Before we get to the big reveal, let's talk about the road leading to it, that started with "Death of the Family." The problem with "Death of the Family" is that it had a seemingly unintentionally split narrative. If you read only "Batman," you were left with the impression that the Joker didn't know Batman's identity. Bruce asserted that the Joker wasn't really interested in him as a man, so his identity was essentially irrelevant; he only cared about Bruce as Batman. However, if you read the tie-in issues, you were sure that the Joker clearly knew his identity. He burned down Haly's Circus to torture Nightwing, he kidnapped Batgirl's mother, he essentially created Jason Todd: he had to have known, to inflict the damage that he does against the Bat-family. In fact, the schism that happens between Batman and the family comes from Bruce's assertion that the Joker didn't know (something that Snyder more or less presented as the "right" point of view) and the family's assertion that he did.
Snyder pulls back the curtain on this debate, confirming that the Joker did know. It more or less retroactively changes the message of "Death of the Family," showing Bruce to be so deeply afraid of admitting to making a mistake (that he failed to notice that the Joker had hitched a ride into the Batcave) that he's willing to inflict damage on everyone around him to keep it hidden. It continues the theme of Snyder's run, of Batman as an unreasonably arrogant and incompetent actor. Moreover, the premise of "Death of the Family" was that the Joker felt that Batman was losing his edge because of his emotional connections to the family. If you follow that line of thought, Bruce's refusal to let the Joker kill them in that event essentially sets up the possibility that the Joker no longer sees him as a worthy adversary. The Joker essentially said as much last issue, telling Bats that he was in town to tie up some loose ends. Snyder seems to be implying here that the Joker can therefore allow himself to acknowledge Bruce's identity, because he no longer views him as some sort of demi-god. Batman has become Bruce. He's just one more human whose life he can ruin now.
Snyder doesn't stop there, though. An interesting background theme so far is this idea of the Joker as a malevolent spirit. Snyder puts him out there as an analogue to the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in "The Shining," a spirit that's been haunting Gotham all along. Jim discovers his presence in the background of a number of photos at Gotham Presbyterian (the one where his arm appears in a doorway in the photo of a young Babs and James, Jr. is particularly creepy), and one of the escaped convicts in the back-up story presents him as a malevolent spirit that has haunted Gotham since its earliest days and lives off laughter. Snyder also hints that Gotham "Pres" has some sort of special meaning, and it might mean that Snyder may intend to give us some information about the Joker's past through clarifying this meaning. But, the mystical aspects of the Joker don't stop with the possibly doctored photos or an insane convict's story. One of the more interesting moments in this issue is Jim getting up the courage to kill the Joker and feeling incredible relief after pulling the trigger. The problem is that the Joker has somehow magically survived a slug to the chest. Body double? Bullet-proof vest? Magical resurrection? I guess we'll see.
**** (four of five stars)