Review by Paul Bowler
The end seems nigh in Batman #39, Gotham is burning, and soon the Joker virus will kill everyone. Regenerative factors in the Joker’s blood have made him even deadlier, now seemingly immortal; he’s become a ghoulish enigma whose image has appeared at every major tragedy throughout Gotham’s history. In this darkest hour Batman has even sought help from the Court of Owls to end the Joker’s campaign of terror. When violence and horror strikes at the very heart of Batman’s world, the Dark Knight and his allies must unite with old enemies to save Gotham, but it would seem that the Joker has saved his best trick for last…
The Clown Prince of Crime’s terrifying return to Gotham continues in Batman #39 as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo ominously flip the Bat-Signal upside down for one their most apocalyptic and brutal issue so far. Endgame: Part 5 begins with a secret pact, a funeral atmosphere, and the most striking portent of doom the Dark Knight has ever seen. From here we rejoin last issue momentous cliff-hanger, as Batman confronts the Court of Owls in the underworld beneath Gotham, but his attempt to discover where the Joker obtained the chemical Dionesium – which is also in the electrum Court of Owls use to bring the Tallons back – is hindered by their lofty indifference and warped perspective of Gotham from their underground domain.
The return of the Court of Owls in this penultimate chapter of Endgame serves to reinforce the epic nature of this storyline. Endgame will surely stand as the pinnacle of everything Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have established so far during their run, its ingenious how they’ve brought the various elements from their previous story arcs together, the addition of the Court of Owls now brings everything full circle to stand alongside Death of the Family and Zero Year as events build inexorably towards Endgame’s final act.
Although the mystery of the Joker’s immortality remains an elusive conundrum, Batman’s confrontation with one of the first Tallons, Uriah Boone, does at least scratch one very intriguing question across the wall of history for us to dwell over. However, it is the Joker’s actions in Batman #39 that soon overshadow and questions about his immortality, when the Clown Prince of Crime savagely attacks someone close to Batman. It’s a scene that is sure to become one of Endgame’s defining moments. One that brutally cleaves through the unthinkable, scraping on bone and sinew, before leaving us cradling our shock in disbelief.
From that hauntingly evil cover onwards, Greg Capullo’s art wrings every nuance of darkness and horror from Snyder’s scrip, triples it, and then brings it all to life to on the page with such intensity its literally breathtaking. The scenes with the Court of Owls are stunning, their realm seems even more menacing than before, and the fight with the Tallon is another great moment. Capullo’s Joker is absolutely magnificent! Evil to the extreme, and shockingly violent, the Joker’s entrance alone – as he glances back at us over his shoulder with that bloodied grin and manic twinkle in his eye – is a macabre delight that sends chills down the spine. Gotham itself has never looked so bleak and dangerous; Danny Miki’s excellent inks and FCO Plascencia’s rich colors excel throughout: the Court of Owls lair is an ominous well of undulating light and shadow, while the gaudy mania of Joker’s parade is reminiscent of a similar scene from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).
In this months backup story, The Last Smile, written by James Tynion IV, with pencils by Dustin Nguyen, inks by Derek Fridolfs, colors by Dave Mccaig, and letters by Steve Wands, finds the escaped Arkham inmates given the task of telling their stories about the Joker to Doctor Zaheer embarking on the last stage of their journey. It is here, as they make their way into the dark depths beneath Gotham City, that Dr Mahreen Zaheer finally learns the truth about the Joker. Now she must choose which of the stories she believes is real, confronting a horror that will take her to the brink as truth and lies entwine to have the last laugh. The backups James Tynion IV has written for Endgame have all been exceptionally good, brining adding depth to the main storyline, and Tynion ensures that this final, twisted chapter is the most chilling of all.
Scott Snyder expertly shuffles events in Batman #39 as though they were a time-shifting deck of cards, effortless splicing the flashbacks set only a few hours in the past with the carnage unfolding in the present. As the pieces gradually begin slot into place we are presented with a unique perspective of these events, sometimes even witnessing things happening in the wrong order, as this ultimate no-win scenario brings the entire Bat-Family and the major players from Batman’s rogues gallery together to save Gotham from the Joker.
So, is the Joker really eternal? The evidences would seem irrefutable, yet gut instinct says otherwise. The virus in his blood has also given Joker the ability to heal, making him seemingly unstoppable, but it is the prospect of the Joker’s immortality that remains one of Endgame’s biggest talking points. In fact the more you think about it the more impossible it seems. I for one, have absolutely no idea or complex theory to offer, I’m stumped (An unfortunate choice of words perhaps?), and I think that’s what I like most of all about this story arc because Snyder and Capullo have kept us guessing every step of the way. Whatever the outcome might be, I’m sure that Scott Snyder will undoubtedly have something fiendishly clever and unexpected lined up for us in Batman #40 that will bring Endgame to a thrilling conclusion.