Scott Snyder continues to explore the idea of the Joker being a primal force of evil – the Devil himself incarnate – in Batman #37. The third chapter of “Endgame” is perhaps the most terrifying of Snyder’s Batman thanks to contributions by himself and the art team spearheaded by penciler Greg Capullo. The nature of superhero comics dictates that, regardless of the developments of a particular story arc, the status quo will remain largely intact by the conclusion. Therefore, it is a testament to the creative team that by the final page, no character appears safe.
The issue opens with a splash page featuring a restrained Bruce against a solid, black background. The narration boxes which circle the titular character describe his denial of the Joker’s horrifying nature. Not only is this an effective means to draw readers into the issue, it encapsulates why this seemingly eternal conflict endures – the Joker is a character Bruce can never understand. Readers may recognize the similarities between this page and the opening to Batman #15, in which it was the Joker himself affixed to a black background surrounded by narration boxes. There, Bruce thought his nemesis to be more than a man. Unlike the rest of Batman’s rogues, the Joker is not confined to a status quo. Because of this Bruce continues to fail, and the Joker continues to remain enigmatic.
Jim Gordon has been one of the focal points in Snyder’s Batman work dating back to the writer’s work in Detective Comics. One of the true “every man” characters in comics, readers are able to invest emotionally into this character far more effectively than they could in Batman himself. As the pages continue to turn and the story of Batman #37 progresses, there is an overwhelming tension and sense of dread. Yes, Batman himself is confronting insane, poisoned workers and patients at a city hospital, but the true horror comes from the boarded-up office Gordon is trapped in. As he looks online at photos which showcase the hospital’s history, Capullo includes imagery which may haunt some readers well beyond the final page. The terror escalates as Gordon moves on from newspaper clippings to family photos and, ultimately, a physical confrontation with the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
One question that has been raised throughout the years whether or not the Joker knows Batman’s identity. One popular theory being that the Joker knows, but ultimately does not care, which is based on the events of Batman #17 (the conclusion to the “Death of the Family” arc). The answer to that question is finally given a firm answer, but it is the means to that answer that prove to be terrifying. Navigating through a hospital, Batman discovers the identity of “Patient Zero” as well as an elaborate reenactment of the moment Batman was born: the murder of the Waynes.
As terrifying as the script is, it is the art that causes the horror to be so effective. Capullo and inker Danny Miki do a masterful job in building tension through their moody imagery. This is a dark issue, and so the color palette by FCO Plascencia is appropriately unsettling. Plascencia does not shy away from the use of bright colors, which are used to great effect. The Joker has always been one of comics’ most colorful characters; that should not change just because he’s more vengeful than before.
Batman #37 is a fantastic issue. The marriage of Snyder’s dark script, the detailed work of Capullo and Miki, and vibrant colors of Plascencia create an unnerving experience for the reader. “Endgame” was billed as the creative team going big to close out the character’s 75th anniversary, and they are delivering in spades. Terrifying, grinning spades.
Note: This review was originally published at InfiniteComix.com