Kindness and delicacy are not words you associate with Batman. But those are the two big concepts I took away from the first issue of Batman: Last Knight on Earth. Written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo it’s already off to a great start given the epochal nature of their run on the character. Especially as they’re accompany here by Jonathan Glapion on inks, FCO Plasecencia on colours and Tom Napolitano on lettering.
Every element comes into play as the book opens with Batman making the first breakthrough in a longstanding case. A series of fragmented chalk outlines have appearing around Gotham and the last locks in place to reveal…the outline is Batman’s own. And his heart is in the alleyway where his parents were murdered.
This sort of rambunctious metatextuality, resonating Hans Zimmer notes that echo up and down the character, is everywhere in the book. From this magnificently on the nose case to the discovery he’s in Arkham Asylum and the reasons why, the first half of the book packs enough incident for a full book’s story into place. Despite that it’s still full of quiet moments, detail in the mayhem, all of which leads to this.
And later, this.
This is a book which changes gear so effortlessly that a handful of pages after talking about Batman feeling danger in his scar tissue, he’s hugging his old, frail father in all but name. Tremendous power and presence, tempered by kindness. It’s an amazing piece of physicality from Capullo and the art team and it sets the tone for the book to come.
Along, of course, with the nightmares. Capullo, Plascencia and Glapion pull some astonishing visual tricks out of the bag here. The Green Lantern rings, attached to unsuitable hosts who just manifest demonic gigantic id babies. The Joker’s head in a lantern, the green of his hair corrupting and subverting what we always associate that colour, that shape with. The cracked arches of the Hall of Justice and finally, this.
This is a monologue in comic form, a Donald Sutherland in JFK waltz through the widening gyre that is as gripping and eloquent as it is tragic and familiar. It’s an astonishing, operatic sweep of storytelling and it all boils down to one, agonized phrase
‘People chose doom, Bruce.’
Those four words hit harder than any physical contact in the book and tie this blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland to our own world far too closely to be comfortable. As I write this, the vast body of scientific study is saying environmental damage will be catastrophic and irreversible by 2050. Nothing is being done. The US President unironically tweeted that Mars and the Moon were part of the same thing. The UK is priming itself to be ruled by a man who has been fired twice, is regarded as the most incompetent diplomat in modern history and was once recorded by the police plotting with a friend to have a journalist beaten.
We chose doom. Or we certainly seem to be weighing up the savings on it pretty intently.
All of which gives the book an unusual heft, one only ever accentuated by Snyder’s script. The final chapter here, as Bruce finds out what happened, is heart-breaking because of how pragmatically its presented. The final kindness too, Diana telling Bruce everything and giving him the space to do the one thing he was always going to; leave, try and save the world again. Batman is Batman, even at the end of the world.
Small kindnesses in the face of total destruction. The delicacy of human emotion and interaction respected by a man made new but held together by a very different kind of scar tissue. I have no idea where this book is going but I do if the remaining issues are as remarkable as this, it’s somewhere I want to go too. Startlingly good, complex, moving work from some of the very best in the field.