After decades of Batman stories across various mediums, everyone has their own idea about what the Caped Crusader is about (I’ve written about this in two recent articles re-examining Batman Begins and Batman v Superman) — more specifically, everyone has their own idea about how their version of Batman’s story would end. When it comes to comics, while The Dark Knight Returns is the one most readers would look at — even if the diminishing sequels don’t do justice to that comic’s legacy — writers like Grant Morrison show that the Bat’s end is just as interpretative as the character himself, as is the case with Last Knight on Earth, which is meant to be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo capstone to their eight-plus year Bat-run.
This DC Black Label title opens like an extension of the Snyder/Capullo run that started during the New 52: during a rainy night in Gotham, Batman encounters a lost boy, only to end with a quick muzzle flash. Suddenly waking up in Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne discovers that he is a patient whose violent actions against the doctors and patients are birthed from a delusional Bat-themed alter ego. Instead of being the hero Gotham deserves, Bruce is his own worst enemy through psychology. This is certainly not a new idea, as other writers have explored Bruce’s mental struggles before, but along with some clever inversions of the classic rogues gallery, the strength of this initial movement is through Bruce’s relationship with his trusted butler.
As Bruce’s only real father figure, Alfred has always guided him into that path of happiness, even if Bruce’s devotion to saving the city never grants him the happy life Alfred wanted for him, as explored in Zero Year. Through some revelations, from the story actually being twenty years in the future and Bruce being a clone, to the touching final words the two say to each other, sets up the sense of finality that Snyder and Capullo have been building towards. Embarking on a quest through a devastated landscape featuring a massive cast of familiar faces from the DC Universe, Batman’s only companion is the literal talking head of his arch-nemesis, the Joker.
Having done the crossover event Dark Nights: Metal, you do get the sense that Snyder and Capullo wanted to apply a similar sensibility from that title into this. Very much the story of a hero going off on one last ride, this post-apocalyptic take on the DC Universe has plenty in common with Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan, which featured a dark future where the Marvel heroes are no more and the world is ruled by supervillains. In this setting, Capullo gets creative with some of the set pieces and characters, whether it’s a speed force tornado formed by multiple Flashes fused as a swirling and deranged mess, or Wonder Woman rocking a Max Max-style mohawk.
Similarly to his 39 issues of Justice League, the world that Snyder initially projects is one in which humanity is succumbed by its own evil instincts, which not only leads to the downfall of the League itself, but the rise of a new villain known as Omega, who is able to take down Darkseid and take possession of the Anti-Life Equation. Despite being a key player in the world’s destruction as shown in flashbacks, such as the violent final confrontation with the Man of Steel, Lex Luthor gets to shine as the mad scientist who helps Batman.
Throughout his time writing Batman, even going back to The Black Mirror, Snyder has always been about weighty, mature themes that give new meaning to Batman, in terms of what he symbolizes and the city he protects, as well as the mentality of putting on the cape and cowl. As Last Knight on Earth is the finale to Snyder’s long narrative, he throws a lot of ideas into the mix — the story jumps back and forth in ways that can feel disorientating. It tries to be both a Batman story and a grand DC adventure, the latter of which features a lot of name-dropping and terminology that require you to be well-versed in DC Comics lore. Snyder works best when he’s writing the Bat, because he focuses on the intimacy of his relationships with people like Commissioner James Gordon, while finding new shades of the origin story that make you rethink the mythos, specifically the backstory of Joe Chill.
Alongside inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO Plascencia, Greg Capullo is doing his best work at DC with this title, which not only adds another new layer to the work he was doing on Batman, but embraces the post-apocalyptic horror that slightly evokes his time on Spawn. Although you do get the sense that Snyder dropped a load of known DC characters just so that Capullo can draw dark alternative versions of them, even if some of the story decisions can be off, at least Capullo has fun showing these offbeat takes, such as a frail Scarecrow piggybacking on Bane, reminiscent of Master Blaster from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Throughout its three extended issues, Batman: Last Knight on Earth is a grand mystery that unravels and adds new layers to the Bat-mythos and the DC Universe in general. This is a terrific send-off for both Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo that celebrates their time with the Dark Knight.