*Warning: Some spoilers for Batman #40*
Batman #41 is scheduled for release on June 10th, but Batman #40 certainly feels like the end. It marks a conclusion to “Endgame”, the 40 issues of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on the New 52 series, and Snyder’s central thesis on the character. Batman #40 is composed like a closing chapter, incorporating the themes and ideas of the past five years of Batman stories into a riveting finale.
The beginning of “Endgame” in Batman #35 was about as big as it gets in a Batman comic. It was Bruce Wayne facing off against the Justice League, breaking out the biggest guns and tearing down entire blocks of Gotham City. The final moments of Batman #40 invert that enormous sense of scope into something smaller. What began with the most powerful beings on Earth fighting in one of its greatest cities ends in struggle between two men in dark, secluded tunnels. It's smaller in a set-design sense, but is emotionally and thematically titanic.
The Batman family's initial battle against Joker and the poisoned masses of Gotham is a spectacle, but it cannot reach the soul of this comic in the same way that a singular duel between Batman and Joker does. It is a duel for the soul of Gotham City as a place and as an ideal. This is what Snyder and Capullo’s Batman has always been about. Gotham has been as much of a character as Alfred, Gordon, or even Batman himself. Batman #1 began by asking what Gotham is, and each issue has ruminated on that question to some degree. Batman’s battles have always been more about defining Gotham and its future than beating up bad guys. It has brought him to some dark places, and this is as dark as it has ever gotten.
Capullo’s depiction of Batman and Joker’s final battle is one of the most masterful sequences of violence that the artist has ever composed. It is suspenseful, dramatic, and so very bloody. The characters' nature already elevates the action to something larger-than-life, but Capullo manages to keep them grounded. Each punch and stab lands with visceral horror. Pain, power, and will emanate from every panel in a fight that truly feels consequential.
But don't mistake the dire stakes as "grim and gritty" storytelling. "Batman #40" is not ugly realism, but operatic drama written large across the comics page. FCO Plascencia’s colors provide a brightness that distinguishes “Endgame” from the dark, bloody tone of something like Frank Miller’s Batman stories. His palette also creates a link with the rest of the series, connecting this battle to Batman’s earliest fights as depicted in “Zero Year”.
That tether extends far beyond the art. The themes within Snyder and Capullo’s previous stories are present throughout this ultimate battle. Whether it was the secrets of the city in “The Court of Owls”, how the city sees Batman in “Death of the Family”, or establishing the fundamental relationship between Batman and the city in “Zero Year”, every arc gives these final moments extra weight. Batman #40 even connects to Snyder’s original work with the character, referencing Dick Grayson’s time under the cowl. Ultimately, the creative team has structured a thematic and aesthetic argument about who Batman is.
The version of Bruce Wayne present in “Endgame” is not the old man of “The Dark Knight Returns” or the inexperienced upstart of “Zero Year”; this is Batman at his absolute prime, the “Bat God” of Grant Morrison’s equally epic take on the character. Snyder and Capullo’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne is that of a confident, young man with incredible physical and mental attributes. He is human perfection. This is also the reason that Batman’s ability to produce any number of miraculous solutions never seems unbelievable. He is capable of seeing through even the densest of plot machinations. But of course he can, because he’s Batman.
This version of Batman at his absolute prime is beautifully balanced by an antagonist and stakes that are just as clearly defined. The Joker has constructed a new, iconic persona as the Pale Man of Gotham, haunting its alleys and dreams. It is a version of Joker that will stand alongside iconic takes like Morrison’s “Thin, White Duke”. Gotham itself is symbolized in Batman #40 as a glowing orb deep beneath the street of the city. It is the center of the battle and, even more importantly, rises at the end with the Batman’s symbol upon it.
That is the centerpiece of Batman #40. It is the best version of Batman and Joker's eternal struggle for Gotham City; it is the soul of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman distilled into a final battle. Everything they want to say about the character is here, and it is said with their best skills as storytellers. The conclusion of “Endgame” is a definitive ending, a massive black period on a stunning sentence. It is the sort of finale that will impact how readers and creators alike view Batman for a very long time.
That’s not to say that Batman #40 is without flaws. There’s a beautiful epilogue set two weeks after the climactic battle that centers around a cryptic note left behind by Bruce Wayne. Cappulo reveals the survivors of, and city’s response to, the battle, along with a potent visual connection back to “Endgame's” very beginning. The problem is that almost all of the four page sequence is dominated by dialogue from Alfred Pennyworth.
The final two pages could have gone without any dialogue or narratiod, and provided the same impact in a much more graceful manner. It is a blatant example of transforming subtext into text, reminiscent of the conclusion of Platoon when Chris Taylor narrates to viewers exactly what they should have understood from the film. Like the conclusion of Platoon, this narration doesn’t ruin or harm what was built before it. Rather, the obvious statement of ideas feels even more obvious due to the story's wonderful construction and climax.
Batman #40 is a triumph, a mic drop, and a climax to the best superhero comic this decade. It’s the kind of conclusion that any creative team could proudly walk away from, knowing that they have built and enduring and proper ending. With that in mind, it’s a wonder that Snyder, Capullo, and Plascencia will return in June. If they left today, they would already be included in the same sentences as Finger, O’Neill, Adams, Miller, and the best to have touched the character of Batman.
But they still have more stories to tell. In that regard, Batman #40 serves as both a conclusion and a launching point for a brand new tale. Whatever comes next, there’s every reason in the world to be excited.