Over the summer, the DC Universe experienced a dramatic influx of, well, evil Batmen–which are exactly what they sound like–care of the massive Dark Nights: Metal crossover event helmed by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. Spiraling out of the extremely comic book-y Dark Multiverse–a brand new parallel to the regular and antimatter DC multiverses already in play–the evil Batmen were alternate reality representations of Bruce Wayne’s worst nightmares, fused with different members of the Justice League. They had over-the-top codenames like the Red Death, an evil Bruce who siphoned the Speed Force from Barry Allen, or The Dawnbreaker, the Batman and Green Lantern combo with a half-torn face and an endless supply of battery-charging willpower, but were mostly support characters for the ringleader of entourage: The Batman Who Laughs, a fusion of Batman and The Joker.
Don’t worry if that all sounds like a lot to take in–the events of Metal were as full bore on the superhero absurdity as any crossover event could be–but the concept itself is actually fairly simple. The Dark Multiverse represents a limitless amount of nightmare scenarios, and The Batman Who Laughs represents one of the very worst, a reality in which Bruce killed The Joker and then became The Joker, thanks to a toxic chemical that exists deep within Joker’s heart. Basically, whoever does Joker in is “infected” and transformed into the next Joker and so on and so on. Even Batman. All of which is to say The Batman Who Laughs is simultaneously The Joker and Batman, making him, arguably, the most dangerous thing to ever exist in the DC Universe–because, well, these are the things that happen in superhero comics.
Now, after his introduction in Metal, The Batman Who Laughs has been given his very own breakout solo series–and he’s not alone. Another evil, alternate Batman has been introduced to the mix–one that didn’t make it into Metal but is no less horrifying. The Grim Knight, a Batman who uses guns, sort of like a Punisher hybrid, has entered the fray here in The Batman Who Laughs #1 and things are just getting even more chaotic now that they’ve both got Bruce–real Bruce, our Bruce–in their sights.
The question then becomes: is there a risk of going too dark with broken Batmen, when you’re introducing hybrids like this into the mix? Not according to Snyder and artist Jock, who explained plainly in an interview with GameSpot that they’re not concerned about going too far.
“I’m of the mindset that there shouldn’t be anything you’re afraid to do, as long as the story supports it emotionally,” Snyder said. “We’re never trying to do anything just because it’s salacious or sensational. Here, when you see violence, it’s not meant to be like ‘oh yay!’ It’s meant to really terrorize Bruce. It’s meant to have a real impact.”
“Exactly,” Jock added. “There’s a sort of internal barometer we use for these things. We don’t want to be introducing things or doing things for the wrong reasons.”
The reasons, in the case of The Batman Who Laughs #1, are to show all the ways in which a character like Batman can be thoroughly and irreparably broken when his moral codes and ethical compass are stripped away. Snyder assured there’s nothing celebratory about The Grim Knight and his arsenal of deadly weapons or The Batman Who Laughs and his rictus grin–these are cautionary tales.
“I had the idea for the toxin in Joker’s heart back when I was working on Batman, but it was kind of a back pocket thing at that point,” Snyder said. “It didn’t really come up again until Metal. This whole story is really centered around the idea of happiness and laughter–there’s a moment in issue two where Bruce monologues about how some cultures have the belief that happiness lives in the heart, and then he talks about his memory of his parents being killed and how that memory lives in his heart, how he can remember his father’s hand coming over his ribs, protecting his heart. So when The Batman Who Laughs confronts Bruce, he explains that he remembers that night too–but he understands the memory differently. He tells Bruce that that’s what he’s always been to Gotham, just a weak old man’s hand trying to protect a heart from a bullet. That mentality is what makes him so scary to me–he doesn’t have any of Bruce’s weak spots, he’s so deeply nihilistic, he truly believes there’s nothing that matters except winning.”
Meanwhile, the heat-packing Grim Knight breaks Batman from a different angle. Rather than nihilism, he takes his brutality with a relentless efficiency. “He’s like the Punisher, but he’s not broke,” Snyder laughed. “He’s got all of Bruce Wayne’s resources so he can just remotely tamper with your car’s GPS and you’d be dead in an accident without ever knowing who did it. We wanted to show how absolutely terrifying that would be.”
The Batman Who Laughs #1 is on sale now, continuing for six issues from DC Comics.