Last Knight Till the Next Last Knight

Reviewing Batman: Last Knight on Earth #3

joker and Batman having a face/head off. Alternate cover.
joker and Batman having a face/head off. Alternate cover.

This really should have been four issues. Maybe more. Just not only three. When double sized issues feel like they come up short, there’s a problem. This story needed more time to flush out, and DC should have allowed that to happen.

Batman: Last Knight On Earth hits most marks as one of those future (often dystonian) “The End” books Marvel and DC occasionally put out for their intellectual properties. Specifically, it seemed to be the writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s capstone to their run on Batman. I was enjoying this series up to getting the third issue.

I was late in getting it, but I have gotten really good at avoiding spoilers. I appreciated what seemed to be a steady build up to whatever Batman’s last case (in Snyder’s world) before he died and a Bruce Wayne clone was created to set the world right.

Oh, yeah, spoilers.

When I got to the second page, of issue #3, I had to go, Really? Three issues in of a three-issue series, and the revelation of Batman’s last case ever is not in a multiple-page reveal, but a exposition dump at the bottom of page two?

Batman discovering Joe Chill, prior to killing Bruce Wayne’s parents, had a son who was killed by Dr. Thomas Wayne.
Batman discovering Joe Chill, prior to killing Bruce Wayne’s parents, had a son who was killed by Dr. Thomas Wayne.

Only to have it undone thirty-plus pages later in the same book?

Joker (or Joker’s head) explaining he made the whole thing up.
Joker (or Joker’s head) explaining he made the whole thing up.

Better writers than me have praised Snyder and Capullo and their knack for storytelling in spite of the DC Comics. Especially since the post-New 52 reboot required everything to be one big exposition dump every other panel. And their panels could be heavy in explaining everything, but when the two were on point it was easy to overlook. All throughout this issue, I kept on spying panels that would have worked better if this book had been given more time, more space.

Selina Kyle arc summed up in a paragraph long word balloon. Wish this had been stretched out.
Selina Kyle arc summed up in a paragraph long word balloon. Wish this had been stretched out.

Did this book start out differently before getting reigned in? That’s a more intriguing mystery than anything the book sets up.

Take the fact that Batman is walking around with the talking head of The Joker, who also serves as narrator for the series. The narration, at the end of the day, is pointless and could have easily been taken out while we wondered whether the Joker really somehow survived decapitation or if it was just a part of Batman’s unstable mind. It was funny at first, but we didn’t need to see Joker in a Robin costume and robot body.

The fact that the newest Batman woke up being gaslighted by Alfred into thinking Bruce Wayne killed his parents could have been one-and-a-half issues at least. Some mysteries have the kibosh put on them too quickly while the two main mysteries are just outright botched.

As mentioned before, the truth of Batman’s last case is almost tossed aside. The mystery of who is our final boss Omega, the person close to Batman?

I hate to say it, but the story cheats.

Think of the panel below in the second issue…

Alfred yell to Omega, “You! I know who you are! How could you?! After everything he meant to y —
Alfred yell to Omega, “You! I know who you are! How could you?! After everything he meant to y —

Only to find out after in the final issue that Original Bruce Wayne is Omega.

Okay.Omega reveals himself to be the original Bruce Wayne.
Okay.Omega reveals himself to be the original Bruce Wayne.

So Alfred knew Omega was OG Batman, and he what he was really saying was, “How could you do this to yourself after you meant so much to yourself. Or some other He character…” Makes no sense. The set up in issue #2 was as dishonest as the payoff in issue #3 was frustrating.

The entire story could have used at least one extra book to breathe, to figure out how much time has passed, to explain why some characters are older and wizened and why others don’t seem to have aged at all. It could have also given Capullo more time to depict more Batman villains transformed by Omega. The design for Scarecrow showed some promise at first.

Scarecrow, made according to Omega’s wishes.
Scarecrow, made according to Omega’s wishes.

But then we get to issue three and the rest of the rogue’s gallery looks pretty standard. Almost boring.

The other villains, just with Omega symbol on their heads.
The other villains, just with Omega symbol on their heads.

Snyder has been planting the seeds for what the end of Batman would be like since his story “Twenty-Seven” with Sean Murphy.

I always saw that story as his final cap to his run and The Last Knight On Earth as gravy. Now the gravy tastes a little cold, and I don’t think that’s Snyder’s fault. I think DC wanted another version of Dark Knight Returns for the twenty-first century and didn’t care about details.

Even before Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or even “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore, comic book writers penning their “last chapter” type stories was a tradition at DC. Stories such as the first death of Superman story by Jerry Siegel and the “final” Jonah Hex story from Michael Fleisher were few and far between and also well-regarded. This all seemed to get thrown out after Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a sequel to a final chapter by the story’s original author of all things.

Dark Knight Strikes Again seems to be the point where any sense of sacredness was thrown out the window. After that, “final story” books for major properties just became an excuse to try and make money. This was even truer for Marvel Comics with its flurry of “The End” books that show no signs of stopping regardless of quality or the desire to read them.

Batman dismisses his Cave, his home, his whole history as junk.
Batman dismisses his Cave, his home, his whole history as junk.

Given that Batman can seem like an Ayn Rand hero, it’s actually fitting to read Dark Knight Strikes Again as the ultimate Randian take. Like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, Batman destroys every single trace of history readers are familiar with as Miller taints and destroys his original vision of Batman before anyone else has the chance to.

Mentioning Miller and Rand actually brings me back to Snyder and Capullo’s book. Batman in the New 52 version of the DC Universe came across as more of the Randian figure to match he was portrayed as in the Christopher Nolan movies. But Last Knight On Earth’s backstory of how the original Batman chose to open the doors for the mob of normal citizens (under what context? Not really explained) seems like not just the ultimate anti-Rand statement but also the ultimate anti-Dark Knight Returns book.

I would have loved to see more of that in the book. Original Bruce Wayne/Omega in Last Knight On Earth sees his reign over the world as a response to the price he paid for opening those doors. Though some bits are juicy, but I don’t think Snyder’s dialogue between Omega and the new Batman is as satisfying as it should have been.

Mainstream comics that show alternative histories are only as good as the world they suggest without showing all of it. The best ones make you question “what happened?’ without never needing to know. If more parts had been left vague, I might not feel this way, but Last Knight On Earth leaves the more interesting parts unanswered while over explaining other areas that could have been left alone. There’s less intrigue and more signs that things are incomplete.

And even though Superman can and probably should fit in to a final Batman story, I don’t think Last Knight on Earth needed a second coming of Superman as Baby Jesus moment. But we get it, and it feels like less of a integral part of the story and more like a box to be checked by DC editorial.

Alternate universe Superman arrives as a child through a wormhole type thingy. Does this mean some other world’s now doomed?
Alternate universe Superman arrives as a child through a wormhole type thingy. Does this mean some other world’s now doomed?

“This can’t be the end” is the issue’s back quote taken from inside the book. I agree. This can’t be the end, not the the creators had planned. If it is, I’ll be very surprised.

I ended up enjoying much of Last Knight On Earth and won’t be surprised if other readers dismiss my nitpicks. They may be right to, but I can’t help but see the final chapter as a disappointment, and the series as a whole a potentially great thing that got messed up and only turned out good. Maybe in twenty-seven years, Snyder and Capullo can come back again and put the Batman character to bed more time.

Poet for Hire. Link to buy my new book, The Collapsed Bookshelf, available via my website: www.chadparenteaupoetforhire.com

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