COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Batman #38
Batman #38: Endgame Part 4
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Placencia
February 10th, 2015
I will preface this review with an open admission that I am beginning to suspect that this story may be outpacing my ability to keep up with it. This is not meant to disparage Snyder and Capullo’s outstanding run in anyway. Rather, it is meant to convey to you the breakneck speed at which this arc is approaching its denouement. The eponymous endgame is upon us and it seems like this creative team will running to the finish line, readership in tow.
In what appears to be a central theme for this tale, Batman 38 begins with a history lesson. Specifically, Snyder recounts the circumstances surrounding Foundry Square. This is the block of property Jim Gordon, a man we last saw staving off an assault from the Joker, calls home. His reasons for hanging his hat in this space have much to do with the square’s stalwart ancestry and it precisely here that Batman and a young survivor named Duke are headed. When the duo finally arrives at Commissioner Gordon’s apartment, they find that he has survived the encounter with the deadly jester, but has not come through entirely unscathed. With a freshly embedded hatchet in his chest and a bit of delirium setting in, the commissioner confesses that he is certain he delivered a mortal wound to their mutual foe. Yet, inexplicably, the Joker survived the encounter. Noticing that Jim’s strength is waning, Batman sends Duke to fetch a first aid kit from the bathroom. He is soon caught off-guard as Gordon dislodges the ax from his own body and proceeds to attack Batman; it is obvious that he has been infected by the virus. Both are spared from injury by Julia Pennyworth who arrives to deliver a well time tranquilizer round to the commissioner’s prone neck. Despite the timely intervention, her arrival brings with it some very somber news. As if things weren’t bad enough, it now appears that further analysis of the Joker’s virus has revealed that the very chemical making it resistant to treatment exhibits necrotic properties. Duke interrupts the tense atmosphere with a show of support for Batman and without further ceremony our hero is on the move.
While in transit, Batman; addressed as Malone in a nod to fans familiar with the alias, receives a communique from none other that Dick Grayson(using his own Birdwatcher alias). The former Robin confirms that his analysis of a sample of the Joker’s blood has uncovered a very potent regenerative element. More potent, in fact, than the chemicals found in Lazarus pits. At the insistence of Batman, Dick cross-references the Joker’s blood sample with a sample of the virus and discovers a troubling dichotomy. It appears that that the recently discovered degenerative properties of the virus are the direct inverse of the regenerative ones found in the Joker’s blood sample. Snyder highlights this relationship by drawing parallels to comedy and tragedy and, perhaps tellingly, to love and hate. Again, without belaboring the point, I am very much a fan of Snyder efforts to speak directly to the relationship between Batman and the Joker in every facet of this story arc. If what we are witnessing can be trusted, I believe the resolution to this plot line will be very deeply rooted in this dynamic.
As the conversation twixt Batman and Dick continues, our protagonist begrudgingly admits that the Joker is aware of his identity(confession: unless this is a reference to the events of Death of the Family, it’s possible I may have missed something). This is met with a well deserved air of despair, but it is not enough to discourage Batman. As the conversation continues, we are treated to a series of deductions that lead us to the introduction of the New 52’s version of Crazy Quilt – Paul Dekker. Reasoning that the Joker must have employed the talents of a specialist, he confronts Dekker in a non-descript storage facility. The pages chronicling this encounter are probably the most controversial and, to my mind, the most exciting of the issue. While not much happens in the way of a physical encounter, the exchange between Decker and Batman is nothing short of revelatory. Though the assertion comes from a dubious source, it is framed by an admission that this does not discredit the cognitive ability of the storyteller. By way of science and myth, Dekker continues to build up the case for a supernatural origin for the Joker. On that note, while I personally enjoy fantasy and supernatural elements in my fiction, I’m not so certain I’m ready welcome that kind of a genesis for this character. Part of my interest in the Joker as a Bat-villain, beyond the mystery of his origin, is that he, like Batman, is mortal. To make him preternatural without extending a similar courtesy to Batman (scandalous, I know) upsets a very delicate balance that I believe to be supremely important to both icons. That said, Snyder has more than earned my trust concerning his treatment of the characters and shall, for the moment, continue to hold on to that confidence. In any case, what most caught my attention about this exchange was the near meta assertion by Dekker that the narrative didn’t “feel like a Batman story anymore”. Having been fooled once already with Eric Border’s big reveal, I am very suspicious of even the subtlest of clues(although, admittedly, this seemed fairly conspicuous). Whether this kind of vigilance will pay off remains to be seen. Things quickly take a turn for the worst when Julia contacts Batman to reveal she has discovered that the cellular degeneration imposed by the virus will prove fatal in scarcely twenty-four hours. Defiantly, Batman asserts that the events surrounding his current predicament cannot be real (possibly another clue by Snyder). Finally, with little recourse left, Batman turns to an unexpected source for help. “Owl” let you read the issue for yourself to find out who that is.
“Heart”, the latest entry in the Endgame companion, continues to deliver progressively hideous art but offers an intriguing story nonetheless. This time, we are treated to the apparent delusions of Cassidy, a member of the cadre of patients attempting to escape Arkham. In his story, he presents himself as an unknowing participant in a military experiment aimed a developing an army of Batmen. As a result of actions taken after uncovering this plot, Cassidy is sent to Arkham where he meets the Joker and is informed that his awareness has entitled him to a greater understanding of “the truth”. The truth, in this case, is that there is “a heart” in the center of Gotham that he must visit.
As this latest issue closes, I am less urged on by the very obvious insistence that the Joker’s origins are supernatural than I am by the trail of bread crumbs that I may erroneously be picking up on. Who is Duke and why does his own introduction so closely echo Batman’s own origin? Is any of this truly happening? Is Joe Chill truly patient zero? Is that even possible? Are we caught within the fevered dreams of Bruce Wayne who is, as part one of this story helped establish, still in the grip of the Scarecrow’s fear toxin? What are the disjointed, but increasingly cohesive, side stories trying to tell us? While I have a great many theories about what is going on here, I’m not yet ready to make any real predictions about what is actually happening. I appreciate that, actually. I definitely feel like Snyder and Capullo are giving us a true detective story here; we’ve just got look in the right places to discern the truth. I’m ready to Batman the hell out of this thing and so, unsurprisingly, this is another recommended issue.
All images and slider courtesy of DC Comics.