Gather round, fellow comic fans, gather round! Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are telling their final Batman story, and it’s called Last Knight on Earth, and it’s a tale of adventure and intrigue and mystery! This miniseries is part of DC’s Black Label imprint, will run for three issues in total, and each issue is 48 pages long. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book ever since it was announced, and have been wondering at the same time what exactly it would be about. Having finally read the first issue, I can say that it’s left me with more questions than answers, and I consider that a good thing, because it means that this issue works great as a first act to set everything up. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at what exactly Last Knight on Earth #1 has in store for us. MINOR SPOILERS!
First of all, there’s a lot to talk about, because almost on every page something happens that sparks my imagination, or has me asking questions, or has me going back to earlier pages to see how certain things connect. In other words, this issue is very intricate, and clearly the creative team has put a lot of thought into making this book: it’s solid, sound, and an exciting read, and, for me at least, even better on a reread.
The issue has four chapters, and as the story continues to unfold throughout these chapters, everything gets more and more mysterious, and it is that mystery that really draws me in and I’m unable to put down the book until I’ve reached the last page. It starts off fairly down-to-earth, I’d say, with Batman working a case in Gotham. We see him driving the Batmobile and he’s talking to Alfred, and nothing seems out of the ordinary on first glance. However, somebody has been drawing chalk lines in different locations in Gotham, and when Batman puts satellite pictures of these chalk lines together they form a drawing of a dead Batman with his heart in Crime Alley, where his parents died, strongly suggesting that somebody knows his identity. To be honest, this premise is already very elaborate and over-the-top, and it’s funny, in a way, because I find myself having to suspend more disbelief than when I’m reading a Snyder Batman story in which Bats is up against a giant bat-demon from the Dark Multiverse, or a story in which Bats is turning into another Batman Who Laughs. I guess I just have some trouble picturing someone drawing those chalk lines exactly in those positions—it seems a little far-fetched to me. But, at the same time, this is not a deal-breaker for me, because the premise still works and it leads into an eerie mystery that I can’t stop thinking about.
The opening scene also has some real horror elements to it. When Batman makes his way to Crime Alley, he finds a boy of about the age that Bruce was when his parents died. Except this boy looks undead, and unexpectedly produces a gun and shoots Batman. While I do wonder why that single bullet is able to fell Batman—especially when you think about the fact that Snyder’s Batman usually survives the most hardcore violence and disasters—I also appreciate how well the scene is put together. Capullo, Glapion and FCO render a Gotham on a dark, stormy night, and every panel presents an atmospheric shot of Batman and the boy in the rain. Shadows and silhouettes are heavy in these panels, which creates a moody tone. The way in which the artists draw the story, with each panel leading up to the final reveal at the end of the scene, creates a lot of suspense that has me on the edge of my seat. There are a lot of closeups, too, which makes this a claustrophobic experience, and the final panel—the gunshot—makes for a great transition to Bruce coming awake with a shock in an alternate reality version of Arkham Asylum.
There are two things that I dislike in the Arkham Asylum sequence. The first thing I dislike is how Bruce’s dialogue is written. Now, don’t get me wrong: my criticism here is specifically about this one scene—the dialogue throughout the rest of the book is actually wonderfully well-written. Bruce finds himself strapped to a bed with a certain Dr. Hudd watching over him. Dr. Hudd tells Bruce that his motor functions are fried. To reflect that, Snyder has written lines in the following style: “Yor NOTT Alffred. Hoo ArE yU?!!” In my opinion, this isn’t easy on the eyes, and while I understand that Bruce’s dialogue in this scene doesn’t have to sound pretty at all, I do think that it looks clunky and overdone. I’m sure there is a way to keep it more subtle, aesthetically, while still having the same (or perhaps an even bigger) impact on readers.
The second thing that I dislike has to do with Batman encountering Gordon in the Asylum. Without spoiling under what circumstances he meets Gordon, I’ll say this: Gordon is of course a prominent figure in Gotham and the Batman-mythos, but the character doesn’t actually appear in any panels in this issue. We only see closeups on Batman as he moves through the Asylum, but his interaction with Gordon is only told to us through exposition in the captions. While I’m willing to accept that, because we know that Batman is moving and acting very fast and simply telling us through expositions supports the notion that he’s moving fast, I would’ve liked to at least see a little more of Gordon in one or more panels somewhere. I just think it’s very strange how Snyder and Capullo gloss over this moment, precisely because Gordon is such an important character.
What I love about the Arkham sequence, however, is literally everything else. It could be read as a kind of reversal of Superheavy, except that this time Bruce hasn’t forgotten that he is Batman, but everyone else is denying Batman’s existence, while Bruce clings to his alter ego with everything that he has, refusing to accept that Batman has been a manifestation of insanity. And that is also what’s so powerful about the passage: to Bruce, there is nothing weird about being Batman, because he has always been Batman and always will be. And we, the readers, know that Bruce is Batman—we know that, within the comic book universe, Batman is real. Yet, everyone around Bruce is acting like he is crazy, and during the moments where Bruce is freaking out he even looks crazy, too. In short, the book allows us to see Bruce in both ways: either we believe that he is really Batman, or we believe that he’s just a crazy man. There’s a certain ambiguity here that makes this Batman story so fresh and exciting, even if we see many familiar faces and environments. It’s also what induces a feeling of unease in me as I read this, and that’s a good thing, because it makes me want to continue reading.
Capullo, Glapion and FCO continue to embrace horror in this segment. Even though there are many bright lights—a stark contrast to the gloomy Crime Alley scene—it’s the constant imagery of being powerless that makes this passage so unnerving. The first panel is a closeup on Bruce’s wide-open eye as he comes to, and the illustration of his eye perfectly captures Bruce’s alarmed mood. Immediately in the next panel we see a closeup on the head of a fly, which is a visual callback to Capullo’s renditions of flies in Death of the Family, associated with Joker. As the story continues, we see Bruce physically struggling against everything that the doctors at the Asylum throw at him. He’s struggling as he’s strapped to the bed. He’s clawing at the walls of his isolation cell. There is frustration, shock, fear and rage on his face. He screams and shouts and gets violent. All his movements, his body language—it’s all very believable, and the comic truly comes to life as Capullo just nails anatomy, facial expressions and interactions between characters.
Where the Asylum segment has me questioning what’s real and what isn’t, it’s actually the subsequent desert sequence that makes me wonder if all of this is maybe a dream? Or perhaps Bruce is actually inside Dream, i.e. the location on the map of the DC Multiverse, Sandman’s realm. I don’t think it’s a far-fetched theory given that the Sandman appeared in Snyder and Capullo’s previous story, Metal. But whether this theory is correct or completely wrong (and I have a feeling it is the latter), it’s undeniable that there’s something very dreamy about the desert segment. For one thing, Batman finds Joker’s head inside a lone lantern that’s standing in the middle of a big open desert. And Joker is somehow still alive and talking, cracking jokes left and right. And, by the way, I love the attention to detail: Capullo put Joker’s head inside a red lantern, reminiscent of the original Red Hood.
The story continues to take twists and turns along the way. Batman and Joker encounter giant light-construct babies that make me think of the old cult video game Drakengard. Capullo’s glowing babies are monstrous and terrifying. Later Batman meets Wonder Woman, and she tells him what’s happened to the world through a lot of exposition. I’m wondering, because we didn’t actually see these events unfold and only heard them from Wonder Woman, whether or not she is actually telling Batman (and us) the truth. Certainly, Wonder Woman stands for truth, but the story she is telling Batman has holes in it and I’m just not sure what to believe anymore. Has Snyder cast Wonder Woman in the role of the unreliable narrator? Is there more to the story she is telling Batman? I couldn’t say for sure at this stage, but what I can say for sure is that I trust nobody in this book except for Batman himself. Heck, I’m not even sure if I can trust the story’s narrator anymore. On the opening page I assumed the narrator’s identity, but on reaching the last page—where Snyder beautifully makes the narration come full circle, mirroring the narration on page one—my ideas on the narrator’s identity have completely changed, and it’s shedding a different light on issue #1.
Honestly, if you’ve been reading Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run, and if you like epic mystery adventures in general, then do yourself a favor and pick up this book. It’s exciting. It’s risky. It’s powerful. Since this is part of the Black Label imprint, the creative team pretty much has free reign to do whatever they want, because it doesn’t have to adhere to continuity. This book is about as close as you can get to reading a creator-owned take on Batman as opposed to the regular continuity-heavy stories that we get each month—and Snyder and Capullo clearly are taking advantage of that as they are truly letting loose.
- You have been reading Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run from the beginning (although I expect new readers to have a good time as well!)
- You love Snyder’s Joker.
- You love Capullo’s art—it’s more detailed and intricate than ever!
- You are ready for a good mystery that will leave you with more questions than answers.
Overall: What more can I say? Run to your favorite LCS and buy this comic, already! It’s wild, it’s poetic, it has adventure and it has heart. This first issue immerses me in another world: an almost dreamlike, intangible world where nothing is as it seems. Issue #2 can’t come out soon enough. Enthusiastically recommended!