Warning: This article contains potential spoilers for the upcoming issue of "Batman."
He's one of the most famous villains in pop culture for a reason.
The Joker, Batman's archenemy, has been terrorizing the Dark Knight and his allies over these past few months in a number of "Batman" comic books, and it's all coming to a head in Wednesday's issue of "Batman" #17 (published by DC Comics, which is owned by Time Warner, as is CNN).
The book's writer, Scott Snyder, promises an ending that is sure to shock Bat-fans to their cores. The crossover story's title, "Death of the Family," recalls a 25-year-old story -- called "A Death in the Family" -- in which the second Robin, Jason Todd, was brutally murdered by The Joker (after a poll in which fans voted by phone as to whether the Boy Wonder should live or die).
Snyder is mum as to whether Batman and all of his friends will survive this encounter with the Clown Prince of Crime, but he did speak to CNN.com about what readers can expect.
CNN: What themes did you aim to explore with "Death of the Family?"
Scott Snyder: The story came to me after I had my second kid.
You sometimes wish that you didn't have to worry about your kids all the time. Batman has all these allies, this "family." Bruce Wayne has to sometimes wish that he wouldn't have to worry about Robin, Nightwing or Batgirl. Who to take that wish and twist it into a nightmare but The Joker?
He says, "I will take care of that, I will kill them." Batman would say he never wished for that. The Joker would tell Batman, "Yes, you wished that, you just don't want to admit it."
The Joker in this story is a devil's tongue. He makes you frightened of yourself, which the best villains in literature do.
For my story, The Joker sees himself as serving Batman. Historically, the court jester was the only one who could deliver terrible news to the king. He sees Batman as this wonderfully twisted Bat-king. He sees himself as making him a tougher, stronger king. He sees Batman as deep down wanting to be the protector of Gotham, but his allies are his "false court."
CNN: Aside from the reference to "A Death in the Family," what is the meaning of the title?
Snyder: We wanted it to echo that horrible moment in Batman's life. We wanted Joker for the first time ever to come after the Batman family with this murderous mission in mind. He usually does it to get at Batman. He says he's coming after them to bring out Batman's worst nightmare for the first time ever. This is The Joker's war on Batman and even more so, on his family.
CNN: Why the changes to The Joker's appearance?
Snyder: The way he looks now came about in "Detective Comics" #1 (in 2011). The writer on that book, Tony S. Daniel, wanted to take The Joker outside of Gotham for a while, to create new bad guys. We thought that would be a great place in which to leave him. We decided this would work thematically for this story.
In "Batman" #17 you'll learn why he did it, why he had his face cut off and strapped back on. This final issue will bring everything crashing down.
CNN: Why is Joker such a threat? What is his biggest weakness?
Snyder: The Joker is my favorite villain in literature in general. My folks have embarrassing Halloween pictures of me dressed as The Joker.
Down at its core, he's scary in and of himself. Clowns are scary, but he's physically scary and capable of doing horrifying things. He scares Batman about himself. He makes Batman afraid there's a hint of madness in him. He tries to make Batman believe the madness is true. "You're as crazy as me, you belong in Arkham."
He feels that Batman deep down wants this to happen. Exposing the scariest things about ourselves, the scariest things we have in our hearts, and to laugh at them -- in its purest and most vicious form, that's what a great and monstrous villain does.
His weakness is he doesn't see things coming outside of Batman. If Batman didn't care and didn't look for him, it would hurt The Joker in a way he's not expecting. It's a vicious cycle. There's an Achilles heel in his own obsession with Batman.
CNN: Does any villain come in second to The Joker in your mind?
Snyder: Each one represents a different weakness or fear Batman has for himself.
The Riddler -- who I'm about to use in a big way in 2013 -- is a manifestation of Batman's fear that he's not smart enough, he's not able to solve the puzzle in time to save the city. Riddler keeps him as sharp as he can be. All of these villains figure in "Batman" #16 and #17 too. Joker sees them representing some facet of Batman's psychology.
Two-Face is kind of the nightmare of Batman's life. Will you become this horrifying version of yourself, like Two-Face?