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

SYNOPSIS: The finale of “Endgame” is here! Batman risks everything against The Joker! Who will laugh last?

The end of ENDGAME has arrived with BATMAN #40, in which Bruce Wayne teaches The Joker that everything is fun and games until it isn't. But at what cost?

I know I confused a lot of you by giving issue #39 a high rating despite lining out a litany of concerns and misgivings. Even though I had my issues with the issue, I was still thinking and talking about it for days after I read it, and that's why #40 will get a similarly high rating. I'm still thinking about it and talking it days later, as are many of you. As with all of writer Scott Snyder's work on the character, it stays true to the characters by finding new angles to frame iconic character traits in fresh ways. It's exciting, it's crazy, and it's never afraid to go big. The conclusion goes the biggest, and it will change the landscape of Batman comics for quite some time. (Translation: until muscles its way into a theater near you next March.) That's why you need to read it, and I hope you will.

But it's also difficult to discuss without spoilers, so this is where you should punch out if you haven't read the issue yet.

Still here? OK. Let's do this...

Remember when we were kids and constantly tried to one-up each other by perpetually changing the rules to make ourselves right? "I shot you with my flamethrower!" "Oh, yeah? Well I was wearing my fire-proof suit!" One of my friends remarked that there's a lot of that in BATMAN #40, with the thoughtfulness and thoroughness we've come to expect from Snyder replaced by explanations that sometimes border on desperate, such as how Batman tricked an army of villains into avoiding deadly force against the Joker's army of gassed-up Gothamites with a lie about masks that release knockout gas. How would the masks know that lethal force had been used? Who would believe that? Whatever. I'll allow it in the same way I wasn't really that bothered by The Joker somehow liberating all of the giant trophies from the Batcave to parade them through downtown Gotham. It's a story. In a comic book.

More problematic, however, is Bruce's trick of sending in Dick Grayson to confront The Joker as Batman so that Bruce can get to The Joker's secret supply of Dionesium. It could be argued that The Joker has waited so long for this day that he doesn't notice a swapping out of the adversary he claims to know so intimately because he's so in the moment. But I'd counter that that's exactly why he would notice. What do you think? Would The Joker buy it? Would Bruce put Dick in danger that way? You could say the situation has gotten so dire that any hint of safety's out the window anyway, but this whole mess is making The Joker's thesis from DEATH OF THE FAMILY make a little bit of sense. (Now we know why none of the Bat Family wanted to hang out with Bruce at the end of that story!)

Details aside, what ultimately matters is that the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker delivers. And it does. All the hints have been there that The Joker's immortality was a crock, and that point was driven home particularly hard (and well) by James Tynion's excellent backup tale from #39. But even though his song about his centuries is a sham, The Joker really has been regenerated, and the key to making his and Batman's struggle truly eternal lies only inches away, if only Batman will take the bait. And he does, just in the opposite direction of what The Joker is expecting.


BATMAN #40 Cover

Batman wins by essentially saying, "I won't kill us. But I don't have to save us." He gives The Joker what The Joker says he wants. Friends to the end. And there aren't enough words for how much I loved the way Snyder and artist Greg Capullo sold The Joker's desperation to get to that shimmery green pit when he realized that Batman was calling his bluff. As I said at the beginning of the review, The Joker learns the hard way that it's all fun and games until it isn't, making Batman's victory here all the more masterful. Bleeding out in a cave sounds like a whimper, but Snyder and Capullo sell it like a beautiful, biblical bang.

And let's talk for a minute about Capullo's art here. How about that shot of our two fallen titans sprawled across the cave floor with a heart as bloody as Batman and as broken as The Joker blooming between them? From the energy of the action to the honesty of the emotion to the sheer brutality he brings to both, particularly when The Joker realizes that Batman's joke is about to be on him, Capullo and his art team once again cement themselves as one of the tightest, most exciting units in comics today. (For my money, they're the best.)

The epilogue did deflate my excitement a bit; Alfred's refusal to have his severed hand repaired is meant to be stoic but comes across as supremely stupid. And if we see Bruce Wayne hobbling in the shadows on crutches, that means he's alive, and if Bruce is alive, then we know that The Joker is alive, too. Which is fine. On one hand, it takes away from the finality of this story, but we also knew going into this that it was never going to be "final" anyway.

On that note, what does the armor in the dumpster signify? That the gods of Gotham have fallen? That no Deus Ex Machina swept in to lift the fallen adversaries back to life?

What it means to me is not that these stories are literally garbage but that it doesn't really matter. Great stories will be told about these characters, including stories in which they end, but the characters will live on forever to embark upon new adventures and blaze new pages in their legends and legacies. That's what we got with ENDGAME. An ending for now, but never forever.

So what's next? We know there's a big blue robot "Batman" on the cover of #41. I won't spoil who/what that robot is, but the answer is out there if you can't wait to find out. Even though I'll give it a chance, I'm definitely not looking forward to reading more stories without Bruce Wayne as Batman, regardless of how temporary his replacement's tenure will be. But if any comics team can tempt me into braving more event fatigue, it's this one. Let's just not keep Bruce away for too long, OK? - 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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