Review: Batman: Last Knight on Earth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

April 19, 2020

It feels like a long time since we've seen Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo together again. Since their famous Batman collaboration, sure Snyder's gone back to his Dark Knight roots with The Batman Who Laughs, for instance, but not with Capullo. The two teamed for Dark Nights: Metal, but for all the craziness, Metal never captured the magic of Snyder's Batman for me, nor did Capullo's art on the (albeit enjoyable) crossover seem quite up to snuff.

Snyder and Capullo's DC Black Label series Batman: Last Knight on Earth is a cool burst of air, a lush, spacious, clever reminder of Snyder and Capullo's best work. It is more in the vein of their Batman: Zero Year than Metal, perhaps more unusually bright for a Batman story than what one usually expects, but with a summer blockbuster ending akin to the team's Court of Owls. Surely Last Knight is an instant classic, surely there's an Absolute edition in its future, and surely this is a pure example of what DC Black Label can and should do. Last Knight begs for a sequel; hopefully this isn't the last Last Knight after all.

[Review contains spoilers]

There's a bit of The Matrix in Last Knight, as the book begins with Bruce Wayne waking in Arkham Asylum — young, sane, and having never been Batman. That's a feint, we find, with callbacks to Bruce and Alfred's conflict in the creative team's Batman Vol. 9: Bloom, and Bruce soon "wakes" again to find himself in a post-apocalyptic future. Among benefits of the early sequence is that we get Capullo drawing Bruce and Alfred again — Capullo's well-rendered but on-model Alfred, and his distinctive young, fresh-faced Bruce, who's never so much looked like Bruce Wayne to me but who's immediately recognizable as Capullo's. Already, with that, this felt like going home.

The greater part of the book is a Mad Max-ian road trip through Snyder's infernal future DC Universe, complete with bizarre mutations for both the Green Lantern and Flash family of characters. Here again, where Metal often went small and dark, Knight is big and expansive, with Batman fighting his battles in semi-daylight. Snyder has a lot of ideas, and not all get (or need to get) full exploration, but very surely if Snyder saw fit, there's plenty of ground in Last Knight that he could return and mine later on.

As would also not particularly surprise fans of Snyder's Batman, the "Batman" in this scenario is one of the clones Batman created via the miracle machine introduced toward the end of Snyder's run. We've seen a couple of these already, enough that the particular revelation feels predictable. However, the antagonist here, "Omega," visually evokes the Talon Lincoln March, the best villain of Snyder and Capullo's run, and indeed this story is in many ways a bookend to Batman's fight against his "brother," March/Thomas Wayne Jr. in Court of Owls, Snyder and Capullo's first Batman outing. The revelation that Omega is the original Bruce Wayne and all the resonance that has goes a long way toward making using a clone as the protagonist again palatable.

These days to go into a Scott Snyder Batman tale (whether Dark Nights: Metal, The Batman Who Laughs, or the end of his Batman run) is to expect certain thematic elements, namely that Batman is not so much a frightening dark night as a paragon of humanity that inspires our better selves. These themes are almost predictable, though surely worth repeating, and I no more mind Snyder having thematic continuity between his works than I do Grant Morrison's "if you dream it, it will come" aesthetic.

It takes a little while — long enough that I thought maybe Snyder was going a different route this time — before Snyder's themes start to come out in this story. We're reminded how different Snyder's Batman is from Morrison's before him; though Knight has a Morrison-ian bent in the sound of a door opening resonating throughout history, Snyder's Batman has always (at least since Zero Year) been the more trusting, less suspicious Batman than Morrison's and others. This is the Batman who held the door to the Hall of Justice open for a raving mob, hoping to reason with them, rather than the Batman who'd have frightened them away and shut the door. This is the Batman who believes in the better part of humanity, and in redemption.

As well, Snyder bandies around the idea of echolocation here, that bats are blind in the dark and use their voices to "see." Omega treats this as a weakness, that Batman has essentially "called in the dark" his whole existence, with no one listening. As readers we understand this as patently untrue, as demonstrated no less than by the Bat-family still present and fighting for good in the future. But Snyder, via this young Batman, interprets it another way too, that if Batman is not special, if he's just one person among the rest of humanity, "then so be it" — that again, Batman is only human, and thereby inspires us to our better selves.

At the start of the book, it seems Alfred is the narrator, a reasonable assumption, though we find later it's actually the Joker's disembodied head. That shifts again at the end, to what we might read as Snyder saying his good-byes. Questionably, Snyder talks about being with Batman "practically his whole life," which is hard to countenance but perhaps refers to Zero Year till now. The narrator talks about having seen the Batman story at one point as being about death, but now about life — that the murder of the Waynes wasn't a tragedy, but rather a starting gun for the victorious life of Batman. And he sees Batman looking ahead (past, perhaps, Snyder's influence), and Snyder writes that the narrator "knew that I'd already said everything I needed to say."

It's curious, however — ambitious, appealing, but curious — that Snyder's last word on Batman seems to be "Superman." The tongue-in-cheek final page of Knight is a kind of faux Polaroid of a battle-hardened Wonder Woman, the Joker's head-as-Robin, and a smiling Batman in a futuristic suit cradling an infant Kal-El who, through time travel shenanigans, has just now arrived to the future. The implication (not dissimilar to the end of Doomsday Clock, actually) is that Batman and Wonder Woman will now raise Kal-El to become Superman, though — if we take plenty Elseworlds as guide — that will probably entail Batman training Clark in the arts of intimidation and Wonder Woman intervening to preserve his humanity. It's all creative, all fun, but for Batman's ultimate purpose in his "last" story to be in service to Superman seems just as much a disservice for Batman as it would if the last Superman story saw him in service to Batman.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Last Knight on Earth

This is another reason Batman: Last Knight on Earth needs a sequel; one can no sooner leave hanging a future Batman clone raising an infant Superman than they can call it a "last Batman story" in which Batman's story does indeed go on. It's altogether strange that Scott Snyder should label this his last Batman story, not only because it would be a great shame if Snyder should never write Batman again but also because of the lack of finality to it (yes, Batman "dies," but also Batman goes on). I enjoyed too how Snyder branches this story off his Justice League: Justice/Doom War, though without necessarily requiring any knowledge of that story; this is a story very much a product of its time, but also one sure to have a long life span.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Last Knight on Earth
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments

Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.