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.