the Joker (and helping to set up Damien’s death)

the final issue before its co-star, Damien, was killed in another title (Batman, Inc. Vol. 2 #8); cover by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray; published by DC Comics; $2.99; cover-dated Apr 2013; published 13 Feb 2013

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Not Placed Chronologically

Detective Comics Vol. 2 #16
published by DC Comics; cover-dated Mar 2013
Detective Comics Vol. 2 #17
features Commissioner Gordon walking around after his attack (in Batman Vol. 2 #14); published by DC Comics; cover-dated Apr 2013
Nightwing Vol. 3 #14
published by DC Comics; cover-dated Jan 2013

Tagged , Death of the Family, , the Joker.