[Comic Review] Original Jokester — Batman #38

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“I’m telling you, unequivocally, there’s no chance, none, that he made it in here.”

It was years ago — a secret that Bruce Wayne kept closely guarded. No one knew. Not even Alfred. After beating the Joker, Batman saved the day and returned home. While trying to rest, something lingered, so Bruce decided to go over the case again and made his way to the Batcave where he found something so unnerving, he created a replica and put it up as a reminder.

It was a joker card floating the water.

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“He must have attached the card to the boat after falling from the blimp.”

There was no way the Joker could have survived underwater long enough, and no way he could have held on at the speed Batman’s boat was diving at — he would have had needed gear or superpowers.

Bruce revealed the secret in Batman #17, and it created major trust issues in the Bat-Family even after the Joker was defeated.

Now that the Clown Prince of Crime is back, it’s with a terrible and relentlesss purpose. The love has been lost, and the Joker wants nothing more than to destroy Gotham and its main protector.

Batman #38 reveals the source of the virus taking over the citizens of Gotham as well as the inverse regenerative factor that allowed the Joker to heal from his gunshot wound. Using his detective skills, Batman searches out Dr. Paul Dekker, a scientist specializing in regenerative science who claims he didn’t create the virus — he merely found it.

According to Dekker, a chemical exists that gives humans regenerative powers and a sort of immortality. That chemical was found in the Joker, a man who existed before Gotham.

He is the pale man — the one who laughs.

Scott Snyder has done what no other creator has done — lay a solid concrete foundation for the Joker’s origin that is now canon. And if Dekker is to be believed, the Joker becomes a living legend who’s much bigger than he’s ever really let on. I don’t know whether fans will accept this new plot twist, but I couldn’t be more flabbergasted when I saw who Batman allies himself with in order to win the war.

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Snyder has brought in big guns for a huge story. This blows Death of the Family out of the water in terms of how far the Joker will go to beat Batman, and like that crossover series — Batman must decide whether he’s going to break his one rule. This time, it’s much more personal — now that Bruce knows that his identity has been revealed, we’re back to the proverbial waterfall. Will Batman go the full length and cast the Joker to his death or pull him away from the edge, knowing the Joker will live another day and possibly strike him at Wayne Manor?

Everything is almost perfect about Batman #38 — the story walks a very thin line of plausibility, and it helps to know a bit of the science behind the story. If you accept Batman #38 on its terms, you get an awesome experience that will take you through a roller coaster ride full of twists and turns. If you can’t agree to take the story at face value and go along with it, you might roll your eyes at what will likely happen next. The crux of it all hinges on whether you accept the origin story, and I know some comic fans like their comics the way they like their memories — same as it always was.

Greg Capullo on pencils doesn’t just draw a pretty book — he knows how to really ramp up the abstract elements. For every superheroic panel there’s a fractured piece of glass, a silhouette of a tree, or the Joker coming ever closer to finding out the truth about Batman’s real identity. There’s a sense of speed and awareness that creates a multi-dimensional reading experience, like feeling the rattle of the wheel as the odometer reaches 200mph. When Snyder’s story moves, the artwork goes with it.

Inker Danny Miki continues producing exceptional finishes, and it’s clear why they’ve kept him and the rest of the creative team working together. There’s a cohesiveness to the series, and Miki is responsible for making sure the pencils don’t get lost on the page. A book as dark as Batman needs highlights, and Miki fills in the absolute blacks with care, leaving FCO Plascencia the task of coloring in the panels. A quick flip through the pages reveals some complex lighting mixed with some monochrome for effect. I love Plascencia’s palette — it keeps the comic from looking too cartoony and opts for more subtle shades.

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There’s no superhero book out there like Batman at the moment because Snyder gets to play with the best toys, and he’s deft in handling them with care. He knows how to create terse plots that make you fear for the safety of the main characters. We don’t usually read Batman expecting to see him die — and because of that sort of predictability, serials often suffer because the biggest prize is never at stake. But with the Batman series under Snyder and Greg Capullo’s direction — we know there’s a fate worse than death for Bruce Wayne. In a pivotal scene in the movie Unforgiven, the main character escapes a standoff by threatening his attackers’ wives, friends, and property.

“Any[one] takes a shot at me, I’m not only gonna kill him, but I’m gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down.”

Bruce knows what’s at play, and he’s watching everything burning. What he’ll do to stop the fire may change him forever.


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Batman #38 (2011)
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Words: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Letters: Steve Wands and Jared K. Fletcher

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