The very first full page of the issue is Batman's inner monologue as to the nature and humanity of the Joker and we all know he's lacking on the latter department. And yet for some reason, Batman believes there is still something that could be killed in the Joker; something he could get his hands on and rip him into shreds with. It took a while for Batman to admit what it was at first until we get to the last page. But before that, I want to talk about the only great part of this issue which is Bruce having a dream where he was surrounded by his surrogate children. It's worth noting that they were out of their costumes and are gathered around his bedside like a family would do. And then Alfred comes in, wearing the Joker's face and proceeds to butcher them all. This was when Bruce wakes up inside the batcave with his surrogate children who donned their masks the entire time and are about to have an intervention.
Bruce was the only one who was physically unmasked here as he told them a story about a confrontation with the Joker a long time ago. It was here that he revealed that the Joker's 'calling card' got caught in one of Batman's vehicle. Batgirl, Red Robin and Nightwing immediately jumped into the conclusion that the Joker is not lying after all, and that he might have discovered who Batman was all along (and subsequently their own identities) because he got inside the batcave. Bruce insisted that it was impossible and that fact was irrefutable because of the lack of evidence that the Joker had been inside the cave before. Unconvinced, the three still continued to interrogate Bruce and he tried to appease their anxieties as he advises them to be careful if the Joker is indeed coming for them (you can read these confrontations in the tie-in issues). It's only Damian, Bruce's son and the current Robin, and Jason Todd (Red Hood and the Robin whom the Joker killed once before) who seemed to take a more neutral side to the issue at hand. Damian seems more concerned about joining Batman in battle than anything else, and Jason obviously couldn't give a fuck.
I enjoyed this scene because of the level of tension and distrust that is starting to form among the Bat-family members. Each of them knew the Joker in an intimate way, most especially Barbara Gordon who had been victimized by the Joker once, and Dick Grayson who had been with Batman the longest and saw firsthand all the evil things the Joker had done. And though he was murdered by the Joker before, Jason Todd is trying to distance himself from the ordeal, but perhaps only to mask his own fear. Damian is the only one who has yet to make his formal acquaintance with the Joker, and I think he's the one I fear for the most while reading this. If there is one person aside from Alfred whom Bruce Wayne loves, it's his only son.
I struggled to rate this issue because nothing really happens, action-wise, that progresses the plot. What we are provided with instead is a more concrete portrait of what Batman feels about the Joker. On the last panels of the final page, Batman still maintains the notion that there is still something human in the Joker but only because the Joker had allowed him a glimpse of it. And the one thing that makes the Joker human is Batman himself, at least what he feels for Batman does. And here he admits that what he saw in the Joker's eyes every time he stares into them is LOVE. He knew and he felt that the Joker loves him in the sickest and most senseless of ways, and that frightened him the most. The most abominable and disgusting piece of filth that ever lived has love for him. This is enough to shake anyone, even Batman, to his core.
*Even with the absence of a progression plot-wise, the characterizations are given more dimensions this issue, including a great character moment from Batman as he finally accepts that, to the Joker, he is a significant other.