(w) Scott Snyder (a) Greg Capullo (i) Jonathan Glapion (c) FCO Plascencia (l) Tom Napolitano
The Dark Knight is the crown jewel of DC Comics, and as such he has been blessed with some stellar creative teams. Finger and Robinson. O’Neill and Adams. Miller and Mazzucchelli. Loeb and Sale. Snyder and Capullo. Those last two catapulted to [comics] stardom thanks to their celebrated run on Batman during the publisher’s “New 52” era. Scott Snyder’s roots as a horror writer and Greg Capullo’s Spawn pedigree was a match made in comic heaven. For fifty issues, they collaborated on one grandiose story after another, later reteaming for the awesome Dark Nights: Metal event. Now, they’re back for one last Batman story. The last Batman story. One that questions if Batman should really even exist at all.
Among the many writers that have passed through this site, there has been a running gag of a potential series of articles around the central premise of “Batman is the worst.” It appears that sometime along the way, Snyder and Capullo got wind of this and used it as the jumping off point for their story. What they do to address the topic head-on is more interesting and insightful than anything that could have been written. Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1 is a subversion of Batman’s character while broaching the topics of utilitarianism, Machiavellianism, manipulation of the masses, and mental health – that last one in particular is handled much more effectively than the whole of Heroes in Crisis.
As seen in all of the marketing materials, Last Knight takes place in a dystopian hellscape – a nightmarish future brought on – at least in part – by Batman himself. The story opens with all the familiar trappings of a typical Batman comic. It’s night, and Batman has once again put together a puzzle from a seemingly random series of events. However, as this mystery reaches its endgame, Snyder and Capullo zig where the reader expects a zag. We find Bruce Wayne to be a patient in Arkham. Batman has been a figment of his imagination the entire time. His rogues gallery have been adapted from the various doctors and staffers at the Asylum. Instead of the terrifying labyrinth (that violates a plethora of HIPAA and health regulations), it’s shown to be a competent, adequate mental health facility. Has this always been the case? Is Bruce really crazy? Has his vigilante endeavors been simply a way for his mind to cope with decades of trauma-induced guilt?
Snyder and Capullo do not provide any substantive answers in this first issue. Instead, this questioning of reality lingers with the reader as the story progresses. Though readers are given the history of this world, and how things progressed to get to this point, that initial setup ensures that the reader distrusts what they see. Adding to the reader distrust are the disorienting and jarring transitions between settings. The story jumps from the dark, grimy, and rainy streets of Gotham to the bright and sterile patient care of Arkham. Then, it transitions to the barren desert, post-apocalyptic ruins, and ultimately the claustrophobic caverns beneath the old Hall of Justice. These are all calculated moves by Snyder and Capullo to keep the reader on edge. Despite this, the book never feels alienating. Rather, the creators invite the reader to embrace this bizarre journey and see where it ultimately ends up.
As he has done since the first issue of Batman back in 2011, Greg Capullo absolutely kills it on artwork. He and his collaborators, inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO Plascencia, put an incredible effort into fleshing out the various settings and story elements throughout the book, giving them each a distinct look that brings Scott Snyder’s script to life. This is perhaps best exemplified by Bruce’s makeshift Batsuit, assembled from a hodgepodge of equipment he’s accumulated. It’s a welcome, subtle callback to the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh from Grant Morrison’s Batman run that propels the story forward rather than being pure fan-service.
Letterers rarely get their due credit, but Tom Napolitano’s work is crucial to the success of this issue. The varying fonts used give each character a unique voice that adds to the disorientation, and is further evidence that this full creative team is firing on all cylinders. Even though dialogue may be coming from a certain character, the lettering acts a clue that what is presented cannot be necessarily trusted.
Batman: The Last Knight on Earth #1 is a welcome return for Snyder and Capullo, as well as their other collaborators. Delightfully disorienting, Last Knight proves that superhero comic books can tackle serious subjects while simultaneously providing pure escapist fun. Hopefully, this encourages DC (and AT&T) to take on more bold projects with their “Black Label” imprint, as stories such as this have the potentials to become true classics.