For the better part of two years, all we’ve known about Batman: Last Knight on Earth is one image: Batman crossing an endless desert, his only company a talking severed head. Oh, and the head is the Joker’s.
That, and the fact that Batman scribe Scott Snyder and Batman artist Greg Capullo would be teaming up again for the series. But Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1 has now hit shelves, and we can talk about it in detail.
The desert is still there. The Joker is still a talking head. But Batman ... isn’t Batman.
[Ed. note: This piece will contain spoilers for Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1.]
Snyder and Capullo have billed Last Knight as their final Batman story, and it will probably be the last big Batman-centric story they create for a good long while. But they also mean that in a more chronological sense.
Snyder has often shared a particular maxim about comics writing, imparted to him by previous Batman architect Grant Morrison, on the difficult business of putting a permanent mark on an ever-shifting comic book universe. It goes something like this: If you show a character’s birth and a character’s death, you own a version of that character.
In Last Knight, we pick up the story in a dying DC Universe. Our heroes have been overthrown by the people they tried to protect after Lex Luthor finally convinced humanity to give into its basest urges.
The Green Lantern Corp. is gone; magic no longer exists. The desiccated remains of Earth are ruled by a mysterious figure called Omega, who has harnessed the Anti-Life Equation and just might be one of Batman’s old allies.
This is the new world that Batman finds himself in, and those are the challenges he must face. But the Batman of Batman: Last Knight on Earth isn’t Bruce Wayne. He’s a clone of Bruce Wayne. And if you followed Snyder’s Batman series, this should all sound a little familiar to you.
Scott Snyder’s endgame for Batman — as elucidated the final arcs of his run on the series — is not that he passes on his mantle. Rather, he creates a machine to clone himself when he dies, and put his memories in the clone, and then when that clone dies, he can clone himself and put his new memories in the clone. Forever.
At first brush, this can seem like a lot more weird science than normally comes with a Batman story. So we asked Snyder about it. Cloning? That’s really how Batman is going to last forever?
To Snyder, it began with one question, which Batman would pose to himself: “How do I make sure that there’s always a Batman, and that Batman is mortal? And how do I figure that out in case I die tomorrow?”
Usually, in Batman stories, this question is answered by a successor. Grant Morrison imagined a future Gotham guarded by Bruce’s son, Damian Wayne; while James Tynion IV put Tim Drake, another of the Robins, in the role. Dick Grayson has served as Batman after Bruce’s death or injuries, and the DC Animated Universe passed the cowl to high school student Terry McGinnis.
But Snyder doesn’t think that answer fits quite right for his version of Bruce Wayne.
“Batman is almost something that [Bruce] takes on as this personal burden,” he told Polygon. “It’s not that he doesn’t think that Dick or Stephanie or Tim or Damian would make a Batman that was better or worse than him. I just don’t think he wants to weight them with that. He doesn’t want to force them to do that.”
The other question, for Snyder, is how to make an immortal Batman who is still capable of evolving for any conflict or need.
“So,” he concludes, “I think his way out is to say, How do I always make sure there’s a Batman that’s human, that’s mortal, and it’s important for that moment? And so this [cloning/memory importing machine] was the perfect solution for our version of Batman. Not Tom [King]’s, not Grant’s, but ours. He would say, I’ll always be mortal, I’ll always be ephemeral, but I’ll always be me for that moment. And it starts over, over and over and over again. Each time there’s a new threat, I’ll be there. That’s what I love about that.”
And when you put it that way, Batman building a clone-memory machine in his basement and his younger clone waking up in a post-apocalyptic future makes total sense.