BATMAN #39
Author: John Bierly (Follow @JOHNBIERLY)
February 26, 2015

SYNOPSIS: “Endgame,” Part 5. The Joker is back! The penultimate issue of the Clown Prince of Crime’s horrifying return! Plus, in the backup story, the inmates and Mahreen finally learn the truth about The Joker!

Ever since his run as the architect of DC's New 52 began, writer Scott Snyder has delighted in challenging not only Batman but his readers, as well. Snyder has excelled at pushing us as far as he's pushed Bruce Wayne, and along the way he's asked us to consider some decidedly controversial things. Was Lincoln March really Bruce's long-lost brother? Could a network as nefarious as the Court of Owls truly have existed right beneath Batman's nose for so long?

Now Snyder's suggesting that The Joker is at least as old as Gotham City. And if you think the axe Jim Gordon got in his chest last issue was painful, wait until you see the injury The Joker inflicts this time. From the beginning, I've happily been along for the ride despite misgivings I was glad to forgive in exchange for fun, fresh, original stories. But this is the first issue since the Lincoln March stuff that I've stopped and said, "I don't know about this."

We begin with the meat of Batman's visit to the Court of Owls, where he learns a little more about the "Dionesium" that's making The Joker immortal. Snyder retroactively ties it in to how the Court keeps its Talons alive while also keeping The Joker conversation open-ended. In other words, is this stuff something The Joker's been using for centuries, or is it something he's only ingested recently? The fact that he ran around the New 52 for years without a face suggests the latter, doesn't it? (And the backup story by James Tynion IV is a big clue, too.)


BATMAN #39 Cover

Batman shuts the Court of Owls up pretty spectacularly, but their meeting is over without our seeing its end. Instead we get a quick conversation between Batman and Alfred's daughter, Julia, before finding out where The Joker was swimming to last issue. (And if you're confused by his gaping face wound, don't worry; it took an interview Snyder gave to Newsarama yesterday to clarify what really happened there.) Alfred confronts The Joker and literally loses a hand for it, which seems kind of sensationalistic, doesn't it? Unless Batman is able to extract Dionesium from The Joker to repair Alfred's hand next issue, of course, which seems likely.

So what's it going to be? A Dionesium fix, or Alfred's having a hook for a hand from here on out? If it gets fixed with Dionesium, was losing it just a fake-out for shock's sake? But if it stays gone, is a sans-hand Alfred an example of taking things too far? I'm still not sure how I feel about it, and I'd love it if you'd sound off with your thoughts in the comments section below.

Either way, it's kind of like the Court of Owls scene; it ends right when it's getting interesting and segues right back into another Batman/Julia conversation. I had to read the dialogue a couple of times to understand how Alfred escaped. The question, then, is why did The Joker let him? I suppose it's sort of like why Heath Ledger’s Joker didn't shove a real grenade in the bank manager's mouth in THE DARK KNIGHT. If he didn't leave the guy alive, then who would have survived to get the joke?

And for a Batman who recently complained about not having a plan, Bruce sure pulls a crazy one out of his sleeve by issue's end, and I'm not sure how well it actually works for me. Melee begins between the infected citizens of Gotham and an unlikely coalition of Batman's friends and foes, leaving The Joker to tease his best trick of all.

Fun ideas abound in this issue, including one in which The Joker urged all of Batman's other villains to join together to shine an inverted Batsignal in the event of Batman's death. It seems likely to me that he simply wanted an excuse to get them all in one place to kill them (and then probably himself, too), because if Batman's dead, then what's the point of their continued existence? I don't know if Snyder intended that, but it's a fun wrinkle to consider. Batman narrating his own funeral is a nod to Neil Gaiman's WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER?, while The Joker's parade includes visual cues from the Tim Burton’s BATMAN alongside items purloined from the Batcave.

Speaking of visuals, Greg Capullo and his art team aren't just killing it; they're taking off and nuking it from orbit, just to be sure! FCO Plascencia's color gamut runs from darkly stark to vibrantly vivid, while Danny Miki's inks precisely define Capullo's brawny lines.

The backup story is particularly strong this month, too, lining out a believable origin for The Joker before yanking out the rug from under its biggest believer, Dr. Mahreen Zaheer (from the beautiful and talented Marguerite Bennett's BATMAN ANNUAL #2). The trumped-up tale is as interesting as its fallout is heartbreaking, as Mahreen finds out the hard way that her colleague and collaborator was The Joker all along. (Art by one of my favorite teams, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, makes it all even better.) The "out" he gives her is the nastiest trick he's played since the "tryouts" in THE DARK KNIGHT, and I hope her true fate isn't what it appears to be.

One more issue of ENDGAME to go after this one, and there's a lot to resolve. Will Alfred get his hand back? Will the true nature of The Joker's immortality be revealed to be scientific rather than supernatural? I love being dragged out of my comfort zone as a reader... as long as the insanity works. This issue's events and structure caused some head-scratching, but I trust Snyder to bring it home right. We'll know soon! - John Bierly

GRADE: A

John Bierly still can't believe he
gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.


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