Thursday, 18 December 2014

Batman #37 Review (Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo)


(I go into some spoilers in this review but a lot of them are my own interpretations that are probably wrong. At any rate, if you want a spoiler-free review of New 52 Batman #37, hunt elsewhere.) 

It’s one of my favourite Joker panels; it was at the end of Death of the Family and Bruce is talking to Alfred about Joker, recalling a time when he - as Bruce Wayne, not Batman - went to visit Joker in Arkham. Joker had his back to him then turned and looked through him vacantly, and Bruce wondered if he knew his secret identity - or even if he cared. And what would that mean? But that look in Joker’s eyes in that panel - wow. 

In a nice nod back to that arc, Bruce’s question is answered at the end of this issue and, if Death of the Family was Joker’s warped way of showing Batman his admiration and love for him, Endgame looks to be Joker’s vengeance at being rebuffed - and, man, is he angry! 

Alas, if only this issue were as inspired as the ones from Death of the Family! I honestly wouldn’t have thunk it myself: Batman, Joker, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo = yawn? But it’s happened with Batman #37, or Endgame Part 3. 

Joker’s begun his assault on Gotham (yet again), unleashing a new strain of Joker toxin and turning the populace into murderous giggling loons. Batman has to find the cure in a city that looks like its become a nightmarish fairground haunted house. Joker pays a visit to Jim Gordon’s place. 

On a purely story level, this issue doesn’t cut the mustard. Joker toxin, really? That’s THE default Joker plan! Oh but this time it’s a NEW incurable Joker toxin! … right. Because that makes it… less unimaginative? 

Watching ordinary people turn against Batman? Seen it before a thousand times. Bruce seeing his parents die again - doesn’t he see this every day regardless of whether there are people acting it out in front of him or not? 

Even Joker creeping into Gordon’s house - hiding under his bed no less! - felt like a much crappier version of Joker’s chilling entrance in Death of the Family. That was an indicator of the cheap horror “scares” in this issue. And that’s pretty much it. Well, that’s very disappointing. 

The weak story alone would make for an unexpectedly poor Snyder/Capullo Batman comic but worse - much worse - is what Snyder appears to be doing with Joker this time around. 

It’s implied that Joker is essentially not human and is some kind of supernatural demon. 

WHAT!?

Joker appears in photos dating back to the 1940s looking as he does now. He’s shot at point blank range but does not die. He burns to death but continues to live. 

Yikes. That’s very wrong, to me anyway. Joker’s sinister nature has always been most terrifying because he’s human - he represents the worst of our nature, it also makes him fallible and the perfect foil for Batman, another human. Taking that away and making him seem like an actual ghoul is a horrible misstep. 

Another way of looking at this development would be that “Joker” is a title and that a series of madmen have taken up the mantle of “Joker”, adopting his MO, look, etc. That would take away the supernatural element and explain why there’s always a Joker because they die, one by one, succeeded by another. Is that what the cover represents - a new Joker holding up the face of the old one? Oh, please no.

And then there’s another interpretation for this issue and it’s on the first page: this is all a dream. Bruce is trying out various Joker toxins on himself in a controlled environment to understand their effects and find ways to fight against it. Could everything that follows in this issue - maybe everything preceding it to include the last two issues - be a side effect of the latest Joker toxin he’s experimenting with? I’m sure that will in no way be the solution to this story (imagine!) but a part of me wonders if that scene will have some importance later on. 

The problem as I see it is that Snyder’s always trying to one-up his last Batman story. That’s great, and I love that he’s pushing himself to be better, but if this issue does anything, it shows that he’s trying too hard and coming up short. I really, really hope he doesn’t end up making a mess of Joker as a character. 

The James Tynion IV backup is as uninteresting as his other two have been. It continues the mythologising of Joker underlining the supernatural aspects of the character. Plus, John McCrea’s art simply isn’t for me, though it is funny that his Joker looks a lot like Michael Jackson! 

I do love Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia’s work in making this comic look stunning and cinematic like the most expensive epic zombie movie ever! And I really like the design for Batman’s glider/shield combo. 

But, sadly, Batman #37 was a combination of boredom and alarm over the potential direction this story is headed. I hope I’m wrong on all counts and the series seriously picks up next month.

Batman #37

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