BM-Cv38-ds-5c08cBy Jarrod Jones. “My dad said things got bad here sometimes,” Julia Pennyworth muses aloud to a more-dour-than-usual Dark Knight. “But humor me, yeah? This isn’t just a Tuesday.

No,” the Batman grimly replies. “It’s ugly.”

Everything has gone to hell in Batman #38. Endgame, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s epic yarn concerning the apparently finite battle between the Joker and his shrewd, becowled nemesis, has ripped Gotham City wide open. And though we’ve seen that eternally damned metropolis shaken apart by earthquakes, madmen, and a horrifically underwhelming FOX television series, we’ve never quite seen Gotham City as utterly fucked as this before. “Everything has gone to hell?” We’re only four issues into the Joker’s masterplan. By the end of Endgame, that may mutate into one hideously malformed understatement.

As a matter of fact, by the time Endgame reaches its finale, everything we’ve come to know about Bruce Wayne’s life could be utterly decimated. It’s not so difficult to comprehend, really, especially at this point: four chapters in, and Commissioner Gordon is down for the count, Batman has partnered up with Alfred Pennyworth’s sharp-witted Secret Ops daughter, and there’s the noticeable presence of Duke Thomas, that stouthearted scamp from the days of Zero Year. (And if Futures End is to be believed, that’s no accident: he’s gonna be the next Robin.) Bruce Wayne is certainly keeping different company of late – far more different than what’s found in the pages of Batman Eternal – and in Snyder’s paradigm-shifting uber-saga, the billionaire playboy looks rather comfortable with that. (As evidenced by Duke and Batman’s “you’re all right” fist bump.)

BM-38-3-b0615Further separating Batman from his romps over in Batman Eternal is the nagging radio silence between him and several other members of his Bat-menagerie. With Endgame Part Four, Bruce keeps the channels open for Dick Grayson and Penny-Two (Julia) only, and isn’t that convenient – with Dick playing secret agent thousands of miles away, Batman can spit the medicinal hot fire with his former ward and still keep his viral war against the Joker nice and private. All the spectacularly coordinated teamwork found in Eternal is lost in Batman #38, and perhaps that’s the point. Bruce Wayne has learned more than a few lessons since Death of the Family, and keeping his family safe when he doesn’t know what to do next is definitely one of them. (“I don’t have a plan yet,” says the man who took out the entire Justice League not three issues ago.)

Tackling this monumental dilemma will require tracking down a genetic mastermind, one the Joker has manipulated into helping him create the ultimate virus (er… the other one). There’s a slight bit of fun found in guessing the mysteriously familiar maniac, but Snyder can’t help himself but to give it all away – discovering the name of Paul Dekker isn’t on-the-nose enough, the writer has to describe Dekker’s deeds thusly: “… a thread that unravels a cell’s fate, and then re-sews it in a crazy new direction…” Not enough to go on? Well, that’s too bad, because Snyder absolutely needs you to get the joke: Dekker (for anyone who hasn’t read comics for the last twenty years, or doesn’t have a cursory awareness of Wikipedia) is Crazy Quilt, that bananas-insane nonsense villain from way back. And if the subtle hints and teases found in Batman’s interior monologue weren’t enough, Snyder tasks artist Greg Capullo with adorning the manic Dekker in, well, a hastily-stitched together quilt. (Subtlety seems to be yet another victim of the Joker.)

BM-38-5-d71ddCapullo’s fastidiously pencilled pages provide more than enough action in between Snyder’s Britannica-indebted monologues that Batman #38 still demands the utmost attention. Danny Miki’s inks contain FCO Plascencia’s striking colors within Capullo’s muscularly drafted imagery. And that’s a damned fine thing, because #38 is easily the most action packed entry of Endgame since it began with issue #35. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expository. In getting all his kinetic, thematic, and metaphorical ducks in a row, Snyder ultimately feels the need to call himself out: “It doesn’t feel like a Batman story anymore, does it?” It certainly doesn’t at this point, but with a new Bat-world order right around the corner, that may just be the goal. Not being able to remotely guess what’s coming up next may be thrilling as all get-out, but it doesn’t help me sleep any easier at night.

That ceaseless unrest is exactly what propels Endgame: in the entire 30 pages of this book – with the exception of writer James Tynion IV and Sam Keith’s reliably spooky tie-in – the Clown Prince of Crime only appears for a single page. But that still doesn’t matter – it’s his grim specter that haunts every open leaf of Batman #38’s parchment. It’s all found on the cover – we, like Batman, may be staring directly at the atrocities the killer has wrought, but he will continue to elude us, cackling in the shadows.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Colored by FCO Plascencia.

8 out of 10