Batman #38 review

Batman isn't quite at his wits' end dealing with the latest attack on Gotham by the Joker, but for once he doesn't have a plan. In Endgame's fourth chapter, the Clown Prince of Crime's madness virus is claiming more and more victims, and if a cure isn't found, death is the end. 

It seems death isn't the end for the Joker, though, as evidence mounts that he's not 'simply' a lunatic who's extremely difficult to kill, he's an immortal with regenerative powers. Jim Gordon may well be convinced, having shot the villain point blank, then wound up with an axe in his chest for his trouble. 
Batman does the deductive work even as he's in a desperate fight against crazed Gotham citizens, engaging in a back and forth with Dick Grayson. He finally figures out who may have helped the Joker create the virus - diabolical as his nemesis is, he's no mad scientist - tracks him down, and the news only gets worse. A desperate decision is made...

This is another packed issue of one of the few truly unmissable superhero series today.  Scott Snyder has succeeded where many a writer has failed; he's given Batman his humanity back without surrendering the dark intensity many readers demand. Batman is Bruce Wayne is Batman and he is not as mad as his enemies. This isn't the Bat-God of recent decades, it's a hero who makes mistakes, who isn't prepared for everything. Which is great for the readers, because 'I-always-have-a-plan-Batman' had gotten boringly predictable. Snyder's Batman, though, can be surprised, which means the reader can be caught short by a page turn, which means more drama. 

The drama this time features the return of a Golden Age villain, one I didn't think anyone could make unsettling. But Snyder manages it, painting him as an eerily creepy zealot. Throughout the issue, Batman has descended deeper into an almost literal underworld, to meet a man who speaks of death and deities. Histories crumble, as new ones are offered. 

I'd buy this comic for the scripts alone, but happily, Snyder's artistic partner from the beginning of this run, Greg Capullo, remains and impresses me more by the month. His Batman is distinctive, expressive without being over-rendered, always believable in his environs. He's a man on the edge, but a man in control, a tautly muscled hero ever ready for the unpredictable. Aide Julia Pennyworth and perhaps-future-Robin Duke look great too, as does the aforementioned Golden Age guy. As for the Joker, he's just spooky as hell, particularly in a silent sequence. 
But it's the depiction of the virus-maddened citizens in a fully realised city which really impresses. They leer at us as they teem towards Batman, like an insane, unstoppable termite colony, climbing through windows, overrunning buildings ... nowhere is safe. Anonymous individuals who would otherwise be mere 'background artistes' are given weight in the story, meaning - they're the souls Batman must save, they're the souls who simply want him dead.  

Adding their own talents are inker Danny Miki and colourist FCO Plascencia. The former embraces the darkness, giving extra weight and shape to Capullo's pencils. As for Plascencia, I'd assumed that after the weirdness of Zero Year, which saw him use an uncharacteristic, for Batman, palette of hot colours, he'd turn to the more traditional blues, greys and browns. But nothing of the sort - the brights speak to the madness of the Joker, with an especially sickly green assigned to the citizenry. 

Steve Wands and the equally excellent Jared K Fletcher share the lettering duties and I certainly can't see the join, allowing me to enjoy the strip without a hiccup. 

So, is the Joker immortal? Are Snyder, Capullo and co making a massive adjustment to the Batman canon? I don't think so; they giving us a new Joker origin, but like every one we've previously been offered, it's all hearsay and supposition. We've never been with the Joker at the moment of his birth, it's always flashbacks, stories. And here we have another - one that's very plausible in the DC Universe, where science and the supernatural sit side by side. But the story provides wiggle room... if we want to believe the Joker can literally come back from the dead, we can. But if we wish to continue accepting the comic book conceit that Batman's greatest villain will always return, and the details aren't important, that channel remains open. 
Underlining the Joker's status as a creature of pure story is the latest linked back-up written by James Tynion IV. A gaggle of Arkham Asylum patients have kidnapped a psychiatrist, to regale her with tales of the Joker, each very different from the last. Sam Kieth joins Tynion for a fable about an army of Batmen living under Gotham, explaining the Caped Crusader's apparent ability to be everywhere at once. And guess who's Batman No1? It's a short, sharp treat thanks to a pithy script and beautifully expressive art, with softly applied colours by Ronda Pattison. Kieth and Pattison move from naturalistic to madness in a heartbeat - I hope DC finds a special project for this visual pairing. Trusty Travis Lanham lays down the letters with precision. 

New additions to the Batman line - Gotham Academy, Grayson, Gotham By Midnight, Arkham Manor, the revamped Catwoman, Detective and Batgirl - have gotten a lot of attention and praise lately, and rightly so. The creative teams led by editor Mark Doyle are producing terrifically varied work, considering all are in the same family. But the mother book continues to set the standard which the sister titles, with their variety of subjects and tones, must strive to match. Snyder, Capullo and co are combining the classic with the contemporary to produce a shockingly good Batman run. 

Comments

  1. Totally agree with you here. This was another great issue.
    I'm still on the fence about whether the Joker is a supernatural being. At the end of "Court of Owls" they provided evidence that Owlman wasn't really Bruce's brother...but didn't disprove it entirely. I'm guessing something similar will happen here. Maybe Ra's Al Ghul injected an improved Lazarus formula into Joker's spine?
    Also, I wonder how snell will react to another goofy Golden Age villain meeting a grisly fate? The poor man has been through enough at the hands of the New 52...

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    1. My preference is for The Joker to be non-supernatural/enhanced. Mind, my preference is for him to be driving the Jokermobile and living in the Ha-Hacienda...

      As for the villain, fear not, there was another version knocking about.

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  2. All sounds a bit similar to the dreadful Last Laugh crossover that made me hate not just the overexposed Joker, but pretty much all of Batman's rogues gallery to this very day.
    Although the upshot of being based on Last Laugh is that I think it might actually be scientifically impossible to ever be as bad a story.

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    1. It's a lot better than The Last Laugh, happily!

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  3. I think for Snyder himself Joker is a super natural being considering Detective Comics #27 his short story is meant to be the future for his take on Batman. old Bruce told young Bruce that they all find out what the joker is eventually (probably the reason why Bruce chose to clone himself rather then pass along the mantle) so for the readers who prefer the mystery there is wiggle room for Snyder's Batman universe however he is immortal

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    1. Hi Sam, I've just been reading an interview put up at Newsarama, and it seems Snyder himself isn't definite that the Joker is magical, so phew!

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  4. Yeah, after reading the Newsarama article, I'm super-intrigued as well. The Joker being immortal does make things interesting, and proabbly works best if it remains vague whether he is or not. In a sense, aren't all these comic characters immortal since they've essentially out-lived their creators, with hopefully no end in sight.
    But yeah, the Joker being immortal does add a new wrinkle to things, changing up the whole dynamic of his relationship to Batman big time, especially with the added punch that he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne. Which over the years, it's been alluded to, especially in Snyder and Morrison's run, that he probably already knows, just doesn't care.

    It looks like it's being setup, that the only way for Bruce to beat the Joker then, is to become immortal himself. How he does this up to Snyder, and other than cloning, I'm not sure how he'd do it.
    Which next makes we wonder what happens after Endgame that makes the status quo change to such a degree that "Nothing will ever be the same again".

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    1. Now that's a great guess as to the nature of the coming new situation. I've been wondering about it since Scott Snyder mentioned it at November's Thought Bubble con in Leeds. If I had my druthers (whatever they are) I'd have Bruce marry Selina. What a shame a suitable Selina isn't around. Julia will do!

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    2. Maybe, but Selina will doubtlessly always hold a special place in his heart.

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  5. Well... Snyder's the guy that changed Batman's origins from a guy who went back to Gotham to fight the mob, to a guy who went back to Gotham to fight colorful gangs, bone monsters, lions, robots with screens on their chests showing the villain's face and saving the city playing a giant version of Jeopardy...

    So... if the Joker ends up being immortal, it wouldn't surprise me at all. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Bruce ends up being bitten by a radioactive bat...

    All I'm saying is, this not my Batman...

    Nowy, why would he seek the Court of Owls help? If I'm not mistaken, the Court doesn't control politicians, nor the police... or drug trafficking... not even prostitution... they're probably the worst secret organization in comic book History.

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    1. I was really impressed by the craft of Batman: Year One, it was so different from any other DC superhero comic... But Batman is a superhero comic and I like the bigger, brasher menaces. I'm not a fan of everything Scott Snyder has done in the book - Batman's Owls ordeal, the origin hologram in the study - but I like that he's playing around with things. He's smart enough to know that things don't neecssarily stick and, again, he is building in ambiguity.

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