Batman 40

batman 40

Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Batman 40, originally released April 29th, 2015.

Spencer: Batman 40 is a dense issue. I’ve lingered over this issue in a way I haven’t lingered over a comic in quite a while. Every page is rich with meaning, both in the writing and the art, and it would take far more space than Patrick and I have allotted here to fully unpack it. Let me assure you all, though, that doing so is more than worth the time and effort. Batman 40 is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed on numerous levels, and I think it’s an issue we’re going to be dissecting for a long time to come. So let’s get to it.

Batman, his allies, and his villains are still fighting through the Jokerized mob in an attempt to extract some dionesium from Joker’s spine. A handy fastball special from Bane gets Batman in close, but alas!, Joker’s dionesium was never potent enough to make a cure. The Joker taunts Batman with the knowledge that the pure dionesium is hidden deep in the tunnels beneath Gotham, but when he unmasks Batman he only finds… Dick Grayson?!

In retrospect, it’s astounding how clearly this Batman’s identity is telegraphed. Writer Scott Snyder provides no internal narration for Batman during this sequence, and artist Greg Capullo imbues him with an appropriately acrobatic fighting style, yet I never caught on. Maybe I was just distracted because this fight scene is just so balls-to-the-wall awesome — Snyder and Capullo craft some truly iconic moments for several of the characters present, all backed by some of FCO Plascencia’s most extraordinarily offbeat-yet-appropriate colors. It’s breathtaking, but guess what? It’s just the prologue.

As Dick distracts Joker, Batman is searching the tunnels beneath Wayne Manor for the source of the dionesium. Just as he finds the pit, though, Joker catches up to him, and the two duke it out in a fierce battle of both words and fists, ending the only way it ever really could have: with the Joker and Batman seemingly dying together.

Bat soul

To be honest, I could probably spend the rest of my word count examining this image alone. That last panel is so evocative — that mapping orb truly looks like Batman’s soul ascending to heaven as the world crumbles around him. I don’t think I’m too far off, as this orb is the same one Bruce was given by his father and eventually used to discover the Batcave — that orb has been present for some of the most formative moments in both Bruce Wayne and Batman’s life, making it the ideal totem to represent the life he’s lost. The fact that it’s also full of the dionesium Julia needs to cure Joker’s victims just reinforces how Bruce is heroically sacrificing himself to save others.

The image of Batman and Joker dying together as “friends” is pretty loaded in its own right. All throughout “Endgame” Snyder’s played the Joker like Batman’s jilted lover, and that comes across more plainly than ever during their final confrontation. “Endgame” has featured a Joker who has largely been quiet and deadly efficient, but now that he and Batman are face-to-face, he can’t help but to monologue — even though he supposedly hates Batman and wants to finish him off, he still wants Batman to understand him, or perhaps to make him immortal as the Joker may now be. Even the injuries he deals to Batman start to transform him into the Joker!

Smile!

Yet, when Batman starts embracing his more Joker-esque side, it freaks Joker out. He can’t deal with a Batman who embraces Joker’s dirty tricks and begs him for forgiveness — it isn’t the Batman Joker “fell in love” with. In a way, this may be Batman’s ultimate victory — earlier in the issue the Joker mentions how the joke was on him when, despite fighting for “meaninglessness,” the fighting itself gave his actions meaning, and that’s exactly what Batman does in the climax of the battle when he turns the Joker’s own methods against him, giving a heroic connotation to methods Joker had devoted to evil. It’s a victory that continues even after his death.

Ha

There’s a bit of “everybody dies” nihilism present in Batman’s philosophy here that reminds of the Red Hood’s cynical views on humanity back during “Zero Year.” Yet, while Joker, as the Red Hood, used the inevitability of death as an excuse to hurt people, Batman uses it to inspire people to use the time they have left on Earth wisely, and it’s yet another inspired inverting of the Joker’s methods. Even in death Batman gets the last laugh over the Joker, and I mean that literally — by leaving a dying message of “Ha,” Batman literally gets the last laugh on the Joker.

Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the whole “Batman having a kinship with Joker” concept, even in classics like The Killing Joke — Joker’s simply killed and maimed too many people who are important to Batman for that to be an appropriate emotion — so I appreciate that Snyder and Capullo provide some alternative interpretations to Batman’s actions. Is Bruce just bluffing to piss the Joker off and buy time before the dionesium pit is destroyed? Or perhaps he’s been driven insane by the stress of the battle? I mean, the very first page of the issue literally shows Batman’s head filled with thoughts of the Joker — it’s enough to drive anyone a little batty.

Hm. Patrick, despite my rambling, I’ve only barely scratched the surface here. What’s your take on the relationship and the final battle between Batman and the Joker? Did you catch onto any symbolism I overlooked, and specifically, what do you think the armor in the dumpster in the issue’s final panel represents? I’m at a loss with that one. Also, I didn’t get nearly enough opportunity to elaborate on Capullo’s inspired staging and action — care to pick up my slack? Seriously, this issue is phenomenal in pretty much every way, and I’m half-tempted to steal your reply just so I can keep talking about it. It’s that good.

Patrick: Wouldn’t that be funny? One of these days the schedule is just going to read “Spencer and Spencer on Batman 83.” You’ve prompted me with a lot of questions, so let’s start with the one that seems the most transparent to me — that final sequence, and the meaning of the armor in the trash. If  you recall, that’s a little piece in the Gotham Royal Theatre collection that was made possible by a grant from the Wayne Foundation in the wake of Zero Year. We get some Batman voiceover early in “Endgame” explaining that this armor, and its attendant flight rig, were essentially for Deus Ex Machina, physically elevating actors to the level of Gods and so they can solve the other characters’ problems. That was intended to be inspirational, reassuring the citizens of Gotham that there was always going to be someone out there to save them. That’s largely what we believe Batman to be — Gotham’s savior. But Batman’s not a god, and the last two big Snyder-and-friends stories have relied heavily on the idea that Gotham City has many saviors and no single God. That’s why that harness needs to be tossed: the idea of One God To Save Gotham is outdated.

I’ve also got some thoughts on the relationship between Batman and Joker — all of them half formed, so apologies there. First, I like dialing down the “lovers” language — Batman says “I’m going to sit with my friend for a while” which puts their relationship into terminology that I’m more comfortable with. Love is just so connected to sex, and there’s very little room for sex in either of those characters. Second, I think the characters may see each other as friends because they both represent ideologically purities — they just happen to be on opposite ends of those various spectrums. I find this much more appealing than the old Battle Buddies hypothesis, which seems to suggest that they have a kinship simply because they’ve been playing together for so long. The third point I want to make is also the least defined, and I look forward to Drew picking it up in the comments: Batman and Joker’s relationship represents the creative relationship between their creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

Finger’s name has been floating around in connection to Snyder and Capullo’s version of Joker since the close of that Red Hood portion of Zero Year. “Liam Distal” was a potential identity for Red Hood (and therefore Joker), “Liam” being the Irish variant of “William,” the formalized version of “Bill,” and “Distal” being a medical term with refers to the thing at the end of an appendage (such as a foot, a toe, a hand, a FINGER). The issue opens on a traumatic recap of Joker’s origin.

Finger and Kane

We’re just seeing snippets of the action here, but the copy suggest that this is a moment Batman replays in his head over and over again. “Sometimes, in your mind, you get there. You’re fast enough. You grab him.” But Batman also isn’t totally comfortable committing to the idea that he created Joker. He says that Red Hood “let himself fall…like he knew. Like he was laughing at you from the start.” Joker — or Red Hood or Distal or Bill Finger, or whoever — had an active role in Joker’s origin. Despite popular opinion, Batman didn’t create Joker and Joker didn’t create Batman, they both created themselves together.

Goddamn, Spencer, I gotta shift gears at the risk of not mentioning the art at all. Capullo is a master — no question. You mention how we maybe should have been able to pick up on Batman’s identity in that opening fight, and that reminded me of that large splash panel on the title page, which shows Dick delivering a crowd-clearing jump-kick. I knew I recognized that kick and that composition from somewhere, but where?

Dick Grayson

That’s not Joker kickin’ like Grayson (ooooh, who wants to be in my new wave band: “Kickin’ Like Grayson”?), that’s Dick in disguise. Capullo is calling back imagery from issue number one. (Also, look how much fun it is to look back on this — Capullo hadn’t yet had the opportunity to redesign all of these New 52 Batman Rogues, so Riddler’s got this weird question mark mohawk, and Clayface isn’t quite the hulking presence he’d become later. Pointedly, Clayface isn’t even as imposing as he is in the image I posted from Batman 40. Capullo gets to populate that scuffle with a bunch of his designs and redesigns: Croc, Freeze, Penguin, Blue Bird — it’s rad as fuck.)

Alright, no doubt we have to talk about what this means for Batman going forward. There are spoilers swirling around the internet as to the identity of the man behind the bat-mask in promotional materials, and it looks like we’ll be getting some of that information in-print as early as Free Comic Book Day (this Saturday!). We can get more spoiler-y in the comments, and make our proclamations about whether we hope these deaths “stick” or whatever. I’m mostly excited for a new era that doesn’t pit god against the devil, but good people against bad people. Gotham’s got more than its fair share of both.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

33 comments on “Batman 40

  1. Good catch on that callback to issue one, Patrick. I was thinking specifically of Dick!Bats’ kick on that spread as a sign that he was Grayson in disguise because I knew it was a trademark Dick Grayson move, but it never even occurred to me that we’d seen it before in this very book.

    And seriously, it’s easy for Capullo’s composition to be overlooked cause he makes it look so easy, but man is it good. There’s a page where Joker looms over Batman’s shoulder that’s just phenomenal, and a big shot of Batman and Joker falling down a cliff, with each panel closing in on the two of them fighting as each panel tracks their descent down the cliff. I could go on and on, it’s just so frigging good.

    Also: still digging FCO’s purple skies. And that one page of Dick!Bats and Joker slugging it out with the background of each panel filled by a different solid color is gorgeous.

    What a fantastic issue. Bravo.

  2. Oh interesting. I loved the Liam Distal detail in Zero Year because it was somewhat mysterious in its assertion of Finger’s importance in Batman’s origin. Was he a key player, or was it a red herring? Patrick’s reading takes it in a totally different direction, but one that seems appropriate for the “end” of Batman and Joker: Bob Kane (represented by Bruce Wayne, who I oddly never realized has such a similar name) and Bill Finger (represented by Joker, for reasons Patrick articulated above) should be together. Obviously, Joker is the less important of the deaths, which is why Joker co-creator Jerry Robinson isn’t represented at all, but paying tribute to Kane and Finger here makes the particular version of Batman’s death one of the most satisfying.

  3. Hey, so its not clear if anyone besides the Joker sees that Dick Grayson is behind the mask, but could this be his reintroduction to the bat mythos? Perhaps he’s the new Batman (I mean, as long as he’s alive, he should be the heir to the mantle), but uses the suit to hide his identity from the bat-allies? I’m not sure.

  4. A couple of things of note from the Batman panel at C2E2:

    Patrick, Snyder showed the panel of Bane throwing Bats and did indeed refer to it as the fastball special, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in the script.

    Drew, I was wondering the exact same thing about Dick Grayson; to me it was kind of like “Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag now.” Snyder, James Tynion and the rest of the panel mentioned that since it will be the 75th anniversary of Robin/Dick Grayson, it will be a big year for the character and he will be returning to the bat family. I think they said something about Babs coming face-to-face with Dick in Batgirl Annual 3.

  5. Three more things.

    Thing 1: Killer writeup Patrick and Spencer. Sometimes I get so excited at an epic finale like this that I’m missing the subtleties completely. Every idea presented in Batman 40 and elaborated in your writeup is full of juicy bits that we can chew on for a while now. I’m going to be thinking of some Bob Kane & Bill Finger/Batman and Joker connections now myself.

    Thing 2: I’ve unintentionally trained myself to see “the machine” of a popular work of fiction, so maybe I was looking for hints at how Bruce and/or The Joker survived their deaths. It’d been a while since I read Endgame Part 1, so I mistook the Deus Ex Machina armor for something underneath Batman’s suit to help him withstand all of those stabs. Thank you for reminding me of what it actually was.

    Thing 3: One theory I’m still gonna hold onto is that when Gotham is being cleaned up after all of the chaos, there is a panel with the silhouettes of a boy and a man on crutches. I’m really thinking that the boy is Damian, with his Robin “R” cap and coat and that the man is Bruce, with a bandage over the same eye he had one of Joker’s playing cards stuck in a few pages before. Despite being a little obvious, one thing going against this theory is that Damian wasn’t in Endgame at all I don’t think. Maybe because Snyder had planed/written a lot of it while Damian was still dead?

    Here’s the panel in question:

    That’s all I got for now!

    • RE: Damian not being in endgame: that’s a pretty weird little cul de sac of continuity, isn’t it? “Endgame” started before Damian had been resurrected, so it made sense that he wouldn’t feature in the start of the arc (otherwise, it would kind of steal the thunder of his return from Batman and Robin). It’s easy enough at the start of an arc like that to assume “Endgame” must be taking place before “Robin Rising,” because there’s obviously no time within “Endgame” that Batman could have gone to participate in the entirety of “Robin Rising.” But, then, Bruce “dies” at the end of “Endgame,” making the thought of any story that takes place after “Endgame” kind of impossible.

        • Upon further inspection, this may have been some serious interpretation on my part, but in Batman 35 Bruce refers to “everything the past year” as a kind of arduous shitstorm. I assumed that was Batman Eternal, but you could be right.

        • There’s a lot of evidence that it’s the year timeframe, since we know when Eric Border began at Arkham and the fact that when he reveals his identity in Endgame the plot then dovetails into Arkham Manor issues that were directly referencing the events of Eternal very frequently.

        • Also, the only time you’ve really seen or heard about Damian in their run is when editorial made offers to the B&R team to tie-into Batman proper for a sales boost (Night Of The Owls, Death Of The Family) and that one issue where they had to acknowlege him after Batman Inc 8 (It was Batman 19 I believe). Certainly since the “Batgirling” of the line and DC’s continuity policies there hasn’t been any reference to him.

        • I don’t know about that. Damian was in the very first issue, and I’d say played a bigger role in Death of the Family than just tie-ins (certainly more than, say, Jason did). I’d probably agree that Snyder is more interested in Dick than basically any other bat ally, but I don’t think he avoids Damian any more than the rest of them.

        • Agreed, but outside those few pages of issue one meant to clarify the status quo after the soft rebooting of Gotham and the tie-ins I mentioned he pretty much ignored everybody except Dick, Alfred, Gordon, Bullock, and the supporting casg he created himself. You could chalk that up to solo book mentality, but I find it telling that there was clear editorial intent any time certain extraneous characters appeared. Not that I mind. Ive read Morrison and Burnham both basically infer that they believe in their canon the real Damian died for good and I suspect Snyder might have been honoring that by pretendingbhe doesnt exist for Endgame. If he did exist, clearly a father son moment would have been due before his demise.

  6. So, this is my favorite comic in forever.

    A few things. Cormacmichael, I’ve heard that Robin/Bruce theory, too, but I don’t buy it because (like you’ve mentioned) Snyder doesn’t like to write Damian unless he’s made to by editorial (and his clout is beyond that now), because if Bruce DID survive then he’d have no reason to stop being Batman just because Joker is taken out, and because my initial interperetation was that it was an image of Gotham’s people on the mend after the Joker virus.

    Also, without spoiling it: I think the replacement Batman identity is nothing short of brilliant. I expect it to be VERY anime-like, what with his lack of prowess and almost total reliance on the robot. I hope to get some of those Evangelion-style inside-the-robot panic shots and HUD readouts.

    And, finally, nobody mentioned my favorite part! Joker BREAKING CHARACTER and totally freaking out as the cave-in happens. I love the mythology as Joker as a force of nature, and I would typically hate something like this, but the moment was BEYOND earned. My favorite part of the story.

  7. I mentioned it a bit, when I talked about Joker freaking out because of Batman embracing his more Joker-esque qualities. I do think it was a combination of that AND the cave-in, or even more that Batman’s sudden insanity was causing them to die because of the cave in, but either way, yeah, it was a stand-out moment in an issue full of stand-out moments.

    • I didn’t see it so much as Batman bluffing but rather calling Joker’s immortality bluff in the most simple, straightforward, and antagonistic way. If he simply cliff-fell his way randomly into the dionesium pit after DOTF then he needs it to restore himself, but if he’s truly immortal he’ll survive the cave-in and regen. Bruce knows this isn’t the case, so he simply plays along with Joker’s ruse knowing the cave-in will kill him. Then, as Batman’s dialogue is in effect saying everything Joker would want to hear, Joker is barely hearing him (much less enjoying it) because he’s totally broken character, a human terrified of death, as he tries to claw his way to survival. Masterwork stuff.

  8. Also, touching on the overall format of the Snyder/Capullo Batman, it seems apoarant that they took control of Batman as though he were a creator-owned character and wrote their stories, like Miller’s Dark Knight before them, under the pretense that their Batman is its own complete version unto itself regardless of DC continuity; More a series of OGN’s (like Earth One) than a traditional stint on a book. In that light, I assume Zero Year to Endgame is the complete Snyder/Capullo story of Bruce Wayne – from origin to demise. I suspect any ambiguity they supplied was just bedside manner so DC can restore their property without too much trouble once the boys have hung up their hats and called it a day on the title. I hope that day is still a while off.

  9. Also, does anybody else find a lot of things coincidental about the following series of events?

    1. Scott Snyder decides to leave Batman after Endgame but Capullo wants to stay and be able to do issue #50; DC baits Snyder into staying by allowing him to pull his Elseworlds-like replacement of Batman within the main title, allowing a fresh start.

    2. Geoff Johns begins to place a Bruce Wayne/Lex Luthor relationship at the center of his Justice League and begins executing a year-long Darkseid War storyline which heavily features Bruce Wayne as Batman.

    3. DC announces that they no longer care about continuity and will pretty much let their books contradict each other.

    • That’s almost like the accident of coincidental. Like almost literally anti-incident.

      I know we’re talked about this at great length in the past, but I’m actually relieved when I find out that continuity isn’t going to be that much of a big deal. That DC back catalog is so deep and there’s so much of it that seems unappealing to catch up on. Convergence has been a fun sampling of that continuity, but it is admittedly loose in it’s adherence to the particulars (i.e., nostalgia trumps continuity every time).

      Also, I totally thought that — between points 1 and 2 — you were setting up the conclusion to be that Lex Luthor becomes the Batman of the Justice League.

    • Honestly, I suppose that I’m not all that surprised that DC is letting their two biggest guns (Johns and Morrison) do pretty much whatever they want.

      Continuity when it comes to the Justice League can be a tricky thing. Too much of it can disrupt an entire run — look at the way the roster on Morrison’s JLA was constantly changing because suddenly Superman turned electric blue or Wonder Woman died and was replaced by her mother or Flash disappeared for a few months or all that stuff. It’s a pain to see the book have to constantly slow down to accommodate the rest of the line, especially fifteen years down the line, where Morrison’s JLA is more highly regarded than any of the stories it’s bowing to and we barely remember that time Diana died.

      But then again, it’s weird when the League feels disconnected from the rest of the line as a whole. Honestly, if/when Johns’ Justice League starts contradicting the rest of the line, I’m just going to assume the story takes place before Convergence/all the issues 40.

      • Not to mention Bruce Wayne Batman starring in Hitch’s upcoming JLA (which will be like waiting for a new Joe Madureira Battlechasers issue to come out after #5. That or there will be a consistent stream of new issues but only 3 issue a year actually drawn by Hitch.) That one LAUNCHES the same month as Batman #41!

        • This all takes me back to the idea of Snyder’s Batman being more like an OGN that editorial makes the Gotham books loosely follow but is still largely separate from mainstream DC continuity.

        • Also, when I have to describe stuff like that, the removal of continuity somehow sounds like it’s actually making things more difficult to understand.

      • I meant Johns and Snyder, not Johns and Morrison. Morrison would be the biggest gun if he wasn’t only doing Multiversity

        • I do love how DC is respecting Multiversity as an integral component of its infrastruction and was careful not to contradict it during Convergence (which would have been a legitimate danger)

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