WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman: The Merciless
Anything is possible in the world of DC Comics, especially now that Batman has killed Ares to claim his power as the new God of War in Batman: The Merciless. It's not the first time that Bruce Wayne has been elevated from man to god, but his claiming the power of an Olympian god isn't as heroic as casual fans might expect. As the name implies, Batman's boost in power over all creation didn't work out as even he had planned. The man who waged a war on evil has become War itself - and all the rules that made him a superhero have flown out the window - but losing the love of your life will do that.
As comic book fans enjoying DC's massive METAL event already know, this Batman is quite literally a 'nightmare scenario' made real by DC's Dark Multiverse. In short, a world built to answer the question, 'What if Batman fought Ares to bring peace to the world?' And just like the questions which spawned the rest of METAL's 'Nightmare Batmen' into existence - what if Batman turned himself into Doomsday? What if Batman stole The Flash's speed? What if Batman had become The Joker? - the result is a villain capable of killing entire worlds.
So, what has brought this "merciless" version of Bruce Wayne to our universe? Simple: he's already killed the gods of his own.
Wonder Woman is Finally Killed By Ares
As has been the case with the previous Dark Nights one-shots detailing the origin stories of every Nightmare Batman, Peter J. Tomasi and Francis Manapul explain the otherworldly events that turned the Batman we know into a rampaging god. The Merciless hails from Earth -12, a world not unlike the one most DC Comics fans know, with one small exception. In this doomed reality of DC's Dark Multiverse, Ares creates a new helmet to amplify his existing powers as an Olympian God. As always, it is Wonder Woman who leads the war against him... but this time around, she is ultimately killed in combat (along with all the other heroes who waged the war to stop him).
It's a more crushing twist than usual, since this version of Batman and Wonder Woman are more than just colleagues. Apparently, the pair became lovers soon after Diana's traditional romantic interest, Steve Trevor, fell in the same war. With superheroes and Olympians all scattered and defeated on what looks to be the world's last battlefield, Bruce Wayne remains. And in typical Bruce Wayne fashion, he takes one look at his final link to the living destroyed... and goes for a Hail Mary.
The issue doesn't reveal if Batman had planned out his final move ahead of time, as is usually his way, but the helmet of Ares discarded next to the body of Wonder Woman leaves him with only one option.
Batman Stands Against Ares
The plan that Bruce and Diana were following, the former reveals in dialogue boxes, was to meet Ares in combat, separate him from his overpowered helmet, and destroy it for good. They had met him, and momentarily defeated him. But Bruce Wayne's lover dying was not part of the plan. Knowing the warnings that she had made about the helm's influence and power, and knowing that Diana hadn't lived to see the helmet's destruction anyway, Bruce chooses another path.
It's worth pointing out that unlike previous origin stories for these Nightmare Batmen, which have primarily hinged on unhealthy fixations, addictions, or simply paranoia run amuck, this Batman does seem like the 'normal' Batman. And while he may disregard the advice of Wonder Woman, his motivations are noble. Where Ares sought dominance and destruction, Bruce seeks only peace (perfectly in keeping with Bruce's desire for control and order).He puts on the helmet with every intention to wield the powers of the God of War mercifully, and justly.
But this is not Issue #1 of Batman: The Merciful. When Batman comes to the main DC Universe, he doesn't intend to bring the same peace he won on his own world. What is it they say about absolute power...?
Batman Becomes a Nightmare God of War
After removing the head of Ares from the adjoining torso, and claiming the powers of the God of War for himself alone, Bruce begins a campaign across his world. In the end, only the arrival of the Batman Who Laughs saves him from the same annihilation his reality soon faces (such is the nature of DC's Dark Multiverse, roiling in the darkness beneath the light of the living worlds). Recruited to wage war on the world at the center of DC's Multiverse, Batman lives up to the 'nightmare' name almost immediately. And as he slays innocent soldiers and civilians in the absence of the Justice League, fighting his way towards the DCU's Steve Trevor, Amanda Waller, and more, it's clear there is no longer any saving this version of the Batman.
The issue concludes with him clenching a massive fist around Steve Trevor's throat - the man who, on another world, was his deceased lover's first male partner. But fans shouldn't think they know the full story just from these details. In fact, The Merciless #1 ends with an even darker twist that colors Bruce's story with an even more twisted, tragic shade. What damage he'll inflict on Earth, or what intentions he may have for this planet's Wonder Woman remains to be seen.
But as METAL marches on, it isn't the return of Wonder Woman, or even Superman we're considering. It's how the main DC Universe's gods and goddesses will respond to this God of War from another reality giving them all a bad name. Good luck to whoever tries to stand against him.
Batman: The Merciless #1 is available now.