Batman Gets More Than He Bargains For in “Batman” #16
“Batman” #16 Review
“Batman” #16 is one of the latest installments of DC Comics’ “Death of the Family” series. In this issue, Batman’s search for his family leads him to Arkham Asylum, where he must evade several booby-traps that are set by their kidnapper, The Joker, who has converted Arkham into a mock-fortress where he plans to hold Batman hostage.
The Joker’s capable of booby-trapping and controlling Arkham because he has taken all the guards hostage and disguised half of them in Joker outfits. The other half are dressed in Batman costumes. All of the guards have been forced into pairs and locked in the asylum’s cells, where they’re coerced to dance in what The Joker calls “a royal dance macabre”, a nod to the game of cat-and-mouse that Joker always leads Batman into. A tear runs down one guard’s eye and he cries, “Help us. We’ve been dancing for days.”
The Joker tells Batman, “You stop them from dancing, and I’ll have to retire them.” Batman fires an EMP pulse [electro-magnetic pulse] from the buckle of his utility-belt to shut off Arkham’s lights and set the hostages free, unaware of the institution’s backup system for emergency-power. With The Joker subverting the asylum’s infrastructure, water is ran through the plumbing until it’s ankle-deep to electrocute the guards. Batman hurls water-absorbing projectiles from his belt to rescue the captives.
Batman searches for The Joker in the control-room and Jeremiah Arkham’s office, but both are empty. The lights go out again before a surreal flaming horse is rushing towards him in the hall. Once he gets out of the way, the lights come back on and he’s surrounded by a mob dressed in knightly attire and armed with flaming swords and clubs that flood light into the building. The Joker informs him that they’re all inmates of Arkham.
Batman fights them all to unconsciousness and he steals a horse from an inmate who was riding horseback. He rides it into another room of the institution where The Joker shows him an intricate quilt of human flesh hanging from the wall. The patchwork design illustrates the chronological rivalry between them both. The Joker hints at secrets that have been left untold, cryptically telling Batman, “The times we’ve had! The laughter! [...] This whole place, my dead, a love letter to you! Slow down, take a load off, and absorb it all!” Once Batman hears that, he sees one image on the quilt that hints (without giving a spoiler) that The Joker might even be related to him. Horrified, he rushes out on his horse.
He finds The Joker waiting for him upstairs, in a Camelot-styled chamber, holding court with Two-Face, The Riddler, and The Penguin playing their respective roles as judge, strategist, and bishop. On the other side of the room are a handful of Batman’s fellow Justice League members, who are being held hostage and have deteriorated under stress. Wonder Woman looks depressed and obese. The Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Superman are behind her, slouching with their heads hung low in defeat.
The Joker stands in front of a chainsaw lodged into an anvil. (The chainsaw symbolizes Excalibur, the sword in the stone from the Arthurian Legends.) Playing the jester to a royal court, he asks Superman to prove his might be pulling out the sword, but Superman (too fragile to stand up as the “Man of Steel” here) is electrocuted when he tries to pull out the chainsaw. Afterwards, Wonder Woman is forced to join the charade. Batman calls out to her, but he’s stopped from doing anything more for his fellow superheroes once The Joker claims that he will never learn the whereabouts of his kidnapped family. Instead, The Joker invites him to sit on a mock-throne made from an electric chair, where Batman is electrocuted and paralyzed like a royal statue.
The Arthurian motif with symbols like horses, flaming swords, and medieval-dressed inpatients all help bring the setting of Arkham Asylum to life. The Joker elevates this style of imagery further by literally showing himself as “the court jester” in the last part of the comic. Another allusion to a contemporary/superhero twist on the “Game of Thrones” type of stylization for this issue is the fact that the building’s an institution for the criminally insane instead of a sprawling, technologically fast-paced metropolis; which makes the location feel much closer to the countryside. That mood of being more isolated from technology and being in an environment that is about as well-kept as a stable, with flies swarming around, helps increase the issue’s “gothic” tone.
David Baron’s coloring for this issue plays an excellent psychological trick on the reader by placing a lot of emphasis on the rusty greys, blues, and browns; forcing the reader to hone in on the murky colors that emphasize the symbolization for rural isolation that the setting represents. Because of the colors, there is still a sense of the room being very hazy and dark through the use of layers upon layers of extremely muddy and rusty-brown colors even when the room is lit up by the flaming swords and billy-clubs of inmates encircling Batman. The one panel of the comic that hints how The Joker and Batman may actually be related elevates the “fantasy”-styled setting even more, even if that imagery is placed there just to inspire eagerness for readers to follow the next issue.
The Joker’s sinister trademark grin is made from scar tissue in the series, with pins jabbed in his cheeks to stretch his gums back to an obscene degree. The character design would be a lot more intriguing and terrifying if it wasn’t so obviously influenced by the original use of scar tissue for the character design when Heath Ledger played The Joker in “The Dark Knight”. However, Jock draws the grin with the same over-the-top style of exaggeration that Frank Miller drew some of his best original characters, since Jock draws the eyes and jaws in an expression so wide and manic that the character could only come to life on the page instead of the screen.
In the epilogue to this issue, The Joker has a plate of something that he kept in safekeeping for Batman. He shows the object to The Penguin and Two-Face who are both mortified.
Tell us what you think is on the plate. In what ways do you think Batman and The Joker are closer than Batman realizes?