Batman: Endgame acts as a conclusion to the story Scott Snyder started with Batman: Death of the Family. Both stories centre around Batman and Joker’s relationship, and both stories focus on the love and hatred shared between these two. From the very beginning, these two stories seemed to have the goal of redefining comic book’s greatest rivalry, with many commenting that they have done exactly that. I would argue however, that these stories (with Endgame in particular) clarified aspects of the relationship between the Batman and the Joker that have always existed, but shown more effectively than ever before. Never have these dynamics been as well connected as they have been in these stories.
Like in many rivalries, there are elements of both love and hatred that exists between Batman and Joker. The thing about these two is that the nature of this relationship rapidly shifts between stories as many writers have different takes on these characters. The most prominent differences come from how these writers choose to define the Joker’s view on Batman. With him, you either get a narcissistic criminal mastermind who continuously battles his rival with the ultimate goal of giving him the most perfect and humiliating death imaginable, or the twisted and obsessed psychopath who sees his relationship with Batman as one of friendship and their conflicts as games to sharpen his mind. The former Joker makes for more exciting stories, with more action elements and the spirit of competition running throughout. The latter Joker is the more cerebral one, the clown that will attack psychologically and leave you shivering. Both Jokers are interesting in their own right, but what Snyder’s two Joker stories do is successfully bridge the gap between them in a way that makes sense.
Ever since the seminal Batman: The Killing Joke, Joker has mostly been characterized as a nihilist who takes sadistic pleasure in shattering lives and demonstrating how pointless existence is. That mindset puts him in direct opposition to Batman who seeks to demonstrate the opposite, which provides Joker with a sense of purpose as he becomes obsessed with proving that there is no purpose to anything. This is an irony that I’ve thought about for quite some time, but is finally articulated with this comic which is part of its greatest strength. Expressing the dynamics of this relationship in a clear and exciting way and solidifying it in a fashion that has never been done before is what I hope it will be remembered for. Existence is bleak and Joker is convinced of this, which is why Batman’s opposition to him is something that is capable of filling him with so much love and hatred. Giving someone purpose is the greatest gift of all, but directly opposing their mission statement is frustrating beyond belief.
Endgame itself begins with a thrilling battle between Batman and a jokerized Justice League, it contains an ongoing mystery centrering around the Joker’s true origins, features a city overrun with giggling and dying citizens, and ends with what is perhaps the greatest physical confrontation between the Batman and the Joker ever put to print. The art is amazing throughout, the plot showcases a nice amount of detective work that has been sorely lacking in Batman stories of late, and a surprising amount of twists. The faults I would give this story come down to pacing, mostly due to squeezing down what should have been a 7 chapter story into 6. There is also an overabundance of fast-forwards and “X hours ago” time jumps. That is really a narrative device that should be used sparingly as it can feel confusing or purposeless at times.
If you’re going to read this story in its entirety, it’d be best to read Death of the Family directly before it as it contains a ton of parallels and connections that you may have missed. A lot of themes and questions from the earlier story come back here, and all of them have satisfying conclusions. The Joker at his core is an evil and arrogant man, he’s the Batman’s greatest rival, and he’s caused him the most amount of pain, but an interesting aspect of his fixation on Batman is how he still fundamentally fails to understand him. Similar to Harley’s relationship with the Joker, Joker’s relationship with Batman is fueled by a profound misunderstanding of some key things about the object of his obsession. He makes a big show of making their final battle a tragedy, to finally wipe Batman off the face of the Earth and close the book on their story once and for all, but he can never truly do that as long as he can’t get a complete picture on Bruce Wayne.
Many fans like to complain about how the Joker is depicted as too powerful and all knowing too often, but I suspect this is more of a product of popular backlash, a trend of having an “alternative” opinion, ironically in an attempt to fit in. Similar to people who like to say Seinfeld is unfunny, people with this particular complaint love to make it without looking too deeply at its legitimacy. The Joker is a character marked by failure, his cyclical battle with Batman is just as frustrating to him as it is to Bruce. This idea of a never ending conflict between himself and the Batman is only superficially desirable to Joker, but deep down there has always been a sort of endgame in the works. Either he breaks down what he perceives as a facade Batman puts up, or he kills him in a grandiose way, that’s what the Joker ultimately wants to come of his battle with Batman.
Every failure he suffers at the hands of Batman is marked with a certain existential dread that drives his character. The fight goes on to show off the pointlessness of existence and the Batman challenges him at every turn. This is obviously thrilling to him, but also a betrayal of what he’s supposed to be, or at least who he touts himself as. Batman slighting him by showing that he didn’t have the same kind of darkness in him that Joker originally assumed makes the Joker lash out in rage and plan out his demise, along with the rest of Gotham’s. This is because the Joker lacks the desire for self-examination that his rival has. Batman’s perceived rejection forces him to look inwards, and what lies within him has been hollowed out and filled with hatred. Unlike Batman whose heart is filled by his family, the Joker is empty. The only meaning he can scrape from life is in a rivalry, and when he loses that he decides to burn everything.
Batman: Endgame succeeds in staging an exciting superhero epic, but its greatest strength clearly comes from its comprehensive understanding of the relationship that lies at its (broken) heart. The message we are supposed to gleam from Batman and Joker’s eternal conflict is that the meaning in life exists only in the connections we make within it, and that is clearly demonstrated in this often beautiful finale. Both men at the centre of the story have decidedly different outlooks once they reach their respective endgames that really tells you all you need to know. The Batman, whose life is filled with people he is often characterized as burdened for feeling attached to, and the Joker, who has no such connections and dedicates himself to severing everyone else’s links to the world. Both reach an endpoint at the same time, but do so in a different fashion. It’s up to the reader to consider what sort of perspective they want to have when the game ends for them as well.
Quote of the Day:
“I’m the one who laughs, you get it!? I’ve always been there, laughing at you. At all of you, at the great joke, that you think your lives have meaning. That any of it matters! Even when I was in disguise wearing makeup and red, I said so! But then you… you came swooping in, transformed into something as crazy as me. Bigger than them, and you fought me on it. And for a long time, the joke was on me, wasni’t it, fighting for meaninglessness but giving meaning by virtue of the fight! Ha!”
– The Joker, Batman: Endgame.