Last month's initial chapter of "Endgame" was a big surprise for readers as Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Danny Miki unleashed a surprise duo of foes for Batman: the entire Justice League, and the Joker. "Batman" #36 continues to bring the surprises here in the second chapter of "Endgame," even as the story hurtles towards an uncertain conclusion.
It would have been a reasonable guess to assume that "Batman" #36 is more of Batman fighting the Justice League. Instead, Snyder lets it play out to an appropriate conclusion, before using that entire battle as a launching point for what's next. In other words, it's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, little more than a lure for something bigger and more dangerous. And when you consider that the lure is the entire Justice League contaminated with the Joker's toxin, well you know that Snyder is planning something big.
At the same time, don't think that Snyder is simply brushing off the first big battle of the issue, as Batman tries to take down Superman. Snyder plays off the whole idea of Batman being forever prepared with great effect; Batman's well-armed for such a possibility, even as he realizes that there was one thing that he failed to account for that makes the battle less sure than first assumed. It's fun to see the crazy ideas that Snyder lets Batman dream up here, the ultimate extension of having every resource at your fingertips to come up with larger-than-life weapons for a larger-than-life foe.
What I probably appreciate the most in "Batman" #36 is the long-term planning of this story. Seeds planted much earlier finally come to fruition, and while the clues are in some ways a little obscure to have truly picked up on them, it's still fun to see how Snyder's been waiting for this moment for quite some time. As the issue screeches towards a conclusion and all of the pieces fall into place, Snyder and Capullo have created a genuinely tense closing scene; it feels eerie and awful in a way that the mentally-altered Superman just can't compare. This is the moment where everything has come to a head, and not in a good way for Batman.
Speaking of Capullo, he does an excellent job of balancing the two halves of "Batman" #36. The first half is bombastic and larger than life as Batman battles his old ally. There are huge amounts of property damage, explosions galore, and a wonderfully altered Superman. Capullo's Jokerized Superman brings to mind Bizarro, but this pale-faced Superman is slightly more unnerving because of that fixed smile that Capullo plasters across his face.
It's the second half where Capullo kicks the art into high gear, though. Capullo, Miki and FCO Plascencia work well together, presenting a muted, claustrophobic series of images. The panels are smaller, the focus is on smaller objects and Batman himself is often little more than a silhouette among the debris and crumbling walls. When the surprise for this issue final reveals itself, as the viewpoint shifts from small panels to a large splash, the pull back of the comic viewpoint is strong and effective.
The only part of "Batman" #36 that doesn't feel completely on point is the backup feature. It's great to see Graham Nolan drawing a story in Gotham again -- I have fond memories of his "Detective Comics" run back in the '90s -- and his stripped down, cleaner art style is always welcome. James Tynion IV's story never quite comes together for me, though; maybe when the next installment shows up it will feel a bit more focused.
"Batman" #36 is a fun comic, and those who enjoyed the first chapter of "Endgame" will find a lot to like in the second. It's easy to see why DC Comics was trying to keep a lid on the contents of this issue prior to release; it's an excellent comic, and Snyder and Capullo's reveals are best left unspoiled. That said, even if you know what's coming, it's still a strong and well-composed comic. This is more than just surprises lurking in the corner, and that's the sign of strong craft. Wherever "Batman" goes next month, I'll be ready and waiting.