This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 1, 2015.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have steadily improved at driving the knife home and making the final act of their stories impactful and painful as their tenure on Batman has continued. The conclusions to “Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family” feel anticlimactic when compared to their setups and the manner in which they concluded each act of “Zero Year”. As they approach the conclusion of “Endgame” it’s clear that Snyder and Capullo are only continuing to hone their storytelling abilities. Things have gone from indescribably bad to hellish in Gotham City in four issues; the conclusion is coming quickly and it’s going to hurt.
Capullo has stoked a fire beneath the pages of Batman #38. There’s a frenzy of movement to the panels presenting Gotham City, and the more focused sequences crackle and snap with energy and shifting momentum. This is far from the first time that he has put Batman through some tough situations, but there is a breathless quality to the pacing here beyond even the toughest challenges in earlier tales. The infected masses of Gotham make for a horrifying display, summoning the raw power and danger of mobs. It is not only their mass that is terrifying, it is the details of humanity found within it. Inker Danny Miki provides each of the minute forms of the mob with character.
The terror found on the Gotham streets is balanced by an intensely claustrophobic sequence in the middle of the issue when Batman tracks a suspect to his laboratory. An already tight panel composition is filled with square storage boxes and paintings further compressing the space in which characters exist. It is designed to keep readers invested in each movement and change of position as the two men play a game of cat and mouse, and it does so wonderfully. This sequence also features a reinvention of a golden age Jack Kirby creation that is as absurdly horrifying as the original was amusing.
FCO Plascencia’s colors highlight Capullo and Miki’s artwork in a spectacular fashion. His choice use of bright colors to accent the darkness is every bit as keen as it was during “Zero Year” where he applied pinks and purples to the Gotham landscape to spectacular effect. His palette in “Endgame” includes less bright colors though with each flash of light acting as a unique disturbance. There is a smog that hangs across most of the pages engulfing scenes in grays and browns. Even Batman’s black cape appears bright against this palette. The result is a story that feels darker than anything that has come before in this series.
The darkness, claustrophobia, and panic that fill these pages are the result of an ever worsening conflict with the Joker. Snyder began “Endgame” with a seemingly hopeless scenario, pitting Batman against the Justice League and has managed to worsen the situation with each subsequent issue. His scripting for “Endgame”, as well as the opening story of American Vampire: Second Cycle, are excellent examples of how to structure rising action in comics. The mounting suspense of each scene builds to decisions and moments that are shocking, but feel inevitable in retrospect. This is perfectly distilled in the final splash page of Batman #38.
Snyder and Capullo are also structuring this story by using the most effective elements of their previous work on Batman. The Joker’s plan and origin play upon the fears exploited throughout their already revered run. There are elements of a secret history and Gotham City’s treacherous nature like in “The Court of Owls”, an ambiguous, unknowable antagonist just like in the finale of “The City of Owls”, the loss of beloved allies per “The Death of the Family”, and scientific trickery and complex, long term plans from “Zero Year”. It is the culmination of their entire run thus far in an appropriately epic battle between Batman and his greatest nemesis.
“Endgame” is already shaping up to be a climactic milestone for Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. They were hailed as a great team when they first arrived on the title more than three years ago, and have only improved with each new story. Batman #38 reveals the extent of that growth, pulling from lessons learned and ongoing themes within the series. It is an excellent chapter in what may be Snyder and Capullo’s best collaboration to date.