Everyone's got their opinions on the New 52. Some like the new life it's brought to certain characters, others pine for the old ways. People had very high expectations, especially for DC's greatest characters. Batman, of course, was no exception.
Scott Snyder has written some pretty good Batman stories. But Snyder clearly wasn't content with being "good", because Batman: Volume 7 is a definitive title in the Caped Crusader's legend. Snyder nailed the writing on everyone from Batman, to Alfred, to the man who took his face...off.
The characters and dialogue are the best part of Endgame. The dialogue between Alfred and Bruce is at its best, perfectly encompassing the father-son, boss-employee, and peer-to-peer relationships present in the complicated duo. Alfred's daughter, Julia, is also developed surprisingly well as she assists both the Bat and the butler.
As in several stories before, the Joker all but steals the show. Though we know this is clearly the same "man", the Joker has gotten past those petty inhibitions that wouldn't allow him to kill Batman before. He no longer cares. He wants revenge. Joker wants to show everyone who Bruce Wayne really is, and to kill as many people as he can along the way. His dialogue is creepy and sinister, and he's shown that he's a threat even to the Justice League. The Joker believes that only one man deserves a shot at stopping him.
The art, by Greg Capullo, is pretty fantastic. Though it could be cleaner in some instances, particularly the faces of certain characters, it perfectly captures the feel and tone of the plot. Particularly chilling are the faces of the League, the citizens affected by the Joker toxin, and the Pale Man himself. Capullo thrives in the dark, dangerous corners, and can bring out the monster in any face.
The plot itself is excellent. Though there is a slight hiccup in the lack of explanation for exactly how Joker controlled the League (it's a toxin of course, but how he got to them is never really addressed), the rest of the story flows as naturally as comic books have ever reached, leaving few, if any, plotholes. Snyder's writing makes him seem like a reporter, transcribing events out of his control - events directed by someone else. Someone with a smile.
This is Joker as his best, most manipulative self. He's pulled out all the stops, and it shows. When it comes down to it, not even Batman can really plan for him. The final confrontation is epic and satisfying, and portrays both Batman and Joker at the top of their intricate games. They move their pieces like chess grandmasters, both willing to sacrifice their pieces to get that final checkmate.
This willingness to toss away their associates brings it all down to one final confrontation of King versus King. And though Batman, of course, stops the Joker's plan, and even gets the last word, their broken, bloodied bodies lying in the cave make it clear that neither man truly won.
If you were still waiting for Batman's "return to form", there is no longer any doubt that Scott Snyder knows what he's doing. Batman has faced the Joker hundreds of times, but Endgame will be counted as one of the most memorable. And as for Batman's last line? Well...