BM-Cv37-ds-1b39eBy Jarrod Jones. If Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Death of the Family was a love story made for Batman and the Joker, then Endgame is decidedly a story of how that love has come undone.

And while that love is clearly one-sided, it is still a potent and frightening one. The Dark Knight may not have much in the way of admiration for the Clown Prince of Crime, that much is clear, but he is certainly intrigued by him, by the man who laughs at the misery and torment of everything he ever held dear. How Bruce Wayne immerses himself in the uncharted minutiae of the Joker doesn’t so much illustrate a study of interest as it does an unhealthy fascination.

Snyder and Capullo’s Joker isn’t some vaguely defined agent of chaos. He’s a performance artist, one who sees this never-ending danse macabre with the Caped Crusader as his greatest triumph. It’s his dramatic interpretation of the eternal battle between good and evil, and it’s important that he dresses the part. And if clothes don’t make the man, they certainly betray his intent: in Death of the Family, the villain sported a tattered and used mechanics’ jumpsuit – this was a Joker who sought to fix the paradigm between himself and the beloved “God-King” who ruled Gotham City. In Endgame, the Harlequin of Hate is adorned in a tailored, jet-black suit, an ensemble fit for an impending funeral. With Endgame, the Joker’s intention is clear. Because he has denied the Joker’s love, the Batman must die.

The only question is how, and it is that question which plagues our beleaguered hero in Endgame – how will the Batman meet his demise? That’s been the recurring theme of Snyder’s compellingly bold melodrama: again and again we find Bruce Wayne hallucinating the last moments of his life, only to shake it off so that he may focus on the task at hand. Wash, rinse, repeat. But these dream-like hallucinations reveal much more than most would realize, without saying much of anything at all.

BM-37-1-cdc70While these fantasies – provided by an off-panel encounter with the Scarecrow – offer compelling insights into how Wayne perceives himself, those around him, and the perpetual state of the city he loves, they appear haphazardly enough to be considered merely thematic. But with Batman #37 seeing the third part of Snyder and Capullo’s Endgame, and with the stakes being raised considerably, things are happening a little too rapidly to take anything for granted. The fact that a hallucination does not effect Bruce this issue, more questions are raised – not by any characters in the book, mind you – that compel the reader to flip through the first two installments (and further, to Death of the Family and the entire Snyder/Capullo run in its entirety) to dig deeper into the mystery that shrouds the Joker. The creative team has effectively turned their readers into detectives themselves.

Apparently issue #37 takes place directly after the big reveal at the end of #36, though after reading a few panels (and the initial splash which frighteningly echoes the third chapter of Death of the Family) the idea begins to tug at the reader that they may have missed an issue in between. If the last issue ends with a temporarily paralyzed Batman staring down the barrel of a gun held by the Joker, and this issue begins with Bruce shaking off the villain’s paralytic toxins, what happened in-between? Is this some kind of elaborate, Scarecrow-induced hallucination? Questions are mounting in lock-step with the compounding dread, and issue #37 doesn’t hold back. By the end, the reader is as horrified as they are mystified.

BM-37-5-e0afaScott Snyder and Greg Capullo know horror. It’s in their bones. And the imagery they concoct as collaborators is used to chilling effect with Batman #37. With Capullo’s panel work pulling the action in close, making the reader peer through boarded windows to witness the contagion the Joker has unleashed upon Gotham, and forcing them to squint towards yellowed photographs alongside Jim Gordon, the book effectively makes the reader a part of the mystery. But with that comes real anxiety, especially when Snyder begins to expertly juxtapose Batman and Gordon’s investigations against each other. The tension that mounts once we realize that Gordon isn’t home alone makes the bombastic fisticuffs between Batman and the Justice League just two issues prior feel like a feeble slap-fight.

With Scott Snyder insisting that nothing about Endgame is meant to be ambiguous, serious revelations are made with implications that should make any comic book reader – even one primed for Snyder’s typical psychological havoc – shudder at the mere thought of what they may portend. That gives the issue the severity of a solid white-knuckler of the highest order. Everyone can guess what Batman’s Endgame is going to be, but no one can really know until Snyder and Capullo say so. It’s the ceaseless disquiet the storytellers provide that gives Batman real grace.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Colored by FCO Plascencia.

9 out of 10