Review: Batman Vol. 7: Endgame hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, September 28, 2015

At the turning point of an overall impressive run, Batman Vol. 7: Endgame is the best thing Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have done so far.

As a sequel to Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family, Endgame serves the best possible role of a sequel, enhancing and buffeting the first story even as it stands triumphant in its own right. As a Joker story, Endgame offers an origin for the Clown Prince of Crime that reaches deep into the Batman mythos, even as it preserves the mystique that makes the Joker who he is. And as a Batman story, Snyder puts his strongest mark on the character yet, redefining what has been Batman, the myth, into now Batman, the man.

[Review contains spoilers]

Grant Morrison suggested that "Batman ... will never die," not in the least because one of his allies will always be there to take his place. That's no less true in the aftermath of Endgame, but sticking with the source material, even as Dick Grayson takes the cowl for a few scant pages here, Batman Bruce Wayne does in fact "die" (of sorts, this being comics).

Most of Morrison's run that preceded Snyder's built up Batman as a mythological figure ever-present in time, culture, and nationality. Here in Endgame, however, Peter "Crazy Quilt" Dekker suggests he once though Batman was the Bat-demon Barbatos (late of both Morrison's work and Peter Milligan's Dark Knight, Dark City), but later understood he was flesh and blood. This refutation specifically separates Batman from his immortal status (in, pointedly but not disrespectfully, Morrison's run), at just the same time as the book begins to build up the Joker as a supernatural, demonic figure.

We have seen this relatable mortality of Snyder's Batman time and again. I was caught by surprise when Snyder's Batman punched Nightwing at the end of Batman Vol. 1: Court of the Owls, and this after Batman's nearly driven to madness in the Court's labyrinth. This fallibility, however, is where Snyder's Batman differs from what came before; Morrison's Batman routinely had a plan before the first page, only revealed near the last, whereas even so far as the middle of Endgame, Snyder's Batman admits he has no plan, though as the audience expects he develops one by the end. This take on a capable but less omniscient Batman is only solidified by the two-volume Zero Year detour into Batman's early days.

And finally, having "died" in Endgame's finale, Snyder's Batman leaves behind a simple message, "Ha," not coincidentally the final word of Death of the Family, though here with a brighter connotation. As Alfred explains, Batman is laughing at death; even knowing it's inevitably coming for him, he faces it bravely and encourages us to do the same. It is 180 degrees from the "to be continued" of Morrison's Final Crisis, more akin to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer's retired Batman at the end of Dark Knight Rises. At the outset, DC Comics's New 52 initiative had as its goal to tell stories of the DC Comics heroes in younger forms, and thereby less mythological and more relatable; here in Snyder's final Batman story under the New 52 banner, he achieves that once and for all ironically by letting Batman perish (upcoming solicitations notwithstanding) in the cause of defeating his greatest foe.

After the brilliant second chapter reveal of Arkham orderly Eric Border as the Joker, the Clown Prince explains to Batman that his Death of the Family attack was meant as a comedy (and, as it turns out, Endgame is a tragedy). That's a good explanation for Death, a story by turns seemingly gruesome and then ultimately toothless when the story revealed the Joker's seeming mutilation of the Bat-family as a trick. Though compelling (and arguably with a better Batman/Joker fight), Death felt like it went right to the edge and then backed off, an unevenness that's helped immensely by Snyder's Joker revealing he'd purposefully intended to deliver Batman a happy ending, something no longer the case with Endgame.

Death began as a smaller, affecting Batman/Joker showdown story that ballooned monstrously by the end, both in terms of the presence of the Bat-family and also the numerous in-title tie-in issues across the line. As its opposite number, Endgame proceeds in reverse, starting as big as it can get with a Joker-ized Justice League and then ending mainly just with Batman and a considerably lighter Bat-family presence. Again, that this two-volume Joker story should expand and then contract again, rather than viewing Death's expansion on its own, helps mitigate Death's problems.

I only felt dismayed that Endgame didn't provide resolution for the emotional issues raised in Death, namely Batman's failure (and continued failure) to treat his family as equals. If the earlier volume was the "death of [Batman's] family," in Endgame it seems they're already reunited again. I do note that this resolution came on-screen in Peter Tomasi's Batman & Robin Vol. 6: The Hunt for Robin, so perhaps Snyder is letting that suffice (it would otherwise seem difficult to place Endgame and Hunt in the same continuity without contradiction, though I understand Batman & Robin Vol. 7 maybe helps with that).

In Endgame's most outlandish claims about the Joker, Dekker -- via Snyder -- quips that the book "doesn't feel like a Batman story anymore, does it?" I think, though, Snyder underestimates the broad definitions of a Batman story -- there's considerable examples, but especially again in light of Tomasi's recent Hunt for Robin -- that the presence of the Justice League and hints of a supernaturally-based foe no longer necessarily disqualify a story from being Batman-esque.

Any real danger of such, however, is immediately dispatched by Snyder quickly tying the "Dionesium" that might have made the Joker immortal to DC Comics stalwart Vandal Savage and also to Ra's al Ghul. The Batman lore doesn't need another immortal villain in its cadre of rogues, but this is hardly the craziest idea I've ever heard and the tie to Ra's still makes it feel authentically of Batman. And of course, as in any good Joker story, no sooner does Snyder suggest an origin for the Joker than he immediately casts doubt on it, leaving the Joker no more scrutable than before (because after all, isn't asking "Who is the Joker?" missing the very point?).

In Batman Vol. 7: Endgame's various time jumps, and the Scarecrow-induced questions of what's real and not, we see a Scott Snyder story much in line with the Grant Morrison ones that came before; but with Snyder's equal page-tilting antics in Zero Year and Night of the Owls, perhaps we might agree such is authentically Snyder, as well. In their great use of technology (Kryptonite gum!), in telling a Batman story amidst a zombie apocalypse, in Greg Capullo's masterful depiction once again of the Court of Owls, Snyder and Capullo have a winner, a fine cap to the end of the beginning.
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  1. At some points in this story, I felt like Snyder was making fun of me... For exemple, I were totally agree with myself to say that "Endgame" was a very good horror story and not so much a Batman story. Even if like you said, there is a large spectre of what "Batman story" can be. And at this point, I just saw the sentence of Dekker... And I was like : "He thought about that, he is laughing at me right now !". There's a lot of idea who comes to me that Snyder seem to have anticipated... That's why I hate it just as much I love it... Snyder is, for sure, a good writer. And I think it's very hard to make a good Batman story who seems "new". And maybe harder to make a good Joker story... And finally he may have just did it...

  2. Don't know why the back up stories from the original issues were not included as well. DC will find some way to screw up a trade.

    1. That's because the back-ups were both pretty independent from the story and were entirley written by James Tynion. That's why them and all the tie-ins will be collected in the Joker: Endgame HC. Althought I'd have prefered them in this collection, I thinks it makes sense and probably was the best choice.

    2. I think the best choice would have been instead of releasing a separate volume for the endgame, to just release the Joker Endgame as Batman vol 7. For those who are already collecting the Batman trades that want the complete contents of the issue (i.e. the backups) it's unfair that you would have to double dip in order to do so. It's always one step forward 2 steps back with DC.

    3. Agreed; the Endgame "event" was constructed well so that all the specials weren't essential to read, but then rather than trying to give people options between reading them or not in the collection, it ought have just been one collection.

  3. Also the new design on the spine looks cooler than the previous design, but kind of annoying that they won't all match up