“WHEN IN ROME” -9/10
Well that was quite the finale! Europa was an ambitious project that incorporated the work of four artists and the backdrop of four great cities to tell the story of two mortal enemies forced into an uneasy union. This mini-series has been a joy from start to finish, with the story meticulously crafted by Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello and brought to life by Jim Lee, Giseppe Camuncoli, Diego Lattorre and in this final chapter, Gerald Parel. To recap; Batman and Joker are both infected with the deadly Colossus Virus, having pursued the man responsible for infecting them across Europe, they finally track him to Rome. As the sickness withers their ability to fight, Batman and the Joker finally confront the architect of their doom amongst the ruins of Rome’s great coliseum.
With Batman and Joker in the final stages of their disease and death fast approaching there is no more need for the puppet master to hide, so he reveals himself to be none other than the man who broke the bat, Bane! While Bane’s involvement is totally unexpected it does make sense. He has the intelligence, skills and unwavering determination to pull off such an extravagant plan and for no other reason than to prove a point. With Venom coursing through his veins, Bane lays a brutal beating on the severely weakened men before revealing the final cruel twist in his plan; the antidote for each man’s affliction lies in the blood of their companion. Bane’s final punishment for Batman would be the realisation that he quite literally can’t live without the Joker, how’s that for a punch line?
Once again the Dark Knight must save the life of his most hated enemy. Bane taunts Batman as he struggles to fight, revealing that it was Joker who murdered his informant, Nina. Despite this Batman is unrelenting, finally defeating Bane with the assistance of the bats that inhabit the coliseum. The story takes a delightfully twisted turn as Batman and the Joker fight to drink each other’s blood. The exchange sickens Batman, but the antidote soon takes effect, bringing an end to both their affliction and their partnership. As their strength returns Joker tries to convince Batman that this doesn’t have to be the end for the new dynamic duo, they could continue their European adventure. Enraged by Joker’s confession that he killed Nina, Batman launches a brutal attack on Joker, continuing the never ending dance that these mortal enemies will perform until their dying day.
This was a satisfying finish to Europa, thanks in no small part to Gerald Parel’s artwork. Every panel feels like a watercolour painting, his Batman is a thing of beauty as is his Joker, who he draws as a wide eyed, mischievous child. This only serves to make it even more believable that the Joker would assume that he and Batman could carry on being BFFs once they were cured. Similarly, whereas many artists have taken to mimicking Christopher Nolan’s more natural Bane, he presents the Bane of old; an unstoppable, Venom-infused titan. The fight scenes are fantastically realised with the wear of the virus clearly shown in the movement of the men. Parel’s work serves as the perfect bookend to Jim Lee’s in issue 1, Jim Lee’s contribution was without doubt my favourite and it is nice to see Parel’s version of the flashback from the opening panels of the story.
Europa works incredibly well for a short, self-contained story. The pacing was perfect and the only real misfire came in the form of Nina’s death. We didn’t spend enough time with her for her death to have any real meaning for the readers, however we have spent 75 years with Batman and that’s long enough to understand why it affected him. Casali and Azzarello’s dialogue was spot on throughout every issue, presenting Joker in a way that led the reader to question if he was deliberately taunting Batman or if the Dark Knight’s plagued mind was causing him to unfairly turn on his great nemesis. While Joker got all the best lines (obviously) Batman’s inner monologue demonstrated his eternal struggle when it comes to Joker, he could not let this man die, even if it would make the world a better place. Batman and The Joker are bonded and the final act of Europa cements that bond in blood. I look forward to revisiting this story when the trade is released, hopefully with a lot of sketch work from the contributors.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- I am really glad that the Bat-Joke villain turned out to be Bane in disguise as I was severely underwhelmed at the idea of that being the main antagonist.
- Joker’s indignation at being infected with the virus is priceless, not because he might die but because he doesn’t understand the Joke.
- As a Brit I wish Batman had taken up Joker on his offer to extend the trip to London. Especially based on his suggestion that they play “Jack the Ripper versus Sherlock Holmes.” That’s a cosplay waiting to happen!
- Joker had so many great lines in this issue, the best being “You grabbed me and spewed this… bat-itude.”