For a long time, Batman stories involving the Joker have all ended in Batman being victorious. Joker’s been sent back to Arkham, only to break out again and for the cycle to repeat. Every once in a while, of course, the Joker’s actions do have lasting repercussions – The Dark Knight Returns, A Death in the Family, and The Killing Joke come to mind. But what if Joker actually won? What if he actually beat Batman?
That’s exactly what issue #17 of Batman explored. Batman, the Joker, and the entire Bat family went down into the caves, and, even though he may have been the only one that didn’t come out of the caves, Joker was victorious. Not on a physical level, of course. Really though, when will the Joker ever be able to bets Batman in a fist fight? He can’t, not really. But psychologically? That’s the Joker’s specialty. And that’s how he beat Batman.
For everyone who took the title “Death of the Family” as literally meaning that the family will die, the end of this arc was probably exactly the opposite of all the predictions that they had made. I will admit, though I didn’t want it to happen, I was expecting someone to die. The problem is, Joker isn’t that predictable. So when he revealed what was on the trays, I knew that he was bluffing. Yes, there was still a great deal of shock value to revealing all of Batman’s allies faces cut off.
The fact remains, however, that despite this bluff, the Joker did win, and the Family did die. The Joker won because he showed Batman’s family that he lied to them, and that he cared more about continuing his conflict with the Joker than any of them. And while this isn’t necessarily true, it certainly seemed that way. the Joker psychologically damaged every single member of the Bat family.
It wasn’t, however, any of Batman’s allies that came out of this the worst off. Sure, Barbara, Dick, Tim, Damian, Jason, and Alfred came out scarred – they pounded on each other, laughing while they did it. No, it was Batman that lost the most in issue #17. It is true that none of the family was killed in this arc, and the ending may have been all the better for it. No one stays dead in comics, at least, not forever. Any of the characters that had died would have come back eventually, and the repercussions of their deaths would last maybe a year.
Yes, those repercussions could have been written extremely well, and could have made for excellent stories. But it would, in the end, all be meaningless. Instead, Scott Snyder did something that I don’t think any other writer has ever been able to do – he completely destroyed Batman mentally without anyone close to him losing their lives. And though they all remain alive, Bruce has lost them.
I can see this having a lasting affect on Bruce. One that lasts years, in fact, as he tries to rebuild his relationships with those that he lost in Death of the Family. This is undoubtedly coming, but the status quo, as it stands right now, is altered forever, as Batman attempts to pick up the pieces. Because, after 75 plus years of existence, he was defeated by the Joker.