Sunday, May 24, 2015

Batman #40 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


I want to be more upbeat about this issue than that word implies, but it's hard to be.  This issue is supposed to be remarkable because it's (allegedly) Bruce and the Joker's final confrontation.  Snyder certainly tries his best, but, for me, the inevitability of both of them returning makes it hard to accept it on its merits.

For the most part, Snyder does an OK (though not great) job of taking us through the paces here.  Bruce learns from the Court of Owls that a pool of diluted dionesium exists somewhere in the cave structure under Gotham and that the Joker gained access to it after Bruce dropped him off the cliff at the end of "Death of the Family."  (At least, I think that it was "Death of the Family."  It's possible that it could also have been when he dropped him into that vat at Ace Chemicals.  I'm not entirely sure.)  Bruce tells Julia that he knew that the Talon was lying when he told Bruce that the Joker was active during his era because Talons were trained to tell the truth.  He realizes that the Joker is going to try to destroy this pool, presumably so that he can be the only one with access to dionesium (the amount already in his spine).  (Honestly, though, I'm not 100 percent sure why he was going to destroy the pool.  I'm more or less guessing here.)  As such, Bruce sends Dick in his costume to confront the Joker to buy him time to go into the caves and get the dionesium so he can manufacture a cure for the Jokerized mobs.

However, the Joker discovers the ploy in time to magically race to the cave and fight Bruce.  The best part of their confrontation is the Joker's explanation for why he decided to end their dance.  Originally, he wanted to prove to Batman that the world was meaningless, but then he realized that his struggle with Batman actually gave the world meaning.  ("Fighting for meaningless but giving meaning by virtue of the fight!")  Now, it's time to end it.  In their struggle, Batman is mortally wounded, and a falling stalactite paralyzes the Joker.

It's here where it gets odd.  Early, Bruce had injected a serum (of course he did) into the Joker that blocked his access to the dionesium in his spine.  With his back broken, the Joker crawls to get to the pool, on some level confirming Bruce's hunch that he wasn't really exposed to the pure form centuries ago (since the serum wouldn't have limited the pure form of dionesium).  But, Bruce tells the Joker that he finally believes that he's the Pale Man, and asks him to stay with him while he dies but the Joker heals (presumably from the pure dionesium).  Snyder plays Bruce's motivations here close to the chest.  It's clear that he's not delusional in a conversation that he has later with Julia about drawing up the sample of dionesium that he took to manufacture the cure.  As such, is he just screwing with the Joker here?  It's really unclear.

The epilogue is also odd.  Julia gives Alfred a letter that Bruce left, and it only says, "HA!"  Alfred gives a long speech about how it means that Batman could only end in tragedy, because, at the end of the day, he had to be mortal for people to believe in him.  (A theme of the issue is that Bruce never sampled all these miracle chemicals that he encountered to make himself more powerful.)  But, I honestly don't understand how Alfred drew that conclusion from that note.  It has something to do with greeting danger with a smile, but I'm unsure.

In other words, the issue itself is a mixed bag.  Snyder mostly sells the conclusion, even if we have some bumps on the way.  But, does anyone even remotely believe that Bruce and the Joker won't return?  I mean, we just killed Bruce five years ago.  No one at this point just rolls their eyes and says, "He'll be back in time for Labor Day?"  Also, we just resurrected a dead Damian in "Batman and Robin."  I know that it's not Snyder's fault that other writers have gone to this well so often and recently, but he had to know that a significant number of us are going to roll our eyes at this one.  It also seems like terrible timing, given that "Batman Eternal" just ended.  We never really got a sense of Bruce's status quo, operating from an apartment, losing all his money.  Now, suddenly, he's dead, and we're going right onto the next guy.

In other words?  "Meh."

** (two of five stars)

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