Any Batman fans out there probably know that the Dark Knight is no stranger to Scott Snyder. He’s written numerous landmark stories for the character, including a 52-issue run in Batman. Honing his craft with The Black Mirror, Snyder’s first milestone arc published in Detective Comics, Snyder really got a feel for how he’d tell the story of Batman. We start to see Snyder playing a lot with the panel structures by frequently mixing wide, horizontal panels with intense close-ups of faces or eyes. It’s all part of unraveling the mystery, which is the root of his storytelling. All of the core emotions at play, or lack thereof, are propelled forward by a deep-seated sense of mystery.
Soon after, Snyder begins his Batman run where he takes the message inspired from Grant Morrison’s run — the idea that Batman is a universal idea and a symbol inhabited by a flawed and mortal man; and puts it through the wringer. Snyder’s run examines how that idea affects Gotham, its people, its history, its villains, and us readers while asking: Is Batman truly an unstoppable force? Snyder manipulates the elements around Bruce Wayne by taking them away or inverting them and redefines what you thought you always knew in the process. In Court of Owls, Snyder takes away Gotham, Batman’s city and the very thing he champions, by turning it on its head, yet Batman persists. In Death of the Family, he takes away Batman’s allies and their trust in him, yet Batman persists. Zero Year gives us a look at where it all began and what put the unstoppable force in motion. Endgame takes away the man himself, Bruce Wayne, and still Batman persists. Even much later in a story like The Batman Who Laughs, Snyder takes awake Batman’s moral code, yet Batman persists. Throughout the journey, Snyder reaffirms that Batman believes and depends on all of us because we are Gotham, and together we have the capacity for limitless good. Now, in what will be his final mark on the Batman mythos, Scott Snyder puts Batman through the ultimate test by asking: Will Batman persist if there’s no one who wants to be saved?
Batman: Last Knight on Earth shows Snyder reunited with Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascencia, a team which served as the centerpiece of Snyder’s Batman run, and joined by letterer Tom Napolitano to tell a story that can only be described as groundbreaking. The first book is told in four distinct parts through the lens of a world that doesn’t need or want Batman and, as always, it begins with a mystery.
Part one is titled: “The Cave”. For a normal bat, a cave is usually its home and where it rests, but for Batman, it is also his place of operations and the center of the symbol. Batman’s cave, his home, is not only the Batcave, but also Gotham City. Batman has devoted his life to this city and will do anything to see it thrive. That’s why anything that might pose a threat must be investigated, and why something as simple as chalk drawn on the ground is the beginning of the end. The first five pages serve as an introduction of sorts by creating a very elaborate mystery that leads to an even greater one. It opens with wide, cinematic close-ups that slowly reveal more as layers are peeled back to unveil something truly horrifying. Then, with a quick muzzle flash, it’s all gone; it has all been inverted.
What if the very place you call home had actually cast you out? Bruce Wayne wakes up to find himself in the institution he’s banished all of the individuals who have threatened his home: Arkham Asylum, only to find that he posed the true threat. We’ve seen Batman subjected to delusions before but never ones as elaborate as this. Everything has been inverted. The dark black streets of Gotham have become the bright white rooms of Arkham Asylum. The setting is strange, disorienting and off-kilter. Unorthodox geometric panels formed from shadows and bright lights make the scene feel unsettling and claustrophobic. There are unusual close-ups of what seems to be an ordinary fly for no apparent reason. It is cramped, maddening, and inverts the inciting incident of Batman. You feel as though you’re going to explode trying to figure out what’s going on, but Batman beats you to it with a rage and fury we seldom see.
Part two is titled “The Right Hand.” It’s not only Alfred, the loyal friend who’s been by Batman’s side for all of his life, but also the city of Gotham itself, an once again this team takes that away. It starts with betrayal. A violent action sequence reveals that nothing has been inverted at all. The panels once again become dark, black, and brooding as we realize that this delusion was organized by Alfred. Snyder’s Alfred has always been unusually bold, often enough to make questionable decisions for Bruce’s own good, and he did it because there’s nothing left. Snyder didn’t take away Batman’s home, he took away everything. The world beyond Alfred’s elaborate facade is a wasteland; an apocalypse. Even Batman’s most faithful companion is too old and hurt to accompany him this time. So without Alfred, Batman must find a new right hand, and after an awakening strangely reminiscent of Kevin Garvey’s from The Leftovers, Batman finds the other individual who’s been there through it all: The Joker. It’s very fitting, as Joker has stood against Batman throughout a number of Snyder’s stories. Batman rises from red sand as though on Mars. He’s the last of his kind, the last knight, just as Martian Manhunter was. There he finds Joker armed only with the weapon that cuts the deepest: his words. Together Batman, with Joker’s head in his right had venture into the unknown world to discover what’s become of it.
Part three is titled “The Asylum.” It’s the place dangerous individuals were kept so they could not harm the citizens of Gotham, but it’s also a place where people seek refuge. Batman arrives in Coast City, and the first thing he finds is a madhouse filled by people armed with Green Lantern rings who cannot control them. A lack of will has driven them mad, but before long, Batman finds the other kind of Asylum aboard an invisible tank piloted by Vixen and Poison Ivy. It’s here where you begin to realize how religious imagery that this tale is invoking. Batman dies, is put through a test, and awakens on the other side as a sort of “second coming” after the apocalypse. He then begins an odyssey filled with tribulations to seek refuge with the few remaining people who’ve survived, only to find that they are no longer devoted to the cause, which brings us to part four titled: Echolocation.
Echolocation is a bat’s ability to navigate through the darkness. It is not sight, but rather another innate ability, and the world Batman finds himself in is shrouded in total darkness. He awakens in Gemworld found to be deep beneath the Earth crust only to find that everything has, in fact, been taken away. The people Batman fought to save for years; the people who gave him purpose; they fell to the darkness. The world had embraced doom and no longer wants to be saved. An idea is only as powerful as the people who believe in it, so what happens when no one is left? Even heroes like Wonder Woman have surrendered to the chaos, so how can this Batman, who’s not even the original but an impostor restored by the machine from Endgame, possibly save what doesn’t need saving? He’s the only one left who an navigate through the darkness, but what lies on the other side. Once again Snyder invokes religious imagery as he reveals that Batman is reborn and the only one who can still see the light. The people were tempted by Luthor, who weaponizes the message of the snake in the garden of Eden and tempts the people to eat the forbidden fruits of doom. Even the word boxes on the page are laid out in a serpentine fashion. Yet Batman’s faith remains unwavering, and he declines Wonder Woman’s offer of a safe haven in the underworld to continue his mission. Even with nothing left, Batman persists.
The book’s style is fascinating because it is constantly changing. The comic’s parts are titled like religious texts and are laid out like scripture. They each contain a test or journey that’s part of a larger purpose. Each part uses the panel layout, coloring, and lettering to invoke completely different styles, but Snyder has expertly weaves parts of every Batman story he’s written into the text. The fragmentation and distorted reflections present in Black Mirror reappear here as we, the readers, are thrown into this chaotic world with only shards of information to put together. We see dark reflections of heroes and their former selves, Batman and the Joker, and the old world and the new. In Court of Owls, Batman had Gotham City turned against him. Now it’s the world. Endgame saw Batman’s allies give up the mission and let the darkness in just like his allies do here. Superheavy and Bloom saw the people of Gotham go mad by embracing Mister Bloom’s seeds of doom and chaos just as they embrace Luthor’s message of doom before the apocalypse.
Batman: Last Knight on Earth combines elements across Batman’s narrative into one religiously inspired scripture. Invoking historical, religious, and universal themes, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia, and Tom Napolitano use a myriad of styles to paint a Batman tapestry that everyone needs to see. This tale sees Batman as the last individual who can see through the darkness and bring light back into the world. This is the book of Batman.
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