Who was the Saint who slew the dragon? Wasn't it Galen?
Let's begin with Batman and find out if he's still hallucinating on Super Duper Scarecrow Toxin (mad from the tears and piss of frightened children). I want to believe that what's happening in Endgame is really happening because I love the idea of The Joker being Gotham's personal monster who has been around since the founding of the city. But I just can't buy into one aspect of the story and that's how it all began: with a Jokerized Justice League. How the fuck did The Joker manage to poison the entire Justice League? How did he ensure his toxin could infect humans as well has demigods, Kryptonians, and Atlanteans?! How did The Flash not metabolize it in thirty seconds and either die or return to normal? Why am I asking logical questions about a comic book?!
You know why? Because even when reading a comic book, I want the writer to play fairly with me. And if this story winds up not being a hallucination brought on by Fear Gas, I want it to work because I love this origin of The Joker. And I'd easily let a Jokerized Justice League slide but it just seems like such a big clue pointing toward a hallucination.
The other big clue that the story is all baloney was the conclusion to the back-up story in which we learn that The Joker's origin doesn't matter and will very likely never be known. So why wouldn't this immortal clown living in Gotham for four hundred years be bullshit too? I suppose even if that's true, who he originally was can still be a mystery. But at that point, does it even matter? Knowing what kind of neanderthal Vandal Savage was before he became an immortal, suave, charming, majestic, big-cocked asshole means practically nothing to who he became. Sure, it could be an interesting story to compare the two sides of him. But in the end, do you really care if he was a nice caveman turned into a monster by his new power or if he were always an asshole and when he gained his immortality, all of the other caveman just looked at each other and sighed, "Fucking wouldn't you know it! Of course that dick gets super powers!"
This issue begins with Batman flashing back to the moment of The Joker's creation (well, the previous likely origin moment established in this run of Batman) where the Red Hood falls into a vat of Ace chemicals.
This is the epitome of The Joker. This is what he is. He is the existential creep seeping in at the corners of your supposedly meaningful and happy life. He is the constant nagging of "What if...what if...what if...?" This is why he's Batman's nemesis.
I fucking hate analogies! They're like how when you want to eat something difficult to swallow, you have to chop it up into smaller pieces that are easier to swallow! But you don't just chop it up so that the smaller pieces are the same as the larger piece! No, you have to take off the skin because that gets caught in the teeth and you have to take out the seeds because you don't want a plant growing in your stomach and you have to throw away all of the bits that don't look or smell very appetizing. And then what you have left, you present to the person that was having trouble swallowing it in the first place and pretend that it's exactly the same thing as the thing they couldn't swallow. But it isn't at all! It's like totally different and cleaned up and morally less ambiguous! Fucking apples are the worst.
The Joker is busy having his big parade. Batman wants to shut it down because parades are garbage! I've never understood why people love parades. One of my least favorite pastimes is sitting in a crowd of people being aurally assaulted by brass sections and snare drums while the occasional horse shits right in front of me. Okay, that just reminded me of the best parts of parades. When horses used to shit right in the middle of the street and bands would have to march right through them if a pooper scooper clown couldn't get to it in time. I think now somebody has invented some kind of horse dump diaper catcher thing. Anyway, fucking parades are the worst.
The Joker's float has a couple of guests of honor on it!
It's the Waynes!
With the revelation of Batman's parents on the float, I suddenly believe The Joker has a completely different motive for this entire fucking Endgame event. And it makes sense that the story is called "Endgame." Why would The Joker be pissing off Batman to this extent unless he's trying to commit suicide by Batman? It makes sense, right? The Joker goes to enormous lengths to make Batman believe he's immortal and then he completely pisses Bruce way the fuck off. Batman, believing The Joker can take more punishment than he really can (due to all the clues and also to having seemingly survived the gun blasts by Gordon which The Joker probably faked up somehow), kills the shit out of The Joker by accident. Perhaps The Joker laughs like a maniac as he dies because he finally got Batman to kill. Or maybe The Joker sheds a tear because he's just so fucking exhausted and he's so happy to be put out of his misery by his best friend and one true love.
I'm kind of falling in love with The Joker a little bit myself.
Except Batman fucks it all up. Once he gets The Joker in his grip, he takes a few seconds to talk to Penny-Two instead of jabbing a syringe into The Joker's spine. The Joker activates some kind of audio system that bombards everybody with laughter. The sound cracks the gas masks on everybody's faces and then The Joker releases a fast-acting toxic venom that will kill anybody not already infected with The Joker's previous toxin. And since The Batman is closest to The Joker, he sucks down the toxin first. But before he dies, The Joker is compelled by Comic Book Law to explain how the game was rigged and Batman was never going to be able to find a cure anyway! Because The Joker's internal Dionesium was tainted! Because the last mining shaft with any left was too deep under Gotham and rigged to blow! Because, well, because Batman is just a huge failure!
And then The Joker decides to remove the Bat-mask so that Batman can watch his city fall with the same eyes that watched his parents killed, the eyes...
We've been waiting for Dick to be revealed as not dead for months in the pages of Batman and Robin. I'm glad it didn't happen there because this was pretty fucking delicious.
That made more sense in my head before I typed it.
It seems Batman outwitted The Joker by figuring that The Joker had never shown this kind of healing factor in any other encounter before this. So if he begins with the assumption that The Joker only gained the power since their last encounter, perhaps The Joker discovered the pool of Dionesium after dropping deeper into the caverns at the end of Death of the Family. Batman got a look at the Court of Owls model of Gotham which had tunnels that seemed to agree with the theory. He then dropped his mapping ball into the pit The Joker fell into and he found the location. After that it was necessary to just keep The Joker misdirected. Dick put on the cowl and Batman went to work.
Batman has enough time to get a sample of the Dionesium but not enough time to get out himself before The Joker turns up.
Now we'll get the fuckfight to end all fuckfights! Although this one won't have a really great ass in it.
A quick word about The Joker finding this healing spring deep in the caverns of Gotham's underground! Um, kudos to you, Scott Snyder! Something needed to happen to give The Joker his face back after Tony S. Daniel had it cut off in the first month or so of The New 52! I'm sure the pool will be destroyed so that it can't be abused after this story. But Batman will probably bring enough to the surface to help Alfred reattach his serving hand. Bruce Wayne can't have a butler with just one hand! What will the other rich bastards think?!
Eventually the two of them wind up exhausted, Rocky and Apollo style. At that point, it's time for another villain's speech except this time to Bruce's face instead of Bruce's Dick.
If this were a David Lynch movie, you'd have to figure all of this shit out for yourself. But comic book villains are nice and helpful!
Now all Batman needs to do is take a quick soak in the Dionesium pool and everything will be as good as new!
While Alfred rambles, the panels show the outside of the Gotham Royal Theater. At one point, a father and son limp by in shadow: the boy with a hat and jacket with the Robin "R" on it, the father using crutches with bandages on his face. A janitor cleans out the the theater and, in doing so, tosses the Deus Ex Machina into the dumpster. There will be no sudden salvation for Batman at the end of this story.
Batman #40 Rating: +1 Ranking. Well fuck. Alfred doesn't want his right hand back and Bruce didn't want to live. Great story but it still feels like a hallucination since it was about the death of Batman. Although I think Snyder gets to write that death of Batman story without actually having killed him. Comics being what they are, we'll never get a definitive end for Batman. But, as Snyder writes, we all know in our heart that Batman's story is a tragedy and must certainly end, one day, in his death even, as Alfred points out, it doesn't have to. And the final Batman story must always, also, be the final Joker story. So Snyder gets to write his final Batman story without making it an imaginary tale. And having the two month hiatus until next issue lets it feel like an ending. It's the best comic books can do since they're a continuing middle story without an end. But, comics being comics, we even get the glimpse of, most likely, Bruce and Damian walking down the street because the story must continue. Batman probably sucked The Joker's cock using up the last of the Dionesium in The Joker's system and then was dug out of the rubble by Damian who hurt his eye as well!
Addendum on the Possible (probable!) Hallucination Scenario:
Does the "HA." note make more sense if this is a nightmare? I think it does since the "nightmare" is much more like a joke. And something I didn't pick up on until a night's sleep was the whole aspect of equating Joker with death, "the Pale Man." The whole story is about Batman coming to terms with his own death. That's what the Scarecrow Toxin does. Makes him experience his death over and over again. By the final hallucination, the one that must inevitably be about The Joker, Batman accepts death as a friend and welcomes it instead of fears it. I was reading the final conversation as Batman toying with The Joker but he really is in a kind of manic, unstable mental state there at the end. He's elated that he's reached a point where he isn't desperately clinging to life. He doesn't fear for everybody else's safety if he's gone. Dick is there, and the others. And thus the "HA." being both a final laugh at this whole "joke" and also Batman coming to terms with death. He's reached a level of enlightenment and calm that he's not quite had up until this point. And that could be Snyder's "big change" to Batman. Maybe he'll be less uptight come June?