Endgame, the major story arc in writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia’s Batman book during the character’s 75th Anniversary last year, initially had me the littlest bit weary. Plot details for the arc had been kept under wraps until the debut of the first issue but by the close of Batman #35 it was clear that the antagonist was the Joker, a character who, in clumsier hands, could easily, loudly steal the spotlight from the caped crusader on his 75th birthday.
Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, the Snyder/Capullo Batman team didn’t turn in a crazy-for-the-sake-of-crazy Joker story. Much like Death of the Family before it Endgame doesn’t thrust Joker into the spotlight so much as use him as a spotlight to highlight Batman and, in this case, his tireless, decades-long mission.
Endgame introduced a terrifying new fold into the Joker’s character – a bit of straight up hatred. After his last encounter with Batman the Joker returns spiteful and malicious. Despite the despicable cruelty the Joker has displayed over the years it’s almost always seemed to be in the name of random violence. The Joker is a force of chaos, a force of meaninglessness. Endgame gave the Joker spite and in doing so gave an avatar of seemingly unpredictable and pointless carnage purpose.
That purpose is contradictory to Joker’s supposed core values and in succumbing to that which he rages so hard against, purpose, the Joker undermines himself and is philosophically defeated long before he and Batman come to blows.
Furthermore, giving Joker such a specific purpose in Endgame highlights how the character has actually had a broader purpose all along – the pursuit of proving the purposelessness of it all. He’s a contradiction. He’s a smokescreen of terror and cruelty that at its core can’t hold up to even the slightest bit of intellectual scrutiny. His terrorism in support of meaninglessness gives him meaning. He is his own counterargument. His crusade is a joke. Go figure.
Where Endgame triumphs, other than the very cool segment on jellyfish and the consistently fantastic art, is in showcasing just how flawed and broken the pursuits of Batman’s antagonists are and, in contrast, how sturdy and true Batman’s own 75 year old mission continues to be because Batman fights for meaning. He’s dressed head to toe in symbolism and his bread and butter is deriving significance from the exact kind of senseless violence the Joker so haphazardly hocks.
Unlike the Joker, Batman has a philosophical center that holds up to scrutiny because it is inarguable. We can gleam meaning from our days, be they triumphant or tragic. It’s a sentiment that rang true in 1939 when Batman’s origins were first revealed in the pages of Detective Comics #33 and it’s a sentiment that rings true in the final panels of Endgame. All this is to say Endgame that while it might be the Joker on the cover of the Endgame graphic novel, it couldn’t be a more Batman-centric tale.
Endgame was the perfect story to tell on the occasion of Batman’s 75th birthday.