The DCEU’s take on The Joker has provided viewers with some genuinely heinous and insane antics, but comic fans will know that was all child’s play compared to horrors the character got up to 2012’s Batman: Death of the Family, a story line so horrific that Warner Bros. likely wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot Batpole. A warning to the squeamish: it’s about to get gross.
The story, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, begins with Joker having been missing from Gotham for more than a year. The last time he’d been seen, Joker was sent (again) to Arkham Asylum, from where he (again) escaped. But this latest breakout had gotten kind of messy, with Joker having his face cut off as part of his plan to flee. After reappearing and slaughtering a squad room worth of GCPD officers to retrieve his face from the evidence room – which he reattaches in nightmarish fashion – Joker uses Harley Quinn as a combination of bait and distraction.
He has her pose as The Red Hood at Ace Chemicals to draw out The Dark Knight, recreating one of Joker’s many origin stories, and serving as a reminder of the first time Batman and Joker crossed paths. Possibly. As Joker stated in The Killing Joke, he prefers his past to be multiple choice. In the meantime, Joker is at Wayne Manor, kidnapping Alfred for a twisted “celebration” he has planned. Before escaping from the chemical plant, Harley actually warns Batman the clown seems unhinged, even by his normal standard (which says a lot).
In a meeting with the Bat Family – Robin, Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood – the members are shocked to learn that after one of Batman and Joker’s earliest encounters, Batman had found a Joker card in his cave, proving that not only Batman’s headquarters may have been compromised, but also his cohorts’ identities. He warns them that they may be targets due to his frustration and carelessness in the past. And it turns out their worries were founded, as the story sees them all discovered and defeated by Joker. The arc culminates back at Arkham Asylum, where Joker has gathered the Family, before he’s eventually and inevitable defeated by Batman.
While the core story only consist of five books – Batman Vol. 2 #13-17 – the events and fallout of Death of the Family had a ripple effect with a tremendous impact on the entire Batman comic universe, including crossover events with books like Catwoman, Batgirl, Suicide Squad, Teen Titans and more. All told, nearly two dozen books were incorporated into the arc. And suffice to say, many of Batman’s former allies are none too pleased with how events play out.
While The Joker’s severed face may seem like the most disturbing thing a reader might find in these books, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Joker murders a man on live TV (maybe that’s where Joker got the idea), Commissioner Gordon begins bleeding out of his pores, there’s a reservoir full of dead bodies, Joker threatens to feed the Bat Family their own faces, and Batman nearly literally punches Joker’s face back off more than once. And not only is that just scratching the surface, that’s all from the core five issues.
So while fans have undeniably seen more than one sick and twisted take on The Joker on film, none can even hold a candle to Death of the Family.
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