I’ve waxed poetic about Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Batman” run enough on this blog that you all should know I think it’s pretty great. So it should come as no surprise that I was really looking forward to this volume which was billed as their last word on the character -- well before the back cover advertised as much. That they were given plenty of time and freedom to tell this story, under DC’s Black Label mature-readers’ superhero comics imprint and over three oversized issues, was only more encouraging…
...so if you’re thinking that this is all buildup to me saying that this was kind of a disappointment, you’re pretty much right. “Last Knight on Earth” does have a lot to like about it. Capullo’s dynamic and detailed art to Snyder’s crazy ideas and firm grasp of the title character guarantee that this story isn’t going to be anything less than “good.” It’s just that I was expecting more from a team that routinely gave us “great” over the course of their run.
Let’s start at the beginning where an unnamed narrator describes Batman’s latest case which leads him to a dead boy in Crime Alley, and a gutshot in the stomach. The scene immediately cuts to Bruce Wayne waking up in a hospital to learn some shocking news: He’s never been Batman. His whole life has been a delusion incorporating members of the hospital staff and he’s finally woken up from it.
This is all… kinda true. I’m not giving away anything to say that Bruce finds out what’s really going on and it’s only the lead-in to the meat of the story: Batman going on a cross-country journey with the Joker’s head in a jar. What they find is a world in ruins. The bits of civilization that do exist have people at each others’ throats. The few remaining superheroes are either preparing to exit this world permanently or fighting a losing war against Omega, its authoritarian ruler. How did this happen? It’s all because people chose Doom over Justice.
That last bit should sound familiar to you if you’ve been reading Snyder’s “Justice League.” It’s what the League has been fighting the Legion of Doom over the course of the writer’s run. I, and I’m sure many others, am fully expecting “Justice” to win out in the end because that’s how climactic superhero runs pan out in the end. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the audience goes to bed with a satisfied feeling if the creative team has put in the necessary work to make it all feel satisfying.
“Last Knight on Earth,” then, shows us in a modified and abbreviated fashion what would happen if people chose “Doom.” There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. It’s a great setup for a post-apocalyptic dystopia, that’s for sure. The problem is that these regular people that made the decision don’t factor too much into the story itself. We see a few of the people who I assume chose “Justice” in the Gemworld sanctuary and that’s it. Nothing is seen of the people who chose “Doom,” which is probably for the best since they sound like a bunch of frothing lunatics.
I say it’s for the best because if it were revealed that these people are still trying to burn things down after all these years the story would completely fall apart. Even though Snyder is telling a story where Batman and his companions are fighting against the forces of Doom because they genuinely believe in a better world, it would be hard to believe in them at the same time in the face of such foolishness. Or maybe it would’ve made for a better story. How do superheroes cope when the world they’re trying to save is made up of people who want to burn it down? You can see some of the real-world parallels Snyder is trying to draw in his setup, but they’re easily dismissed because the actual people factor in so little into his story.
So what we’re left with is a standard “Batman vs. Authority” story that ultimately works well enough, yet doesn’t offer a whole lot to stand out amongst those that have come before. Snyder and Capullo certainly punctuate their DCU hellscape with interesting sights: Giant babies made out of Green Lantern energy running rampant, the ceaseless chaos of Fort Waller as Unknown Soldiers fight the minions of the Green and the Red, a Gotham dominated by the Anti-Life Equation. There’s also a decent mystery to be had in regards to the mystery behind Omega’s real identity. It’s also the one part of the story where Snyder’s attempts to parallel it with our world actually work. Without going into specifics, his sentiment that the old guard need to cede their control before they grow old, cynical, and bitter is certainly appreciated.
Then there’s the Joker’s whole arc in this story.
I won’t deny that the setup of, “Batman travelling through the post-apocalypse with Joker’s head in a jar,” setup of this story definitely has its demented appeal. The now bodiless Clown Prince of Crime hasn’t lost any of his charm as he natters on about poems, his desire to be the new Robin, and absolutely everything else that crosses his mind as Batman has him at his side. Where Snyder loses me is in how the two wind up at the end of this adventure. You could argue that the writer has been building up to something like this after how the two got on at the end of “Metal” and throughout “The Batman Who Laughs” but… I just can’t see things ending this way between them. You’d think the Joker’s body count alone would prevent that. I get what Snyder is trying to do here, but the only way that final image makes sense is if the Joker murdered everyone right afterwards. Which would’ve made for a satisfyingly dark wrap-up.
I’m sure Capullo would’ve had fun drawing it too. He’s given all sorts of strangeness to draw and he makes it all look captivating. While the carnage at Fort Waller is a standout, so is the sequence detailing Luthor and Superman’s final meeting. Even though the only dialogue in it is Luthor’s captioned speech, it’s still easy to feel the emotion behind their meeting with that final moment being a genuine shocker. For all the flaws that the story has, the art is not one of them.
So yeah, I was expecting more from “Last Knight on Earth.” What’s here is still a decently entertaining story about Batman taking on yet another seemingly unstoppable foe, but its attempts to be more than that fall flat. Snyder clearly wanted this to be a superhero story that has resonance in our divided times, but he doesn’t put in the work to really make those parallels stand out. As I said above, I expect better from this creative team and I just didn’t get it here.