[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Jock, Francesco Francavilla
This final chapter in the “Ends of the Earth” storyline begins with Batman speeding on the Batcycle toward the Washington Monument to confront the villain who’s behind the events of the past several issues. It’s an old Batman villain – literally.
The Demon’s Head himself, Ra’s al Ghul, is back and is employing a different methodology than usual. He states that Batman fights with a demon that always wins — “the greatest demon of all. The story hidden in things that says what we can make it through together. The most infectious bite.” Bruce Wayne has always been the real Head of the Demon.
However, Ra’s intends to reclaim his title by using his own demons. Ra’s intends to use bits of code — viruses in computer-automated pieces of equipment used in power plants, jets, trains, oil pipelines, and so on — to send a signal that will set off a worldwide series of cataclysms from which humanity cannot hope to recover.
Having sent the signal, Ra’s tells Batman, “This is not a Batman story… no matter how it looks,” just before he kills Batman. Or does he? The conclusion more than confirms that this is indeed a Batman story.
In the backup tale, Duke Thomas faces his former friend Daryl while Batman works to solve a deadly puzzle staged by the Riddler. Batman needs Duke to help find the answer to the puzzle, but Daryl poses another riddle to Duke — “The answer to who you are, Duke. Or rather… what you are.”
As Daryl is about to kill him, a startling transformation occurs to Duke that changes the way he sees the world around him. Duke is overwrought by the change, the nature of which is not explained to us. Instead, we are told that the story continues in Dark Days: The Forge #1.
The first story is astounding. It pulls in all the hints and clues throughout the story arc, and gives us a satisfying solution to the mystery of who is behind the recent attacks on various members of Batman’s rogues gallery.
There are some masterful strokes of misdirection which show Batman’s tactical mastery. The first is revealed when Ra’s snipes the Batcycle, causing Batman to crash it. In reality, it was Catwoman in the Batsuit, posing as Batman. With Ra’s Al Ghul’s attention focused on her, Bruce was able to get to the Washington Monument to confront him virtually unopposed.
The second deception is the way in which Batman allows Ra’s to believe he has won, before revealing that he has actually lost. I won’t spoil the story by going into details, but it reveals Batman’s capacity for turning a threat around and making it a weapon for his own use.
I’ll admit that the backup story leaves me confused. Some of the confusion stems from bits deliberately left vague as a tease for Dark Days: The Forge, such as the exact nature of Duke’s transformation. We see that Duke’s eyes glow and he appears to see the world as yellow and black negative images, but this doesn’t give us much indication of what this means. Is this an enhancement or a handicap? Is Duke seeing more than he could before? Or is his vision just distorted?
Also, the story doesn’t seem to clearly convey exactly how Batman manages to get the proper solution to the Riddler’s puzzle. Did Duke solve the puzzle and tell Batman, or did Batman solve it himself with Duke’s help? It might help if we were told what exactly the puzzle and the arrived at answer actually were.
Then there’s Duke’s final question of “What did he do to me?” Who is the “he” that Duke is referring to: Daryl? The Riddler? Mister Bloom? Batman? Hopefully this all will make more sense in context after reading “Dark Days: The Forge.”
The main story is a fitting conclusion to the “Ends of the Earth” story arc, bringing the story to an enjoyable and satisfying conclusion. However, I am ambivalent about the backup story. I don’t quite understand what’s going on with Duke Thomas, however I am hopeful that things will clear up as his story continues.