Batman #40

It truly is an endgame of sorts as Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia wrap up the six-issue "Endgame" arc in "Batman" #40 with a fiery, violent and game changing climax that opens up new possibilities for the protector of Gotham. As the two longtime arch-foes engage in what could otherwise have been a fatal final encounter, Snyder adds an epic sense of overture to their career-long conflict with an almost Aristotle-esque examination of Batman's role. It's a scholarly and astute observation that's the nigh-ideal yin to the Joker's comedic yang, giving the climactic battle a feel that many thought was no longer possible after so many Batman/Joker conflicts over the years; namely, it's a showdown that's actually distinctive and unique.

Before Alfred makes his observations about Batman's role in this opus, the Joker makes some observations himself on his own part in the play. Snyder evokes a kind of classic Shakespearian grandeur that Capullo and Miki complement with modern, big-budget, artistic splendor; even as Joker puts forth his examinations, bombs explode, stalactites fall and a shimmering restorative oasis beckons in a sequence that's all spectacularly colored by Plascencia. The mano-y-mano fight is ferocious and gruesome; Capullo doesn't shy away from knives protruding out of shoulder blades, objects embedded in eyes and the like, and -- in doing so -- pays a clear but unobtrusive tribute to Frank Miller's work on the characters in "Batman: The Dark Knight." Miki shows wounds and injuries with the same kind of grungy and grisly lines that convey the intended severity, while the indistinct touches of red evoke the Lynn Varley's style from Miller's influential miniseries.

The battle doesn't start in Gotham's subterranean depths but, instead, on its streets, and that's where this issue picks up immediately following the previous one. The colors are quite different for this scene, where Plascencia's typically brighter and secondary colors dominate and are in keeping with those seen throughout his run on the series. Similarly, Capullo and Miki's usually sharp and cleaner styles are predominant and render a strange alliance of Bat-family and Bat-foes as they battle a city full of Joker zombies. Snyder delivers his usual excitement as well, including the added bonus of a surprise that wasn't really necessary but nonetheless adds some punch to an already high-intensity story.

There are a couple of small contrivances in Snyder's script, including one that can be explained within the context of the story and another that's a little too convenient, but their natures are incidental to the main plot and almost could have gone unmentioned without any significant impact. The truth behind the Joker's seeming immortality is a little evasive with the back-and-forth revelations as the face-off draws to a close, but the ambiguity is ultimately cleared up before the issue's epilogue.

Overall, "Endgame" comes across as one of Snyder's stronger arcs in "Batman," which is saying a lot, and "Batman" #40 is a particularly strong chapter. The conclusion is also more satisfying than Snyder's previous Joker story, "Death of the Family," and the ending is an enticing setup for the creative team's next storyline. While it's the apparent end of the game for the main characters in this drama, it isn't for the creators, who are clearly at the top of theirs.

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