The Vanier Report: Tales From A DC Pull List (Batman #40 Review)

The Vanier Report: Week 16


SPOILERS AHEAD.

This is true to some extent with all reviews, but for real…

SPOILERS AHEAD.

batman40

Batman #40
Written by: Scott Snyder
Pencils by: Greg Capullo
Inks by: Danny Miki
Colours by: FCO Palscencia
Letters by: Steve Wands

Less than a month ago, Batman Eternal concluded a fantastic year-long run. As its central question, the title explored the nature of Batman’s legacy. Despite being a mortal man, was Bruce Wayne ultimately successful in making Batman immortal and everlasting? The answer was an unequivocal “yes”, because Batman lives within each and every life he has touched, and more overtly within the missions and symbols of his extended Bat-family.

But where Batman Eternal affirmed that Batman’s legacy is undying, Scott Snyder’s epic “Endgame” arc is a grim reminder that Batman himself is not.

Batman #40 picks up right where #39 left off, with the Dark Knight and his allies engaged in a battle with the Jokerized citizens of Gotham. While the Bat-family and Arkhamites attempt to hold off the hordes, Batman takes on the Joker one-on-one, attempting to extract the Dionysium from his spine to cure the affected citizens. As is customary with the Joker, there is always an ace in the hole; in this case, a literal hole, as the only real reserve of Dionysium is in a cave elsewhere in Gotham.

But Batman has a trick of his own up his sleeve, as Dick Grayson is revealed to be the Batman fighting in the streets while Bruce Wayne is already in the explosive-rigged cave getting a sample of the Dionysium. The Joker arrives before Bruce can escape, and as the cave begins to collapse around them, the two fight their bloodiest battle yet, trading vicious wounds until both lie bleeding on the floor. As the Dionysium is buried in the cave in, and their last hope of healing erased, Batman sacrifices himself so that his sample can reach the surface, dying alongside his “friend”.

Batman vs Joker Endgame smile

Scott Snyder’s script finds a pace and a tone that had been on occasion lacking through the various chapters of “Endgame”; replacing the intrigue and detective work with wall-to-wall action is absolutely fitting for the final act of the story. In fact, where every other chapter of “Endgame” was built around the mystery of the Joker’s supposed immortality, Batman #40 effectively takes for granted that such a thing is not true. In the end, whether or not the Joker was immortal (which he, of course, was not) was never the point. The point was to push Bruce to the edge. As an individual, the Joker has always been Batman’s greatest foe, but as a symbol he was even more dangerous.

Greg Capullo’s art revels in the gruesome brutality of that danger. There are no clean cuts in the fight; instead, gashes are ragged and torn, with all the grotesquery of burns and disfigurement on full display. And in their final moments, Batman manages to strike a fear in the heart of the Joker that we have never seen before. Watching the Joker beg for his life is an unprecedented reversal of their relationship, where Batman is the figure of terror and the spectre of death. In fact, the entire final fight between the archrivals is far and away the most visceral experience yet in the Snyder-Capullo run on Batman, and possibly in the history of the characters themselves. Even the knock-down-drag-out battle between the two in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns pales in comparison to the battle in Batman #40.

Batman vs Joker EndgameIn interviews, Snyder and Capullo have often referred to “Death of the Family” as being a comedy, where “Endgame” is a tragedy. The theatrical influence on these terms is represented by the ongoing reference to the deus ex machine in the theatre commissioned by Bruce Wayne. And in the context of classical theatre, comedies are driven by the force of love, by which standard “Death of the Family” was absolutely the Joker’s love song to Batman. Tragedies, by contrast, are driven by the force of death.

For all its talk of immortality, “Endgame” has been about death from the very start. But where the Joker believed that death would undo Batman, what he failed to realize was that Batman is himself a tragic character, driven by death. Alfred puts it best in the issue’s conclusion: “Batman could live forever. He could escape. But he doesn’t. He dies. Just like every one of us. Even though he doesn’t have to.”

In death, Batman finally trumps the Joker. Were he to live forever, he would cease to inspire others to join his fight. Despite his wealth, from the perspective of the citizens of Gotham, Batman is an everyman. He is and can be anybody. And a crucial element of that legacy is his own mortality. Ironically, it is that mortality that allows him to become more than a man. His death allows him to live on in a way that the Joker will not.

There was lots of speculation that the Joker would finally meet his end at the conclusion of this arc, and the premature reveal of Jim Gordon as the new Batman certainly raised eyebrows about what would happen to Bruce, but I’m not sure that many people were truly ready to consider that he himself would die. It may not have been the ending that we wanted or expected, but it was the right ending, and Snyder and Capullo have once again proven that they are this generation’s iconic interpreters of Batman.

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Feature Written By: Reid Vanier

“Reid is a comic book fan masquerading as a theatre artist. His love of comics (specifically DC) was inherited by his father’s collections of Flash, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Justice League of America. Reid is now the Editor and Lead Writer of Modern Mythologies.”

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