Review: Batman #36
“Batman #36 is not just another example of how Snyder and Capullo are two of the best in the comic book business and why they are more-than-suited to helm one of DC’s flagship titles. The issue shows how writers don’t always have to start from whole cloth to reveal something new about their characters and the world they inhabit.”
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Release Date: Wed, November 12th, 2014
With 75 years of publication history behind the Batman, it’s pretty damn difficult to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the Caped Crusader. Tales of the Dark Knight Detective and his interactions with the superheroes and supervillains of DC Comics have ranged from the whimsical to the macabre, featuring dozens of iterations of plays on certain Bat-tropes: being a loner to his peril; his collaborations with and confrontations with the Justice League; and bucking against the force of nature that is the Joker. As such, creating a new story from whole cloth using one of these character points can feel like trying to grow crops on once fertile ground: You might get a harvest, but it’s not necessarily something you’re gonna want to eat. (Where’d that metaphor come from? Hell if I know. I’m sober and everything.)
One of the reasons that writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s three-year run on Batman has been so successful is that the duo recognize this Bat-conundrum and embraces it for what it’s worth. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, they borrow from the Dark Knight’s rich history, not running away from it, examining which parts can be polished to added to in order to give the reader a reading experience that breathes life into a nearly century-old creation and makes it feel fresh for older and newer fans alike. That could be why the relaunch of Batman has been consistently one of the best sellers for DC since its New 52 rollout of titles. Snyder and Capullo know what fans want—as they clearly have love for all things Bat themselves—but use that knowledge to take what’s old and make it new again.
Which brings us to Batman #36. The issue, the second chapter of “Endgame,” continues the tale of the return of the Joker, who is controlling the Justice League through his use of Joker-toxin to take out vengeance on the Batman. Bruce is barely able to stop the nigh-unstoppable juggernaut that is Superman and walk away with most of his bones intact. Following the attack, Batman visits Arkham Asylum, specifically the Joker’s former cell, where he encounters an Arkham employee who is more than he seems.
Those scant three sentences are filled with tropes we’ve seen before: the Joker using his venom to control others as puppets, the Dark Knight fighting against all odds to stop superhumans who outclass him in sheer might, characters who are shrouded in mystery. However, Snyder takes those conventions and is able to put a fresh coat of paint on them, using them not just as exciting storytelling devices, but to double as commentary on the relationships Bruce has with the story’s various characters.
The whole of Batman #36 acts as a study of character evolution and an examination of epistemology, how we know what we know. Batman thinks he can pierce through the veil of Joker venom to reach Superman and prevent the Man of Steel from harming him. Batman thinks he knows the Joker and what he will do based on his fixation on the Dark Knight. Batman thinks he can trust Mr. Border, the Arkham employee, even though the man hides something far more sinister behind his caring veneer of concern. All of these assumptions end up backfiring on Bruce in one way or another, much to his detriment.
Snyder also uses the issue to explore the further evolution of the Joker, continuing his narrative thread from the story Death of the Family. However, unlike the examination of the theory that the Joker is in love, in a way, with Batman, as touched on in Family and other Bat-tales, Snyder shows what happens when love is spurned and what jilted lovers do. The Joker no longer has love for the Dark Knight, but rage that he intends to mete out to Batman and all of Gotham City. Again, Snyder plays on conventions that we think we know and twists them to reveal something new about familiar characters.
As always, Capullo proves why he is one of the best Batman artists not just of this era, but of Batman’s 75 year history. His use of shadow and light aren’t just artistic tricks meant to convey darkness (looking at you, Tim Burton), but to help move the story forward while reflecting on it. So many characters in this issue are draped in shadows, which further speaks to the story’s examination of identity. And a word should be said about his Joker-controlled Superman: Until this issue, I have never found Superman to be scary, but, fuck, Capullo manages to make the Last Son of Krypton a bogeyman. Well done, sir.
Batman #36 is not just another example of how Snyder and Capullo are two of the best in the comic book business and why they are more-than-suited to helm one of DC’s flagship titles. The issue shows how writers don’t always have to start from whole cloth to reveal something new about their characters and the world they inhabit.