Review: Batman #48
“The melancholic malaise that hangs BATMAN #48 is palpable, and it’s a credit to how adept Snyder and Capullo are at characterization that they make readers do the nigh-impossible: feel sympathy for the Joker.”
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Greg Capullo
Release Date: Wed, January 20, 2016
There’s a scene in the last few pages of writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke in which Batman and the Joker have maybe one of the most honest, barebones conversations they’ve had with one another. As he says, the Joker has just “shot a defenseless girl” and “terrorized an old man,” Barbara Gordon and her father the police commissioner of Gotham City. To his credit, the Dark Knight tries to make a breakthrough with the Joker, to plead to let him help the Joker in a spirit of rehabilitation. However, an exhausted, emotionally spent Clown Prince just clutches the brim of his nose and replies in sad, defeated resignation, “No. I’m sorry, but… No. It’s too late for that. Far too late.” He knows what he is and, in a moment of self-awareness, knows that the chaos in him can’t be quelled.
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s Batman #48, in stores now, feels like the spiritual brother to that story. Bruce Wayne, who for months has been in a state of self-denial as he begins to realize that, in another life, he was the vigilante known as Batman, sits on a park bench while chaos erupts across the city, courtesy of the villainous Mr. Bloom. To his surprise, a physically and somewhat-emotionally healed Joker (following the events of “Endgame”) sits next to Bruce, although he doesn’t quite recognize the stranger. From their conversation, it becomes apparent that this renewed former Joker seems to remember something of his own past and has a notion that Bruce is thinking of returning to his. The Joker’s words almost ring as an imploring plea to Bruce, trying to steer him away from his former life, as the Joker almost suspects that if Bruce returns to crimefighting, then he himself will be sucked into the chaos once again. Bruce has to make his decision soon, however, as Mr. Bloom’s machinations threaten to transform both Gotham and her people into a hellscape from which it might never recover.
While the cacophony of terror that is engulfing Gotham is engaging, the real centerpiece of the tale is that exchange between Bruce and the Joker. The park bench on which they discuss their futures seems to be a safe place for the two of them, almost a home base for them to collect their thoughts. Despite Bruce’s wrestling with what he wants and what he should do and the Joker’s desire to leave his past behind and live in peace, both actors seem to realize that the twisted play that the two engage in time and again will inevitably begin anew. Snyder conveys the two’s respective struggles, the want of a new chapter versus having to act out the old. The melancholic malaise that hangs over the two is palpable, and it’s a credit to how adept Snyder is at characterization that he makes readers do the nigh-impossible: feel sympathy for the Joker.
Capullo’s linework helps to sell the inner emotional stressors that are competing for Bruce Wayne’s attentions. As with last issue during Duke Thomas’ confrontation with Bruce, the standout pages in #48 are those during Bruce and the Joker’s conversations with one another concerning the circularity of life and the urge to break free from a cycle that seems to play itself out over and again. In his Bruce, Capullo shows alternating erratic and despondent behavior, a push-pull of what he feels obligated to do and what he wants to do. Likewise, the artist creates a Joker whose face is awash not with the maniacal smile with which we have grown accustomed to over the decades, but of anguish. A tiredness. This is a Joker who has grown weary with the attack and retreat, attack and retreat pattern that he and Bruce have constructed over the course of their relationship. As much as Snyder’s dialogue shows the near-desperation that is swelling inside the Joker that the perverse Ragnarok won’t happen again, the visage of a sad, haunted, maybe-regretful Clown Prince of Crime helps to drive home the pathos needed for eliciting that type of emotional response in the readers.
Batman #48 is one of the last legs of the “Superheavy” story arc and Snyder and Capullo seem hellbent on fitting as much story as possible in the issues they have left. However, it’s a testament to their storytelling that they recognize that the storm to come isn’t nearly as impactful without the calm that precedes it.
Batman #48, written by Scott Snyder with Greg Capullo on art, is on sale now.