This comic book cover image released by DC Entertainment shows the Joker on the cover of “Batman” No. 13, released this week. The story, “Death of the Family,” will cross numerous issues from now through February. -AP Photo

PHILADELPHIA: For a year the Joker's been out of sight, out of mind and out of trouble. That changed Wednesday in the pages of ''Batman'' No. 13, when the clown prince of crime returned to Gotham with a mission to help Batman become a better man, even if it means going after everyone and everything that the Dark Knight and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, hold dear.    

It's a big step for the Joker, who has been out of the picture since DC Comics relaunched its line of comics in September 2011.

Up until now, the only time readers saw the jade-haired, white-skinned criminal was in the first pages of ''Detective Comics,'' where he calmly, efficiently carved off his face and escaped from Arkham Asylum.

Since then, he's been quietly plotting, planning and scheming, writer Scott Snyder explained of the story titled ''Death of a Family.''

''He is someone who has a mission this time,'' Snyder said of the villain, long one of DC's most notorious, and arguably Batman's greatest foe.

''This is a story about how the Joker took a look at Gotham, Batman and the way things are working.''

And what the Joker has seen and learned, he does not like.

''His point here is to say 'You have forsaken your kingdom, it is rotting beneath your feet,''' Snyder said of Joker's reasoning, adding that Joker is ''here to save you from yourself and to save Gotham'' by making Wayne hold up his darkest fears to an uncompromising light.

But the Joker's way of helping involves mayhem, attempted murder and psychotic ramblings, all of which unfurl in ''Batman'', drawn by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, and will do so through February in that title along with ''Batgirl,'' ''Catwoman,'' ''Batman and Robin,'' ''Detective Comics'' and ''Teen Titans,'' among others.

Snyder said it's not just Batman will who face the Joker's misguided wrath, but his friends, allies and those closest to him, including Robin, Batgirl and Catwoman.

''He's coming at them individually,'' Snyder said, but it's Batman whom Joker wants to help by stripping him of his distractions.

''It's meant to be a deeply psychologically terrifying story for Batman,'' said Snyder, who's been writing the book since its launch last year. ''It's stripping the Dark Knight down so that he can be saved from himself.''

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