Saturday, October 10, 2015

Batman, Volume 7: Endgame

 I am so conflicted about this one that I barely know where to begin.

 Having now read seven volumes of Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo's "New 52" BATMAN, I guess the most succinct way that I can sum the series up would be to say that the individual arcs would all make great Batman movies, but they make for pretty retarded Batman comic-books.

 Snyder has, from the beginning, swung for the fences with huge, earth-shattering epics, first with the lengthy "Court of Owls" arc, then the Joker-centric "Death of the Family", and, most recently, the flashback "Zero Year" arc. Now we get the payoff of the Joker story that began in the truly awful first "New 52" issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, which launched the dopey "Faceless Joker" storyline.

 As you can see from the above picture, The Joker has his face back. (Wow, who would have  guessed that a massive change like a nearly one hundred year old character, who is known worldwide and merchandised out the wazoo REMOVING HIS OWN face wouldn't be permanent? Shocking.....) I must throw out this warning, and say that FROM HERE ON, THERE WILL BE MASSIVE SPOILERS!!! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!





 OK, so...I have to say that, taken as Snyder's definition of what the ultimate Batman/Joker cinematic showdown would be, BATMAN, VOLUME 7: ENDGAME was a pretty epic story. As an actual Batman comic, read by someone who has been reading about The Caped Crusader for the better part of 45 years, it's a dopey, ridiculous tale filled with huge logic gaps and moments of embarrassing fan-service.

 
The book rubbed me the wrong way immediately, by exposing the raw nerve of a HUGE pet-peeve of mine: NO RECAP PAGE. I was thrown right into a scene of Batman dealing with the aftereffects of something that happened in the BATMAN ETERNAL maxi-series, which I did not read, and have no interest in reading. In fact, the entire book is filled with scenes that sent me straight to BATMAN ETERNAL Wikipedia pages looking for clarification:
 Did you know that Alfred has a daughter? And that she's a semi-official member of the Bat-Family? Me either! See BATMAN ETERNAL for more....
  There's a big, shocking reveal where we find out that Batman's friend at Arkham Asylum is actually The Joker!! What, you've never seen this guy before...? Me either! See BATMAN ETERNAL, BATMAN: JOKER'S DAUGHTER, ARKHAM MANOR, and the seemingly integral to the story BATMAN ANNUAL #2, none of which are included in this book! (Nor are the monthly comic's back-up stories, which would have helped a bit with the flow of information, I'm sure.)
 Have you ever heard of Dionysium, a naturally-occurring substance that can make you immortal? Me either! But it's hugely important to the plot, as well as being hugely ridiculous.

 OK, so after that recapless beginning, we get right into Bruce "Batman" Wayne being attacked by The Justice League. How can Batman possibly take on The Justice League...? Especially a Justice League under the control of The Joker, you ask? Well, he does pretty good! Because he has a huge section of Gotham pre-mined with gas, which causes the area to be evacuated, so he can cause property destruction at will without hurting anybody. He also has a huge Bat-Mecha suit, which is filled with handy ways to stop each individual League member. He has some magical hoo-hah that he bought on the black market that stops Wonder Woman. He has high-tech goop that dries out Aquaman. He has TINY RED SUNS IN HIS BAT-MECHA GLOVES (What? Yes, I said he has TINY RED SUNS IN HIS GLOVES!!!!) to stop Superman. In case they don't work, Batman keeps his breath fresh with a stick of KRYPTONITE-FLAVORED CHEWING GUM, WHICH ENABLES HIM TO SPIT KRYPTONITE-TINGED SALIVA INTO SUPERMAN'S FACE. (!!!!) Yeah, when you say it out loud, it's pretty fucking ridiculous. In fact, when you READ it, it's pretty fucking ridiculous. I've always subscribed to the Bat-Geek mindset that says that Batman can beat ANYBODY, but if Batman can harness red suns and shrink them down to fit into his gloves in case he needs to beat up his friend, then maybe he should spend an afternoon trying to cure cancer. I'm sure he could lick that one in no time. Plus, you can't show me Batman easily dispatching the most powerful people in the universe, and then getting his ass handed to him by a skinny, pale-faced man for 100+ pages. (Seriously, Batman GETS HIS ASS KICKED like no one, not even Bane, has ever done before. This guy just beat up Superman???) This was my problem with Snyder's Batman in a nutshell:
His Batman is the smartest man alive.
The peak of physical perfection.
Infallible.

 ....and yet....he fails CONSTANTLY. He failed to detect a centuries-old secret society that existed right under his nose, until it emerged from hiding, kicked his ass, and brought his city to it's knees. He failed to stop The Joker from kidnapping everyone he loved and infiltrating The Batcave. He failed to stop a computer-nerd from plunging Gotham City into a new stone age, and he failed to get the city out of that mess for almost a year. (Seriously, you couldn't pay me enough to live in Gotham City.)

 Now, the citizens of Gotham have to deal with being turned into Jokerized zombies by Joker-gas, surely THE most overutilized gimmick in the history of comics. Gas masks should be standard-issue gear in Gotham by this point. Going to work? Take a gas-mask. Going to the movies? Take a gas-mask. Keep one by the bed at night, because, sooner or later, Gotham is getting gassed.

 Snyder peppers the plot with allusions to The Joker being some kind of immortal creature, but nothing ever really comes of it. The book is filled with the sturm und drang that is pretty much a prerequisite for "The New 52" at this point...Honestly, I let my kids watch JAWS and JURASSIC PARK, but I would never let my son read any current DC Comics. Just off the top of my head, this collection features brutal stabbings. ears being bitten off (By BATMAN, no less!), Alfred having his hand chopped off, Commissioner Gordon getting an axe in the chest.....just gross, ugly stuff. (All lovingly rendered by Greg Capullo.) I'm a pretty open-minded reader, but these aren't mature-reader books...and then people wonder why no one but old farts like me read comics anymore. Who would let their kids read something like this? (Just as an aside, I recently read the SPIDER-MAN BY ROGER STERN OMNIBUS, which included letters pages, and a few of them had that nifty old Postal "Statement of ownership" thingy, in which publishers had to reveal their circulation. Some of those ASM issues, just regular monthly issues, mind you, sold nearly a half-a-million copies. A top-selling comic today does maybe forty thousand. Just saying....without new readers coming in, this is what happens. But keep making these gross books to appeal to the fantasies of basement-dwelling man-children, DC.)

 While Snyder's Batman is perfect, yet really, really dopey (Did I mention that he kicks Superman's ass, but is then ambushed by The Joker, disguised as SOMEONE BATMAN KNOWS AND TRUSTS, and locked in a cell? Which he CAN'T GET OUT OF....?), his Joker is an omnipotent, omniscient, God-like being, who can get into and out of The Batcave at will, clean out its contents, and instantly, alone I might add, create a full-blown parade, complete with floats, out of them? (Never mind that the parade idea was already done in Tim Burton's BATMAN film. I would think that alone would make the idea off-limits. I mean, who is reading this comic that hasn't seen that film?) Snyder's Joker can then magically, without explanation, disappear from said parade, and instantly appear miles away, thousands of feet underground, to beat Batman's sphincter in. The book is filled with weird, coincidental stuff like that. It makes for a fest-paced story, but Snyder doesn't pace it fast enough to keep you from occasionally thinking "Wow, none of this makes any sense."

 Also, the "New 52" trend of horrifically damaging a character is soooo short-sighted. I mean, everyone knew The Joker was going to get his face back somehow. Now Alfred has no hand, Jim Gordon has an axe embedded in his chest (But, it's OK...Batman "stabilizes" him!)....the complete and utter reversal of everything that happens in the rebooted DC Universe makes every story inconsequential. Plus, this book ends with yet another "Hero disappears/dies and is replaced by fill-in-the-blank", in this case, Jim "Axe-Chest" Gordon in a Bat-Mecha suit. Didn't we just see Batman "killed" by Darkseid and replaced by Dick Grayson? Iron Man has been replaced by Arno Stark, Captain America has been replaced by The Falcon, Spider-Man was possessed by Doctor Octopus, Thor is a woman....enough, already. Can't any Editor say no to any of these hackneyed stories?

 Bottom line: This is a fun, if profoundly stupid, distraction that will immediately pass from my memory. Greg Capullo's art is nice, and was a highlight of the book, but he continues to have panels where I cannot for the life of me figure out what he's trying to depict. I'm off to read THE JOKER: ENDGAME to see if any of the stuff left out of this volume can make this story hold together a little better.

 DC Comics provided a review copy.