Thursday, March 12, 2015

Batman by Scott Snyder issues #38-39

It was rather stupid of me to read issues #38-39 together in one sitting yesterday, particularly when I delayed reading this title for a whole month. Because, reasons. See, I thought I could wait until this series closes at its fortieth before DC renews the line-up again by June. Somehow I knew I can't wait for that so there I was yesterday, all jangled up with everything that these climactic issues had to offer. There was Capullo, Miki and Plascencia's collaborative visual artistry that makes my eyes bleed because they couldn't handle the awesomeness in the pages anymore; and then these elements are masterfully combined with Snyder's deft and heart attack-inducing story about the Joker. In other words, I could really only eloquently describe my reaction afterwards with this GIF:

Now I've mentioned a few times that I wasn't completely sold with the first two arcs of Snyder's (Owls saga and Death of the Family) though I do have a deep affection for his re-imagined origin Bat-story in Zero Year. But Endgame takes the cake and shoves it down my throat--it's simply a fluid piece of fucking comics literature that is staggering. I don't even think I'll be able to talk about it without doing that thing in the linked GIF again. But I will try my best to keep it together, just for y'all. If you suddenly witness my typed meltdown in the course of this review, please accept my apology in advance. It's ah-coming and there's simply no stopping it. Get ready for some awful amount of reflection and discussion!

First of all, THE COVERS. Since Zero Year, Capullo's minimalist style in designing the covers for Synder's run had been one of the key, striking issues of this series and something I could never ignore because sometimes--and I kid you not--I would pull all my individual copies of Zero Year (#21-33) and place them on my bed just so I can stare at them as a batch. I also have soft copies of my Batman comics so lately I've saved them on my LG tablet so I can open them in my Moon Reader app and just let my finger glide each turning of the HD-quality pages, almost as if my skin can soak up the beautiful art it caresses. Honestly, Capullo, Miki and Plascencia have created me some comics porn. Batman's visual integrity and magnificent cohesiveness in design and coloring are almost hypnotic! See, I'm rambling. I'm losing my shit and I haven't even started the review!

So let's talk issue #38, the fourth installment for Endgame, otherwise known as the Ultimate Joker story for New 52. As soon as I started reading, I'm muttering under my breath, cooing as I turn each page as if I'm undressing a gorgeous woman so I can make sweet love to her. I tried to be calm and discreet about it, but I was getting all hot and bothered. I never expected to lose myself like this in Endgame. There was just something about the set-up of it all--the playful yet also somber vibes of the combined narrative for Tynion and Snyder respectively; the atmosphere of dread and foreboding enveloping Gotham like a tar-black curse; the grungy yet also slick feel of the pacing (YES, I can FEEL pacing now, like a certified crazy person). I don't know. Everything about Endgame feels important and monumental like a tapestry of the most baffling stories slowly making sense as the arc progresses. In a way, this is like a horror film where you know there's a killer waiting in the shadows but you go ahead and walk the dark pathways like you have some death wish you have to fulfil. Batman himself functions like this during Endgame, and he really should know better--but the scariest thing is maybe he doesn't after all, not when it comes to the Joker.

A monster criminal, a grand myth, an immortal idea--this is the Joker writer Scott Snyder delivers in Endgame. As Batman fans, we all grew up with the clown prince of crime as the source of villainy and chaos in the stories he was portrayed in; he is Batman's extreme opposite in the spectrum of morality. Endgame seems to serve like a deconstruction of what we think we know about the Joker, and that's what makes this arc so thrilling and chilling to follow. It's forcing us to really look deep, deep, deep into the abyss and glimpse this slice of darkness in our soul that we often project whenever we encounter the Joker in the stories we have read and are reading now about him. You must allow yourself to have a little moment of insanity to TRULY KNOW the Joker.

That's how it's become for me while reading this arc.

In the previous issue (#37), Bruce Wayne rescues a young boy from being murdered by his own parents who are under the influence of the most potent drug the Joker has created yet. Now together they rode the bat-glider and flew across the streets of Gotham where tons of commotions have broken out everywhere. They find Commissioner Gordon in the apartment, close to bleeding to death but then it turns out he has also been infected by the toxin, which turned him mad so he started attacking Batman and the kid. Luckily, Julia Pennyworth arrived and injected him with a tranquilizer. The rest of the pages featured Batman moving around Gotham which is badly falling apart in every corner, until he gets to a remote location to find a doctor who may know about the formula the Joker used to create the toxin. That conversation is one of the most chilling things I ever read. Even Batman must be shivering underneath the cowl. I won't spoil the content because it's definitely something you got to check out.

As the city continues to tear itself to pieces with hundred upon hundreds of citizens now going mad and murdering each other, Batman looks out of a window to find that horrifying destruction upon him and makes a rather...interesting decision that he's going to have to ask for a certain assistance he never dared before. That last page just caught me off-guard, honestly. Now that alone would have made me screech in anticipation if I read this issue last month. Thankfully, I have the next issue in hand already so I need not delay the events that happened next.

The Endgame arc also has a bonus story written by James Tynion IV for each installment offered and the one included in this issue was illustrated by Sam Keith which was just amazing! In this bonus material, we get the five escaped Arkham Asylum patients each sharing their own tale about the Joker and his origin. This time one of them says that Joker was a disenfranchised soldier who is out for blood. Upon reading that, what came to mind was that article I read about Christopher Nolan's version of the Joker for The Dark Knight film. You guys may have encountered this too--according to that, the implied backstory of Heath Ledger's Joker was that he was a former military man which would explain why he targets authority to promote anarchy, the easy way he finds access to weaponry and arsenal, as well as the possibility that he must have sustained those glaring facial wounds during a bomb explosion in the middle of a combat. So this version of his origin for issue #38 was believable for me because it felt more grounded and less weirder than the rest but still just as brutal. Keith's artwork was also quite superb.

Now issue #39 is where we get most of the action and suspense that has been building up ever since issue #36. The Joker makes an appearance again, this time by infiltrating the Bat-cave and stealing some "trinkets" right after he once again hurt Alfred. Batman employs the help of unlikely sources to fight alongside his Bat-family (Batgirl, Red Hood and Bluebird) as they all try to contain the clusterfuck rampage going down in Gotham streets. The sequence of the events for this issue jump back and forth with a steady ease, each transition bleeding perfectly with the next. The high stakes are palpable, and the threat feels more real than it ever has been before. And this only occurs for about twenty-pages while the last ten is once again allotted for Tynion's mini-story. We finally reached the end of this tale, I think, since we all heard the five different origins of the Joker as narrated by the five escaped Arkham patients. It's become obvious to me that they're all as real and make-believe as we the readers allow them.

The last story belongs to Dr. Mahreen Zaheer (their hostage) who revealed that she spent an awful amount of research to uncover the real identity of the Joker. She tried to reason out to the patients that they all exaggerated him when in reality he was merely a mortal man with a deathly illness. She was so convinced of this story because it was grounded in facts--but she found out as soon as we turn the last page of this tale that hers is just another fabrication that the Joker himself has manipulated. He simply gave her the story she wanted, the story that would comfort and appeal to her much like he did with the five patients. This was a distressing yet acceptable revelation for me. It's still in line after all to who and what the Joker is supposed to represent not just in fiction but in our collective consciousness. When it comes to the Joker's origins and backstory, Snyder has put that in the simplest yet most resonant of terms. It's not a multiple choice--it's a choose-your-own-adventure.

I try not to reveal the  most critical details of the Endgame arc as much as I could because I want you to personally experience its magnetic storytelling. I confessed last year that I had contracted a "Joker-fatigue" right after Death of the Family saga. I was underwhelmed and tired of the Joker lately but Snyder has completely changed that. Suddenly he was yet again a refreshing and tantalizing force of nature. Once again, he's amusing and horrifying me just like in the past. I never really liked him done too dark which was what he became when Snyder picked him up for New 52 but now I thought this shade of dark on him was well-balanced enough not to be pandering or sickening. I don't know how Endgame ends but I'm glad that Snyder has chosen this particular arc to cap his run for the New 52 series this year. There's just a lot to it you can enjoy in re-reads.

So the one question you have to ask yourself is WHY ARE YOU NOT READING ENDGAME RIGHT NOW?

Don't be an idiot. Pick up issue #35 and start perusing!