Right now the comic world is dangling on the edge of a tremendous cliff as we await the conclusion to Batman: Death of the Family. The Joker is back in Gotham and has discovered religion to boot. He has systematically torn the Bat-Family apart in a quest to free Batman, who he considers Gotham's God-King, from all Earthly constraints in order to ascend to his perfection. Having been five steps ahead of The Dark Knight, each of the various issue #16s involved in the storyline have ended with Joker revealing something hidden under a bloody serving tray.
Presumably we'll find out what this month when Batman #17 hits shelves, but the message boards are alight with speculation. While some of the suggestions are compelling, none really seem to fit what we know of Joker and his plan.
The prevalent theory at the moment is that the tray contains the head or other remains of Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth. This is born out of an earlier issue where Joker called Bruce to let him know he had kidnapped Alfred and blinded him with ammonia. Gruesomely killing Bruce's surrogate father figure would admittedly be perfectly Joker. Alfred is the heart of the Bat-Family, even Jason Todd likes him, and the loss of another "parent" could be the catalyst Joker needs for Bruce to become an even more frightening and legendary version of Batman.
Unfortunately, it just doesn't work in context. Oh sure, if Joker showed Alfred's head to Batgirl or Nightwing they would react with horror, but Joker has also revealed it to Two-Face and Penguin. Both the supervillains also reacted with extreme shock, and there is simply no reason why they would. Though Joker apparently knows Batman's secret identity, Dent and Cobblepot don't. Alfred is meaningless to them, yet they react not unlike the rest of the Bat-Family.
It can't just be because Joker is carrying around a head either. Penguin and Two-Face would probably be more surprised if Joker didn't have a severed head near his person at all times just in case a good gag called for it. Besides, in Batman #16 they've already seen Joker's friend, and the architect of his facectomy, Dollmaker, craft a living tapestry out of sewn-together people fed through tubes. Add this to the fact that Two-Face and Penguin have seen plenty of gruesome death in their own exploits, and a head probably isn't going to cut it.
Unless it is the head of Commissioner James Gordon. The old cop has also been a father figure to Bruce, as well as an actual father to Batgirl, and he would be well-known enough to garner the reaction that Penguin and Two-Face.
Even then, there are serious problems. No matter what is under the tray, it has to be a joke. Two-Face refers to it as such, and Joker almost sheepishly agrees. He sees himself as the jester in Batman's court, the laughing maniac able to tell the monarch what he needs to know because he frames it as a jest. Joker also clearly states that you have to play with people's expectations.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that since we all think there's some sort of unspeakable gruesomeness waiting underneath the silver cover, there actually isn't. My guess is that Joker will honestly serve the Bat-Family dinner, and that it will probably be one of his mutated fish from "The Laughing Fish." The ridiculous juxtaposition and cordial setting is the perfect curve ball.
After that there will probably be an elaborate and sadistic death trap because, hey, Joker. It's possible that Scott Snyder will have out-thought all of comic fandom, though, and come up with something truly unexpected. Snyder says that he aims to create a legendary Joker story, his own Killing Joke, and so far he's proven himself more than capable of living up to Alan Moore.
The thing that Moore did best, though... he ended it on a joke. A sick, demented, inappropriate for the moment joke that left Batman and Joker both laughing hysterically. The punchline is the hardest part of any bit. Let's see if Snyder can knock 'em dead
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