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Batman #38

Review by Paul Bowler

The outbreak caused by the Joker’s new toxin has plunged Gotham into chaos as the infected rampage through the city. Batman investigated Gotham Presbyterian Hospital where he discovered Patient Zero was in fact Joe Chill – the man who murdered his parents. Holed up in his apartment, Jim Gordon had to confront the Joker alone. Gordon shot the Joker, apparently killing him, but the Clown Prince of Crime didn’t die… Batman escaped with Duke from the hospital, now the Dark Knight must reach Jim’s apartment, but more horrors await them, and soon the race is on to find the scientist responsible for engineering the Joker’s toxin.

The Joker’s dramatic return continues in Batman #38 with Endgame Part Four, as Scott Snyders and Greg Capullos nail biting new storyline delves further into the mystery surrounding the Joker’s miraculous new ability to heal, amongst other things… Indeed, the horrifying impact of last issues unnerving torrent of cliff-hangers seems to have set up a chain reaction, one that looks set to reverberate though every aspect of Batman’s mythology in this issue with a story that is quite unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

From the first page, as Batman uses his glider to carry him and Duke towards Gordon’s apartment in Foundry Square, Snyder once again draws us into the rich history of Gotham City. It’s fascinating to learn more about the place where Jim Gordon lives, as well as role Foundry Square has played in Gotham’s history, a point which is exemplified even further as we begin to understand why Jim Gordon chose to live here.

Gordon’s injury is shocking enough, but the sight of Jim suddenly brandishing the same weapon the Joker used on him against Batman is a moment of sublime terror that Snyder executes with razor sharp precision. From here the issue proceeds at a break-neck-pace, with Gordon secured and Penny Two entrusted with getting young Duke to safety, Batman gets Dick Grayson to analyse the regenerative factor in the Joker’s blood as he battles his way across Gotham in order to find the scientist responsible for creating the new virus – Paul Dekker.

Batman #38 Cover

I really enjoyed these exchanges over the com-link between Batman and Dick Grayson over the course of this issue. With the tension heightening by the moment as Batman does his best to evade the hordes of infected civilians, the banter between Batman and Dick Grayson over the com-link is excellent, and the action is punctuated by some startling revelations. The defining moment comes as Bruce tells Dick what the Joker really “knows”. In essence we’ve been here before, In Death of the Family, with the Dark Knight locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse over whether or not the Joker actually knows who Batman really is. Even though the situation is even more dire here now in Endgame, when it seems like everything is lost, with no way out of this one, there is still the uncanny feeling that even a Batman without a plan will still find a trump card to play against the Joker.

Batman’s quest to locate Paul Dekker finds the Dark Knight confronted by none other than Crazy Quilt! This one time associate of Dr Karl Helfern also provides a brilliant link to Dr Death’s role in Zero Year, and in making the surprise addition of Paul Dekker as Crazy Quilt, Scott Snyder has single-handedly woven another classic villain into the ongoing narrative in a way that few, if any of us, could’ve ever really expected. The virus Dekker synthesized for the Joker actually turns out to be a story about something far, far older, and more dangerous than Batman ever imagined. The regenerative qualities the Joker has gained from this virus are astonishing, but with the Joker’s image now seemingly linked to the major tragedies in Gotham’s history, the implications of this discovery now makes his apparent immortality seem even more horrifying in the extreme.

The intensity and detail of Greg Capullo’s art is as captivating as ever. A brooding atmosphere of terror and suspense seems to permeate through every page of this issue as we follow Batman’s journey across the city, from that maniacal glint in Gordon’s eyes as he raises the axe, to the giggling crowds of infected civilians that follow Batman wherever he goes, and the gloomy menace of Dekker’s lab, Capullo keeps the action flowing smoothly as the horror and tension builds. Danny Mikis inks enhance the air of dread further still, and FCO Plascencias gorgeous colors bring a magnificent clarity to virtually every scene. Along with its dark, horrific tone, Batman #38 is also big on spectacle, with Batman taking on a tank being just one highlight, and of course that incredible, jaw-dropping, final page that delivers Endgame’s most shocking plot twist so far.

This issues backup story from James Tynion IV, with Sam Kieth’s stylish art, colors by Ronda Pattison, and letters provided by Travis Lanham, follows the escaped Arkham inmates, crazed disciples of the Joker, who have been given the task of telling their stories to Doctor Zaheer. This time it is Cassidy’s turn, with a chilling tale that gouges right into “Heart” of Gotham’s secret history. Doctor Zaheer’s plight is made all the more terrifying as her ordeal drags her further into the inmates mad, twisted world, while somewhere down in the darkness beneath Gotham, the truth is waiting for her… This dark tale of terror by Tynion is one of the most unsettling so far in this series of backup stories to accompany Endgame, Sam Kieth’s art encapsulates the horrific nature of this macabre story perfectly, and the lingering sense of the unknown that it generates deftly ties into the events unfolding in Endgames main story arc in a way that is both haunting and eerily disconcerting.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are certainly keeping us all on our toes with Endgame. Even with everything that Batman discovers this issue, Snyder still manages to keep us guessing concerning the mystery surrounding the Joker’s apparent immortality. At one point Dekker even seems to acknowledge what we are all thinking, and he’s right, this doesn’t even feel like a Batman story anymore, it’s become something much bolder and braver. The ambiguity of the Joker being immortal challenges Batman like never before. Endgame has already delivered countless surprises, with elements from The Court of Owls, Death of the Family, and Zero Year gradually slotting into place, Endgame becomes more enthralling with every issue. As for the Joker, we only really get one glimpse of him this issue, its also one you won’t forget in a hurry, and it leaves you with a horrible feeling about where he’s probably going and what’s going to happen when he arrives…