One year after having his face removed in the relaunched Detective Comics #1, Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker has returned to Gotham City. And he hasn't been this menacing -- or this entertaining to Batman readers -- in a long, long time.
If the opening chapter of this latest event storyline, "Death of the Family," is any indication, this promises to be one hell of a ride from writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The regular creative team has produced some terrific Batman tales since the New 52 relaunch and if the rest of this storyline pays off, their status as one of the all-time greatest Batman storytelling pairs should be assured.
The Joker returns in "Knock Knock," seemingly out of the blue from wherever he's been hiding all this time, and promptly and methodically creates an incredible body count inside Gotham City police headquarters. Snyder's take on the Joker is instantly recognizable, with his dialogue written in such a way that you find yourself imagining the late Heath Ledger voicing the character's lines from beyond the grave. The Joker verbally tortures Commissioner James Gordon from the shadows, snapping the necks of police officers one by one and hinting that he's hidden underneath Gordon's bed while he sleeps. Creepy, creepy stuff.
In a particularly welcome nod to the past, Snyder murders John Claridge, son of diamond magnate Henry Claridge, who was the first person the Joker ever murdered in Gotham. As diehard Batfans know, Henry Claridge was indeed the first person killed by the Joker all the way back in the first Batman #1 in 1940. The original version by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson had the Joker breaking into radio programs to announce that he would kill Claridge at midnight and steal the Claridge Diamond. Now, Snyder naturally updates the radio announcement for television, but it's reassuring that the very first Joker story still counts in current New 52 continuity.
Capullo excels at bringing Snyder's script to life. He makes effective use of shadows, as always, but captures the necessary moods perfectly. There's a genuine sense of horror and dread in these pages, culminating in a cliffhanger where the Joker finally emerges into full view. Some absolutely fantastic storytelling here.
Even the title's regular backup feature is strong, with Snyder reuniting with his Detective Comics partner Jock along with co-writer James Tynion IV. In "Tease," we learn what happened when the Joker and Harley Quinn reunited before the events depicted in the main feature. It's an especially brutal short story and one that defines Harley's relationship -- such as it is -- with this latest version of her Mister J.
All in all, a very impressive opening to "Death of the Family." This latest event will be weaving through the Batman-related titles for the next three months, so let's hope the rest of this storyline proves to be just as epic.