WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS
The DC Universe has told some dark stories, but none darker than Batman killing the Joker... triggering his descent into the most horrifying villain DC has ever seen. We recognize that such a claim is a serious one, given how depraved the Joker has been portrayed in the past. But when DC announced that the mega METAL event would be introducing the Dark Multiverse into DC's mythology, this was not the story fans had in mind. Because in all the dark parallel worlds of that nightmare Multiverse... THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS may be the only one who desires to murder every person on Earth - personally.
The story of the nightmare Batman who became the Joker on a dark, parallel Earth was expected to be dark and disturbing, but James Tynion and Riley Rossmo have outdone themselves. We can't say that the issue is "too disturbing" for mature readers to handle, but there's no question that once this story is over, it's going to be sticking in the long term memory for the foreseeable future. It all begins by showing what can truly happen to Batman's firm moral footing if he allows himself to murder the Joker.
But... not how you might think. The story technically begins the descent of Bruce Wayne into homicidal madness with his murder of the Joker, but as Bruce eventually comes to realize, the plan was hatched by Joker years ahead of time. And if you're wondering just what could possibly push Bruce Wayne to finally break his one rule, and take the Joker's life... how about lining up every family in Gotham, and putting the children through the same traumatic 'birth' Bruce was forced to experience? Needless to say, when Joker promises to never stop creating this generation of the pair's 'children,' Bruce has no choice. Not unlike the method and motives from Man of Steel, Bruce snaps Joker's neck in an instant (pictured above).
But that's when things get really bad. Because the chemicals that created the Joker were most concentrated in his heart and lungs, waiting to be expelled upon his death. Consider it one last joke, delivering a concentrated dose to ensure that whoever killed the Joker... became him.
Before long, the chemicals overwhelm Bruce's body and unlock the dark, maniacal mind that Joker always claimed existed beneath Bruce's discipline and denial And after wiping out his own family and who knows how many others, Bruce returns to the Justice League's Watchtower to embrace the apocalyptic arsenal he always insisted on keeping in lock-up. Regretting only that he would get to use them to destroy the world, and everyone on it... once.
It's a particularly dark and chilling story because its horror isn't based on some plot contrivance or larger 'doom' for the planet. It's anchored squarely in Bruce Wayne's mind - possessed by every one of these Dark Multiverse doppelgangers. In previous stories, they led to extreme solutions and methods: if Batman can't be everywhere at once, he can steal The Flash's speed by force. If he were to lose Alfred, he would become a murderous Cyborg to maintain his connection. And if a Green Lantern ring found him the night his parents were murder, his willpower could allow him to use his Green Lantern ring to kill.
But with THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS, it's just a desire to hurt, harm, and kill that has taken control. How much is due to the chemicals Joker injected, and how much is the response to his childhood trauma Bruce always knew was possible... we will never know.
The final chapter of this epic event is still a ways away (and the ramifications and impact will be felt for weeks, even months). But for now, make sure you're not missing out on any of the other 'what if?' nightmares released so far. The full list is below:
- BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1 by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico
- BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1 by writer Frank Tieri and artist Ricardo Federici
- BATMAN: THE DAWNBREAKER #1 by writer Sam Humphries and artist Ethan Van Sciver
- BATMAN: THE DROWNED #1 by writer Dan Abnett and artist Philip Tan
- BATMAN: THE DEVASTATOR #1 by writer James Tynion and artist Tony S. Daniel
- BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 by writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Francis Manapul