The New 52 started off with some admittedly shocking moments. One was in Detective Comics #1 where new villain Dollmaker sliced the apparently willing Joker’s face off, leaving the Clown Prince of Crime’s severed face nailed to the wall while Joker made a clean getaway.
The Joker didn’t come back right away, but he finally did in Scott Snyder’s Batman book for a volume subtitled Death of the Family.
After first retrieving the rotting flesh that was his face from the GCPD, killing about a dozen cops with his bare hands in the process, the Joker announces his return in an odd way: he seems to be recommitting old crimes but with a new twist. He’s also taunting Batman by claiming to know the Dark Knight’s real name, a moment an increasingly frustrated Bruce keeps denying is possible to the increasing disbelief of his extended Bat-family in the form of Dick Grayson’s Nightwing, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, Tim Drake’s Red Robin, Jason Todd’s Red Hood, and Damien Wayne’s Robin.
But if that’s so, why did the Joker kidnap Alfred? Batman has a theory there, but again, like his reasoning to explain how the Joker couldn’t possibly know Bruce Wayne is Batman, there’s a level to it that doesn’t ring true. It’s as if Bruce is simply making excuses for himself and hoping the others will buy it. That can lead to the reader wondering who Batman is trying to convince: his allies or himself.
What does the Joker want? He seems slighted by the fact Batman has allies, and is targeting them in an effort to make the whole thing a dance between himself and Batman. What family is dying in the title? Well, the Joker keeps referring to himself and maybe by extension Batman’s other foes as the real family, the one Batman denies, but at the same time, events in the series seem to drive at least a temporary wedge between Bruce and the others.
As an added treat, the book also contains back-up stories showing the Joker, wearing his own face as a mask, manipulating other Gotham area villains, browbeating Two-Face, blackmailing the Penguin, and sticking the Riddler in a death trap all so the three can appear in a bizarre pageant Joker is hosting for Batman.
A largely good collection from Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, it leaves the reader with new insights on the history of Batman and the Joker, and while few of them may be all that earth-shattering in regards to whether or not the Joker actually does know Bruce Wayne is Batman, it does leave the Dark Knight with only faithful butler Alfred by his side, something that will no doubt have long-term ramifications for the Batman. Eight and a half two-headed cats out of ten.