By Jarrod Jones. There’s no getting around it: everybody has been waiting for this. Since Zero Year (finally) came to a close, everyone who’s worth their Bat-boots has been pondering the question: what is Endgame? DC Comics wasn’t talking, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo played coy for months leading to Batman #35’s release, and fans from all over were left with only their keen, speculative minds to wonder.

And while there were no definitive answers – or even clues – as to what Endgame would portend, there was the hope that the title alone didn’t indicate that this was the beginning of the end for Snyder and Capullo’s celebrated Batman run. But because us fanboys always prepare for the worst, it was with bated breath that we waited for Batman #35. Answers were coming. But were we ready for them?

After the Bat-team took some time off during the month of September (apparently for a creative recharge and to “give Wolverine a break“), Snyder and Capullo are back, just in time to meet their readers’ anticipatory fever pitch. That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief, as the readers’ patience and the artists’ diligence has paid off, because Batman has never looked better. Capullo’s artwork is reliably slick, innovative and consistent, his compositions as cinematic as the medium of comic books will allow. He’s a fitting partner-in-crime for Scott Snyder, who begins Endgame as he does with all events, cautiously doling out clues in small, incremental doses before dropping the floor out from under us. Batman #35 is no different. Endgame may operate in a larger arena, but its implications are just as frightening as anything the comparatively intimate Death Of The Family was capable of. And like Death Of The Family, some aspects of the story are completely fantastical, but in the capable and confident hands of Snyder and Capullo, that’s just fine.

It’s certainly nice to see Snyder’s Batman operating in the present for a change: after a year of flashback in Zero Year, Snyder and Capullo’s Batman became the most incidental of all the Bat-books, playing in its own sandbox while books like Batman And Robin and Batman Eternal picked up all the heavy narrative lifting. With Batman #35, the book is all caught up, replete with most of the changes that have occurred since last we saw this Bruce Wayne (at the tail-end of Batman #20). This means Julia Pennyworth is hip to the inner workings of Wayne Manor, and here is seen kicking it with Bruce and Alfred in a reacquired Bat-bunker (since “borrowed” by the Court of Owls a couple of years back).

What Batman #35 doesn’t seem caught up on, however, is the current paradigm of the Justice League: Shazam, Captain Cold, even Lex Luthor seem to be edged out of the issue’s centralized showdown (which ain’t much of a spoiler when you consider this issue’s completely unsubtle cover). Even when Batman is actively engaging the League (in a manically insane mecha-suit that looks like what would happen if the pilots of Voltron were really into The Crow), Snyder makes a point to illustrate that Batman anticipates every member of Jim Lee and Geoff Johns’ Justice League from 2011, and not the present incarnation of the team. This gives Endgame the necessary thematic elements it needs in order to separate it from the wider DC Universe, but when events in Batman begin to pull in members of the Justice League, a little cross-editorial synergy isn’t too much to ask for. (Especially when we consider the role Lex Luthor has in Bruce Wayne’s life these days.)

Once we’ve successfully made peace with the fact that Endgame isn’t inextricably tied to Robin Rises or even Batman Eternal (which is also supervised by Snyder), all bets are off. There isn’t much room to find gripes within the first chapter of Endgame, mostly because the story kicks off with a swift (but no less epic) face-off between Batman and the Justice League. Snyder obviously took some cues from Mark Waid’s pre-New52 yarn, Tower Of Babel, where Batman’s paranoia necessitated a premeditated contingency against his allies if they were ever to go rogue.  Here, those contingencies are solidified in the form of a massive, mechanized battlesuit, loaded with all sorts of effective tools to counter the likes of Wonder Woman, The Flash, and, most hilariously, Aquaman (who is ostensibly defeated by a giant sponge).

The imagery Capullo concocts for Batman’s showdown with his former compatriots is at once monumental, polished, and meticulous, which is fitting for Snyder’s at-times fastidious storytelling style. His artwork is more than enough to excuse the downright absurdity of Batman’s “Justice Buster” suit: while it may one day make for a fairly bitchin’ statue from DC Direct, Snyder’s encyclopedic justifications for how Batman can tackle the League with a billion-dollar war machine undermine the conceit that – when it comes to the DCU – Batman will always be the smartest man in the room. Why have Batman covertly topple the League after an ambush when he threw all this money at Lucius Fox’s tech department? Pardon our lack of drama; we have things to smash.

Because the book is awash in war shouldn’t suggest that Batman #35 is all slug-fest, all the time: Snyder wraps his mega-brawl around a small sequence with Bruce, Alfred, and Julia, where Bruce is still shrugging off the after-effects of a fear toxin administered by the Scarecrow. The hallucinations from Dr. Crane’s toxins repeatedly put Batman through a myriad of his potential final moments, an ominous foreshadowing that only further drapes Endgame in dread. During this brief, quiet scene we get a very rare moment of levity between Alfred and Bruce, where a couple of quips are tossed around, and a good laugh is had between the old friends. Having that small, lovely moment surrounded by the bricabrac of the Court of Owls bodes sinister intimations for the future of Batman. What impact Endgame will have on the wider Bat-books is left for us to discover in due time, but if this issue’s final page is any indication, the future of Bruce Wayne will be no laughing matter.

DC Comics/$4.99

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Colored by FCO Plascencia. 

7 out of 10