For a guy who claims to not read DC books, I sure do pick a lot of them for Week’s Finest. Before I sat down to read my weekly stack I had no idea what was going to be the week’s finest. I could have just asked Patrick, because I’m sure he knew as soon as the solicitations were out that I would pick Batman. I could have really saved some time if I just consulted with him before hand. I did not know before I read Batman that it would be week’s finest, but I sure as hell knew after it was going to be. When I finish turning the last page of a book and I get up and start rummaging through my short boxes to pull out all pertaining previous issues, there is a pretty good chance that is going to be the week’s finest. So before I get into it let me warn you there are spoilers ahead. And I mean like the most spoiled of spoilers. Picture a banana that has been left on the counter so long that it has not only turned brown but actually begun to ooze out the sides. That is this review. There is no way to try and process what happened without spoilers, so if you haven’t read this issue yet then trust me it is awesome and go buy it now, then come back here and join in the intelligent conversation that is about to transpire.
This issue had everything I could ask for. Open on just a fabulous image of nothing more than the darkness of the bat silhouette with a few splashes of colour. The first words you will read are “This moment”. As beautiful as it is, do not get lost in it, because there is so much to come. Bruce begins by remembering the fall of the red hood into the chemical vat. He goes over it multiple times, always coming to the same conclusion. It doesn’t matter what he does, whatever way the cards shake out, it is how Joker wanted it.
We pick back up on the streets of Gotham where Batman, the Bat family and all the Bat villains are fighting off the Joker Zombies in an effort to get Bats close enough to Joker to extract his blood. Batman manages to get into a fight with Joker, thanks to DC’s version of the fastball special, courtesy of Bane. Bats gets close only to have the Joker outsmart him yet again by breaking Bats gas mask with a high pitch shriek and releasing a deadly gas into the air. As Joker delivers his victorious monologue he removes Batman’s mask to find out he has been tangoing with Dick not Bruce. Here is where I let out my first gasp of the issue. Bats is off in the caves where Joker has a reserve of Dionesium he has been using to heal and create his toxin. Just as Bats secures some of the Dionesium, the cave starts to collapse as Joker shows up for the final battle. Gasp number two. Such a great fist fight they engaged in. Highlighted by the happy face that Joker carved into Batman’s back. A nice added bonus.
The two battle until they are both beaten and broken men, lying side by side as the cave collapses. In his last moments Batman is able to utter, “I’m just going to rest here a little while with my friend”. We then see the cave in happen as the Dionesium gets raised out of the cave to save Gotham. Bats and Joker dead.
We jump ahead, two weeks later. Alfred is recovering from the brutal dismembering of his hand. He lies in bed and reads a note that Bruce left for him. The note simply said “HA”. Okay, deep breath. That was a lot to take in. Is Bruce Wayne dead? Well, I’m going to say yes. However, there is no doubt that he is coming back. Obviously, you know this because we are reading a comic book and no one ever dies, but I’m not just using that as my reasoning. Snyder leaves many clues throughout this story to let you know that Bruce is coming back, and when he does it will make perfect mastermind type sense.
The last page is a picture of the chest plate in a dumpster, if you have forgotten what that is, go fish out Batman #35 and read the first page. The chest plate is a harness that was built into the Gotham Royal Theatre for the play Orestes. It is used by Apollo who comes down from the sky to save the characters from destruction. This is the chest plate seen in the dumpster at the end. To me this has a few meanings, so let’s hash them out.
First off, the play Orestes carries themes of man’s interpretation of divine will and whether violence should have a place in divine will. Batman begins issue #40 with a inner monologue that suggests it doesn’t matter how things shake out, whether he catches the red hood or whether the red hood falls into the vat of chemicals, they will always arrive at this moment in time, the moment where they must battle to the death. The Joker throughout the issue explains that the reason he is always laughing is because whatever Batman does to try and help the city doesn’t matter. In the end it is all meaningless. They don’t have control what path they travel, it will always end up at the same destination. Also, if you didn’t get this theme from the chest plate, just take a look at the cover.
Secondly I think it is Snyder saying, “Don’t worry guys, he will be okay”. The harness is used in the play for Apollo to come down and save everyone when all is lost. It is used for a “deus ex machina”. What is a “deus ex machina”? It is a story telling device used when a writer has seemingly backed himself into a corner and needs to get out. It is the god that swoops in and saves the day when all seems lost. Snyder is reminding us that he has everything under control. It may seem like all is lost, but he has a “deus ex machina” up his sleeve.
It is clear that Bruce knows he has to die in this moment. He knows this battle with the Joker is going to be the final battle for both of them. If Bruce knows he is going to die, then he definitely has a plan to make sure he doesn’t. Why do I think he knows he is going to die? Reread the final fight scene. Batman is extremely sarcastic with Joker, and not sarcastic in a I-found-out-how-you-did-it kind of way. He is sarcastic in an arrogant kind of way. He is begging Joker to say that he forgives Batman for not believing him. Batman is making fun of Joker’s claim to be immortal, basically laughing in the Jokesters face. Batman is toying with Joker in this scene, and that is something I have never seen from him. He is comfortable in this moment, because he knows the outcome and he is not afraid. He concludes the sarcastic scene by saying he is just going to lie with his friend for a while. Some might say that this is Batman admitting that he and the Joker are cut from the same mould. He finally agrees with Joker, that they are meant to be, they are in fact some sort of deranged married couple. Without being disrespectful, I am going to say it doesn’t mean that. Don’t get me wrong, the themes of duality and love are all there. In fact the pool of blood they lie in seems to resemble a heart. However, this is not what Batman’s final words are aimed at. It is the final shot that Batman can take. He has finally done it, he killed the Joker. It may have cost him his own life, but he can finally relax. He did it, he won. He can finally lay there beside the Joker and mock him. The Joker has been telling jokes long enough, it is time for Bruce to take the mic.
Last thing I am going to touch on is the note that Bruce leaves. This of course is the note that Joker always leaves Bruce. He always thinks he has the Joker dead and gone, until he receives those horrifying two letters, “HA”. Bruce knows he is going into the final battle and he knows he is going to win. We all had the thought for a split second, maybe the Joker was dead at the end of Death of the Family, that is until we read his message. Well, let this be another message to all of you. Bruce is getting the last laugh here. He had a plan, and he is probably sipping down Mai Tai’s on a beach right now while everyone sheds a tear.
The story of Batman is a tragedy, as Alfred has said. However, this blogger is convinced that Snyder has promised a happy ending.
“Don’t cry. Be brave. It’s all an adventure.” – The Wake