With this week’s release of Batman #17, Scott Snyder’s “Death of the Family” story comes to an end. While overall, I did enjoy this issue and story, I think it is a good example of a limitation on ongoing franchises like Batman. There will be spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want to see them. You’ve been warned. And to help, here’s a picture that led us to this finale.
The “Death of the Family” story, cleverly named after the “Death in the Family” story, has been running through the Bat-books for the past few months. Each hero, and Jason Todd, has had their own struggles with the Joker and with the knowledge that Bruce may not have told them that Joker knew who they were, ending with a variation on the picture above. This left us wondering what was Joker holding. Could it be Alfred? We did know that Joker had him, and was torturing him.
But anyways, we get to the dinner scene, and everyone except Batman has a black hood over their head. They are connected in some trap that will kill them, but that really isn’t important. To serve dinner, we find Alfred, still alive, but affected by Joker gas. (With some mind control/manipulation element thrown in.) Alfred takes off the hoods to show the rest of the family with bloody bandages on their faces. The cover is removed, and their faces are on the platter. Joker cutting them off like he cut off his own face.
Now, I should point out that up to this point, Joker’s speech is wonderfully written. Really good dialogue. Now, Batman springs the trap, saves everyone, sees that they’re actually okay (nice moment with Damian), and takes off after the Joker. The family gets hit by Joker gas and begins fighting each other. But they’ll be alright. So, Batman catches Joker, and there’s some more wonderful dialogue. You actually believe that Batman is going to kill the Joker this time. But he doesn’t. Joker shocks him, and falls down a waterfall. Days later, he checks up on Alfred, who is doing better. There’s supposed to be a family meeting, but everyone cancels on Bruce.
So, we’re at a point that the rest of the Bat-family is not talking to Bruce because he kept a secret from them that Joker may know who they are, even though Bruce knew Joker did not know because of an incident revealed really early on in his career. And that is how we get the “Death of the Family” phrase fulfilled. The family is not the same because of the actions and words of the Joker. Whatever. Like I said, I did like the story. But it is a great example of the problem with these comics.
In the end, there is no real suspense. As a reader, I know all of these characters are safe. Even the Joker. The heroes all headline a their own title. Damian really is the main character in Batman and Robin, and I assume Tim plays a big role in Teen Titans. So, nothing is going to happen to them. Alfred could be killed, but can you imagine the shitstorm DC would face if they killed Alfred? And so, all of this suspense is built up, only to end with a slight change in the status quo.
This was a perfect time to do something dramatic. Kill Alfred. Have Batman kill the Joker, intentionally drop him off the cliff, laughing as he watches him fall. “Permanently” scar one of the heroes, sending them down a villainous path. Just anything that could incredibly change Batbooks for a long time. But instead, we are left with the family being unhappy with Bruce because he kept a secret. I mean, it’s not like has ever kept a secret from people before. Oh, wait, he does it all the time. It should not be a surprise that he kept a secret from them.
This is just a limitation you have when writing other people’s property. While you can have some fun with your toys, you need to leave them in good condition so other people can play with them as well. You also need to write things that will sell. You change too many things, and people are unhappy because it is not the Batman that they know and love. People don’t want the same old stories, but change is bad. But I digress.
I am just frustrated at the wasted potential of it all. I do think the story is good, and recommend that you read it. I just lament that it wasted its chance to be great and something that would be remembered for a long time.