1405781_xlBy Jarrod Jones. The finale to Endgame is here. And it hurts a lot more than I expected it to.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s final showdown between Batman and the Joker is a fitting end to a series the two men began at the onset of DC Comics’ New52 initiative. It’s appropriately dark, moody, cinematic, and above all else, chatty, as it has been for the last thirty-nine issues. Warts and all, Snyder and Capullo close the book on what could be the final chapter to a sterling run.

Except, of course, we all know that this isn’t the end. Even on a thematic level, the legend of the Batman will endure far longer than any of us will draw breath, and in these generations to come there will almost certainly be an intrepid group of people still willing to publish sequential adventures of the Dark Knight. And in the meantime it’s a matter of record that Snyder and Capullo will continue on the series that made both men superstars. So the violent and harrowing conclusion to Endgame begs the question, “why so serious?”

Or rather, “why so final?” Even though we as readers know that nothing sticks in the comic book industry, there is an utter finality to Endgame, something that feels more everlasting than Death of the Family ever could. “I know these characters have these huge legacies, but you have to write them like you made them up,” the writer said to Newsarama back in January. “Your versions of them are yours. And for me, this really is the last time [Batman and the Joker] fight.” So if Scott Snyder was looking to craft his definitive take on the eternal struggle between the Clown Prince of Crime and his gothier opposite, mission accomplished.

(In hindsight, Death of the Family feels more like Snyder and Capullo’s test run, to see if they could actually push themselves — and by proxy, push their publisher — further than anyone has ever gone with these characters before.)

We’ve seen Batman finally defeated at the hands of Bane in Knightfall. We’ve gaped in horror as Gotham City plunged into the fifth level of hell during No Man’s Land. We’ve even seen Barbara Gordon lose her ability to walk and Jason Todd lose his ability to breathe at the hands of the Joker. And the one thing these events all have in common is simply this: none of them lasted. That seems to have given Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo the freedom to raise the bar to an unbelievable height. They’ve taken Batman to a place that even Grant Morrison never could.

BM-40-5-e8f5b - EditedSo Endgame has become the biggest thing these two men have ever done. But that shouldn’t suggest that it’s the finest story they ever told (that honor will always belong to The Court of Owls)With these last few issues of Batman, the credo has decidedly been “more is more”: Batman takes on a brainwashed Justice League (I’m still trying to process that one), Jim Gordon takes an axe to the chest, and Alfred loses an appendage. And even though Endgame is designed to shock — and mostly succeeds in doing so — the saga ultimately doesn’t compound dread so much as it does brute force.

If only Snyder had an editor who wasn’t afraid to hack away at all this excess. With a tale of such mammoth proportions that it’s almost utterly mythic, Snyder’s typical bloviations create limits to his saga’s potential immortality. Any lyrical romance attached to the story, whether it’s from the many teases of Joker’s implied inhumanity or Batman’s devotion to his own ultimate end, are all but bludgeoned to death by Snyder’s desire to explain it all away. (“See, that batarang was laced with an immune-response blocker built from the sample I just took from this pit. So if what you’re taking to heal is this Dionesium, in its current, weaker form, then that blocker just put a stop to your little healing powers — unless you re-up,” is but one example of the writer’s need to play to the back of the room.)

In spite of this, he does provide Capullo plenty of space to depict the final battle of Batman and the Joker (a dream job for any comics artist). And Capullo, teamed with inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia, doesn’t hold back: every blow, every slash, every brutal, intimate moment is given a monstrous strength that echoes the results we once enjoyed from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. These silent moments give us a harrowing glimpse into the primal emotions shared between two men who utterly deserve each other. (The artists even offer a far away peek at the pair lying in twin pools of blood, collected to form — aw — a single heart.)

It’s in these moments that Batman #40 feels like the real deal. If Snyder had employed more restraint, the final result of Endgame would have been a Bat-story for the ages. Instead, what we’re provided is a severe gut-punch. What’s funny is that it could have worked as both.

DC Comics/$4.99

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Colors by FCO Plascencia. 

7.5 out of 10