Batman kind of sucks at his job these days, huh? The Court of Owls had secret locations covering the city, yet Batman had no idea. Joker has been hiding and planning for a year, and Batman isn't prepared for his return whatsoever. Arkham Asylum and all of its guards have apparently been under the Joker's control for quite some time, to the point where he actually had materials brought in so he could build...something big and loud and scary, I'm sure. How could Batman not keep tabs on that? Does he never check in, take a quick tour of Arkham? Make sure all the baddies are still locked away, double check that his arch freaking nemesis isn't running the whole show, that kind of thing. I mean what does he monitor? He's got a whole crew of kids supposedly helping him watch this city, but nobody had eyes on the asylum for the criminally insane where all of their opponents end up? Ridiculous.
I guess that's sort of the Joker's point in this "Death of the Family" story: Batman has grown soft because of his extended network of allies, and isn't protecting Gotham properly anymore. But it's one thing to have the maniac villain believe that and another to have it actually be true. The level of incompetence from Batman under Scott Snyder's pen is kind of astounding, and there is a part of me that's starting to feel like he deserves whatever the Joker has in store for him. I'm not rooting for the Joker just yet, but I'm not really in Batman's corner, either. If he's going to be this careless, then he shouldn't have the job.
This issue underlines his carelessness even more with the story of him finding the Joker's calling card in the Batcave years ago. Evidently he just decided, without doing any investigating (because it's not like he's meant to be an amazing detective or anything) that the card could not possibly have meant the Joker got into the cave, and so he never did anything about it. He only even tells the story when ALL of the other members of the Bat-Family get up in his business about it. If they hadn't conversation-ambushed him en masse, he would've kept the whole thing a secret, and even when he does tell them, he's a stubborn jerk about it. No matter how reasonably they argue that the card could very well mean Joker has all of their secret identities, Batman insists that's impossible and, eventually, just leaves.
And they let him go! A room full of capable heroes, and nobody does so much as grabbing his arm to try and force him not to keep going solo on this case. He's doing a crappy job on his own, but all his little minions just accept it anyway, even with Alfred's life at stake. The more I think about it, the more I agree with the Joker. The Bat-Family is bad for Batman, and, taking it a step further, I think he's bad for them. If this issue is indicative of their dynamic, then Gotham is screwed.
Greg Capullo, at least, is still doing excellent work on this title. I finally think his Batman looks better than his Bruce Wayne, which is a long time coming and as it should be. And I do love the new bandaged Joker. It accomplishes just what it seems to be aiming for: making a man who's already obviously unhinged look like he's reached a whole new level of insanity and depravity. So the opening fight scene between Batman and Joker all looked spot on, most notably the page where Bats jumps out from a wall of flame and punches Joker hard enough to make his mask slip.
The strongest visual sequence, though, was the two-page flashback, done in a faded and scratchy style as if the pages were being watched through an old projector. It's a very interesting and effective technique, and I actually hope we get some more visits to the past like that before this storyline wraps up. Also the Joker's gas blimp looked hilarious.
But Capullo is mostly drawing a large group conversation, and though he never makes it unclear, some of those pages do feel cramped, barely fitting in something like 8-10 panels each. While he handles all of the Bat-Family well, things get a tad claustrophobic by the end of the dialogue, which is too bad, especially considering that if the immediately preceding and entirely pointless two-page dream sequence had been cut, there might've been more room for the real conversation.
So yeah, I was pretty frustrated with this. Theoretically, I don't mind having a hero who's not at the top of his game. But Snyder's Batman raises the question of how he ever got to where he is today. If he is truly so over-confident and capable of such enormous ignorance when it comes to what's going on in Gotham, then why is he such a popular superhero? How did he get these kids to follow him? How did he ever defeat the Joker before? And if the idea is that Snyder has intentionally made Batman worse than he could and should be for the purposes of this crossover, well...that's fine, but it makes me want him to lose. If he's slipping, if he's losing his Batmojo, then he needs to step down and let someone else watch over his city. So, good luck, Joker, you violent sociopath, you! I hope you bring the Bat to his knees!