I’ve been a fan of the team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on this title from the get-go, but this issue, quite simply, is their best work yet. Snyder’s prose-like intro reads very ominously, setting the reader up for one of the darkest Batman stories in a long time: Death of the Family. Unless you’ve been living in a bat cave, you probably know this issue features the long-awaited return of The Joker, who we last saw in the pages of Detective Comics. His last appearance left many fans in utter shock and anticipation for his return, as he had appeared to actually have his face surgically removed, for some twisted, inexplicable reason. To say it was a “WTF moment” would be an understatement.

The story begins with narration explaining that there’s a storm changing the direction of a river and a lion born with two heads. What this means for the good people of Gotham is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t bode well, since The Joker appears to be back in town. Coincidence? Never, when The Joker is involved.

After a gruesome attack on Commissioner Gordon and his officers at the GCPD headquarters, both Batman and Gordon surmise, “None of this is like him.” This is a new sort of Joker, who isn’t fooling around anymore. Yet, something is not quite right. For one, the ol’ Clown Prince of Crime has altered his look somewhat. Namely, that he’s wearing his displaced face again as a ghastly mask, instead of as an actual grinning visage. Sure, he’s still grinning, but only by a sick design of flesh stretched over muscle and bone. Also, his Joker venom is having a different effect on its victims. Instead of leaving a lethal smile on their faces, it’s now leaving them with a lethal frown. What does all of this mean? When it comes to The Joker, there really is no telling.

Despite the differences, this all feels like classic Joker. In fact, Batman figures out that he’s reenacting his very first killing spree, way back in his first appearance in Batman #1, over 70 years ago, in actual real-life time. It’s nice to see that particular story referenced. That was a nice touch on Snyder’s part and much-appreciated, since it shows an actual respect of DC history. Another nice touch was showing the reactions from various members of the Bat Family, after hearing of Joker’s return. It’s treated as seriously as it should be. Batgirl’s reaction is the most poignant. As you might recall, Barbara Gordon was shot and paralyzed by The Joker some years ago and is only now recovering and getting back to her crimefighting career as Batgirl. The return of the man who crippled her is no laughing matter, if you’ll pardon the joke. Snyder’s writing is very much suited to the world of Batman and this issue is no exception. It contains every ingredient that makes a perfect Batman/Joker story: mystery, grit, horror, psychoanalysis and even a bit of dark comedy, as to be expected. The ending is also a nice cliffhanger that will have you eagerly anticipating #14. As for the art, Greg Capullo just gets better and better. His style reminds me of everything that was great about Batman: The Animated Series, mixed with a sort of anime design. I really can’t rave enough about the dude. He’s perfect for this.

The backup story, co-written by Snyder and James Tynion, with art by Andy Clarke, showcases the… unhealthy… relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn and explains a key plot element the reader discovers at the end of the main story. It’s a nice bookend and it really does perfectly capture the sick mindset of the both of them. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

When all is said and done and, judging by the promise of this issue, Death of the Family should be destined to go down in the Batman canon as a surefire classic. I’m very much looking forward to the next chapter! 10/10, easily.