By Jarrod Jones. It’s a question that has been asked time and time again: “who wins in a fight between Batman and Superman?” It’s a battle that has been entertained and touted for decades upon decades, featured in both good comics (The Dark Knight Returns) and not-so good comics (Hush). If a writer has hit a wall, dragging Superman and Batman into the ring is the easiest way to ensure a creative win, even if it is artistic cheating. But fisticuffs between these two super friends achieves what every comic book writer aims for: bigger sales, appeased fans, and happy editors. (And every writer wants a happy editor.)

It’s sad to realize that the friendship between Superman and Batman seems to be nowhere near as interesting for writers as the scrap that would take place if these two iconic titans were to ever tussle. The World’s Greatest Detective versus the Man of Tomorrow. Who would win? The answer, as Scott Snyder’s Batman puts it,  is “neither of us.”

Snyder understands the manipulative ploy in dangling a World’s Finest Face-off in front of his readers – everybody has their own ideas of who would win and why (Superman FTW everytime – me.) – and that’s why the innovative scribe of American Vampire has decided to take that crusty dichotomy and turn it on its head with Batman #36.

With the second chapter in the writer’s Endgame saga, the stakes have been raised for this time-worn fracas: Superman and the rest of the Justice League – having somehow been poisoned and brainwashed by the Joker – are sent to attack the Dark Knight in the heart of Gotham City. (In broad daylight, no less… the nerve!) That dastardly plot is heartily met by Snyder’s typically cocky crime-buster, making short work of the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes with a handy-dandy “Justice Buster” suit (all witnessed in last month’s installment). That leaves the opening of issue #36 wide open for another go-around between Superman and his cowled comrade, a match gorgeously rendered by Greg Capullo, whose skill at illustrating scale, movement, and displays of great power make for some engrossing comic book reading. (Capullo even squeezes in a Dark Knight Returns reference just to let us know we’re all playing to the same tune.)

Even with a formidable battle suit, it’s difficult to glean any real drama out a fight between Batman and Superman without some real stakes for these heroes, but with Batman #36, the brouhaha works anyway, especially when Bruce is left to scramble for his survival, rationalizing his plan of attack with tension-ridden interior monologues (“… if he wants to kill you… there’s likely nothing on earth that can stop it...”). Since Snyder took on the writing chores for Batman, effective horror elements have been peppered throughout the writer’s continued narrative, and here those tropes are employed to terrific effect, turning the greatest hero the world has ever known into a smirking villain. There are shades of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers found in having Superman stalk a wounded Batman in the dark. It’s a frightening image that stands out in a book that includes Capullo’s Joker.

However, when the fight doesn’t work it’s because Snyder has Batman articulating the writer’s well-researched counter-measures against the Man of Steel (something that tripped up last month’s issue). It deflates the severity of Batman’s predicament when he is set to shake one of his closest allies free from mental imprisonment one moment (“… Clark, listen to me. Whatever he poisoned you with, you have to fight it!“), and taunting him with his wonderful toys the next (“… you like the knuckles, Clark?“). Snyder does his homework, but when he feels it necessary to shoehorn clunky dialogue during an already gripping spectacle – just to illustrate how clever he is – means that the writer is simply showing off.

That’s disappointing, especially for a fight that’s settled much like how most other fights between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are settled: with Kryptonite. And while there’s no Kryptonite ring here – Snyder’s too much of a bookworm to ever allow such a simplistic approach and the canon of the New52 precludes its use – Batman takes out the Metropolis Marvel with the irradiated material anyway with his proclivity for spitting in the face of those who oppose him. (Something Snyder’s cheeky Batman seems to enjoy doing.)

Ultimately, Endgame is a story of the eternal conflict between Batman and the Joker, an optimum epic designed to outdo all other optimum epics (even Snyder and Capullo’s own Death of the Family), and with the firmly constructed blockbuster quality of Batman, it seems primed to do just that. There are the requisite fireworks typical of such a saga (of the physical and the emotional), but the second chapter of Endgame also boasts the methodically tense introspection that made Death of the Family such a psychologically daunting read: the book’s quiet moments with Batman walking amid the desolation that was once Arkham Asylum to sift through the villain’s old padded cell offers chilling pathos to Batman’s already well-established war against the Joker. (“… after last time I’d hoped I’d never… I hoped.”) Once the Ace of Knaves finally makes his appearance – and it’s a stunner of a reveal that frightfully proclaims the Clown Prince of Crime’s triumphant return to the New52 – the book wildly careens towards a cliffhanger that demands the use of an exclamation point over the standard ellipsis.

It’s easy to approach Batman #36 as a three-act short, where Act One has Snyder and Capullo wrapping up the skirmish that began with last month’s issue, the brief Act Two placing Batman in his posh Bat-Bunker to hash out a plan of attack with Alfred and Julia Pennyworth, and Act Three ending with a face-to-face between Wayne and his pasty-skinned arch nemesis. With this kind of thoughtful storytelling at play, Batman #36 gives Endgame another solid chapter for a story starting strong – stronger – than Zero Year, with much more at stake than anything Snyder and Capullo have thrown our way so far. And that’s really saying something.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Colored by FCO Plascencia.

8.5 out of 10

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