The thing to remember about Scott Snyder is that he is not a superhero writer. For all of the Batman comics that he writes, he’s a horror writer, applying his trade more obviously to Wytches and American Vampire. Those titles are built on their dark mood and atmosphere. Rafael Albuquerque and Jock are two artists that Snyder has repeatedly worked with who can illuminate the darkness of the world. Snyder does that with his writing as well. American Vampire has been a secret history of the United States, revealing an unseen horrific presence behind familiar events and places. Wytches does something similar but on a much smaller and more personal level. While Snyder has also tried to do the of superhero story in Superman Unchained, a fine but underwhelming miniseries with Jim Lee, his natural element is horror.
Since his first Batman story in Detective Comics, Snyder has bent Batman and more importantly Gotham City to his grisly whims. His proto-Batman/Dick Grayson story “The Black Mirror” is pure psychological horror as Grayson and Barbara Gordon have to deal with a true sociopath. Toward the end of that story, all signs point toward the Joker as being that sociopath. In his first appearance after Morrison’s last reinvention of the Joker as a gentleman dandy in Batman & Robin, Snyder turns him into Hannibal Lecter, strapped to a rack with a restraining mask over his face. Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla push the idea of the Joker as being Gotham’s own boogeyman, responsible for everything dark and evil in Gotham. Ultimately, the truth ends up being much more insidious and even closer to the heart of the Batman mythos.
Shortly after “The Black Mirror”, the DC New 52 relaunch happened. In the first issue of the rebooted Detective Comics, the Joker had his skin cut and peeled away from his face by writer/artist Tony Daniel. And over on the new Batman, Snyder and former Spawn artist Greg Capullo began undermining everything Bruce Wayne thought he knew about this history and Gotham City. Their “The Court of Owls” and “The City of Owls” turn everything that Batman thought he knew about Gotham on its head, including the introduction of a new Owlman who claims to be Thomas Wayne Jr., the brother that Bruce Wayne never knew he had. Through these stories and later on in Zero Year, Snyder and Capullo turn Gotham City into a much more sinister and unknown city. If Batman doesn’t know Gotham’s dark secrets, how much can the readers really know of the place?
Turning it so that Gotham City is a town full of secrets, it’s greatest and most horrific secret is the Joker. Tony Daniels may have cut off the Joker’s face, but Snyder and Capullo turn the decaying skin into a twisted mask. Held on with staples and straps, Joker’s stretched skin becomes a mask like Jason’s hockey mask in Friday, the 13th or even Freddy Kreuger’s burnt skin and striped red sweater. More than just simply hiding a secret identity, the Joker’s new flesh mask hides any resemblance of humanity that may have one time existed in the character. Snyder and Capullo turn the Joker into a true bogeyman, haunting not just the boys and girls of Gotham City but also its heroes and its villains.
Capullo’s image of the Joker, with the horrific mask and everyday workman overalls, is something very different than the clown crime prince that had haunted Batman for decades. Freed of a face or an identity, he becomes a restorative agent of his version of Gotham even as he perfectly represents the chaos that Snyder and Capullo are unleashing on Bruce Wayne. Joker’s mission in “Death of the Family” is to remold Batman into his twisted version of what the hero should be. He wants his playmate back, the crime fighter that Snyder and Capullo will show us in “Zero Year” that chased the criminals all over Gotham in the early days. He wants a Batman, who is the Dark Knight Detective and not the father of a surrogate family that Bruce Wayne has become.
As the Joker lashes out at Batman’s partners and sidekicks, the question in “Death of the Family” becomes just how much does the Joker know? He knows enough to attack Batman through the family, whether it’s James Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, Damian Wayne or any of the other previous Robins. Gotham’s own bogeyman uses Batman’s allies and rogues to try to strip Batman into the adversary that he wants. “Death of the Family” is about the Joker’s desires and his efforts to reshape Batman and Gotham City into a reflection of his own id.
And then he gets spurned as Batman, of course, chooses his family over his enemy.
So once the Joker is jilted, the next story has to be a revenge story and that’s what Endgame is all about. When the Joker returns, Snyder and Capullo change him once again. The overalls are gone, the flesh mask is lost to the depths of Gotham City and the Joker is a transformed man out to use Gotham as the instrument of his revenge on a hero and a city that rejected him. Maybe he can’t take away Batman’s family but he can take away Batman’s reason for existence. Snyder and Capullo have him attack the heart of Gotham, infesting the city with his own madness like he has never done before.
This latest metamorphosis makes the Joker into something completely alien to this world. He becomes more than an enemy for the Batman as Snyder and Capullo make him and Gotham into one spirit. The city becomes the Joker and the Joker becomes the city as both rise up to deny their greatest hero once and for all. The horror for Batman is that his city becomes unrecognizable as it is no long a reflection of his spirit but a twisted mirror of the Joker’s anarchy. For Snyder’s stories before “Endgame”, the Joker is a force unto himself, separate from Gotham or from Batman. But here, the Joker becomes something grander as he first infects the Justice League with his Joker virus and then his sickness spreads among the entire city. Almost literally, the Joker becomes the sickness that’s rotten at the heart of Gotham much more than Batman can be its savior and protector.
Over the course of Scott Snyder’s Batman run, the Joker has been a prisoner, a bogeyman, and a destroyer. As Snyder and Greg Capullo push Gotham City into a city of secrets kept from her greatest detective Batman, the spirit of the Joker becomes ingrained into the spirit of that city. More than any other hero or villain, Snyder and Capullo’s Joker becomes the twisted essence of a city and that’s a scary thought. Every time the Joker shows up in Batman, he becomes more twisted and ghastly. HIs plans aren’t any longer about simple crime or even supervillainous plots. His corrupting spirit is so finely focused on Batman that if everything else burns, he no longer cares unless Batman is burning with it. Or even worse, he no longer cares about anything in the world other than turning the Batman into his own, twisted reflection.