To the surprise of few, Batman did not meet his end at the hands of The Joker last issue, despite all outward appearances. "Batman" #37 is only the third chapter of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Endgame" saga, and while killing off the story's iconic hero isn't likely part of its agenda, Snyder finds plenty of ways to escalate the conflict and widen the story's scope. While The Joker's attention was focused on the Bat-family in Snyder's previous event "Death of the Family," in "Endgame," the Clown Prince turns his malicious schemes loose upon Gotham and possibly beyond.
Pretty much everyone is afraid of zombies, clowns and epidemic viruses to some degree, so Snyder skillfully blends aspects of all three into in a disturbingly creepy mix that's enough to make this issue plenty intense on its own. Capullo makes the severity of this crisis caused by this ghastly amalgamation convincing at both a micro- and macro-level; a wide-eyed, eerily grinning face pressed up against the window is an image burned into readers' brains to be saved for a future nightmare.
The effect is heightened on this particular page by colorist FCO Plascencia, who keeps the colors toned down except for the victim's face, with lips and hair highlighted in red. The aerial view of a Gotham populace stricken by insanity is just as off-putting. Capullo also zooms in halfway between these two extremes, making Batman's encounter with a mob of Joker zombies no less intense. He continues to bring the story to life with eye-catching layouts, cleanly delineated by inker Danny Miki, highlighted in this issue with a juxtaposition between Gordon and Batman each facing down their respective foes.
Snyder also casually tosses in two huge revelations that stand to have lasting impact on the Batman mythos; one regarding his origin, and the other regarding the dynamic between him and his most notorious foe. One of these surprises by themselves would have a game changer, and the tension of this issue was enough to carry it without any other bombshells. Snyder boldly drops these disclosures into the already potent recipe for this issue, setting the bar pretty high for the remainder of the arc. There's plenty to explore, though, heightening the anticipation for future chapters.
The issue also includes the eight-page backup that's part one of "The First Laugh" by James Tynion IV and John McCrea, which ties into the events of the main story. Tynion's tale creates a sort of urban legend origin for The Joker, as told by an Arkham resident who survived his own encounter with the madman upon his return. The backup reads much like a 19th-Century Joker "Elseworlds" and is entertaining enough from that angle, but it seems unnecessary as a plot device that appears intent on exploring and maybe even expanding the character's infamous legend. The connection between The Joker and this earlier clown character is unclear, although that could be addressed in later installments. Art-wise, McCrea gives the story a grimy, industrial feel, and his interpretation of The Joker is a nice homage to the classic incarnation that nicely counters Capullo's newer clean-cut version.
Snyder takes his story to the next level in "Batman" #37, which delivers surprises, tension, chills and a lot of extra pages to boot, providing a great story with extra value as a bonus.