WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1
When an evil version of Batman steals the powers of his fellow Justice League heroes, it only makes sense to claim The Flash's speed first, to become the nightmare known as BATMAN: THE RED DEATH. It's the first in a long line of what DC Comics is unleashing upon the heroes of their comic book universe, and with the true Batman missing in action - all part of the insane event Dark Knights: METAL. Explaining exactly how and why a demonic villain from DC's Dark Multiverse has suddenly made its invasion would take serious time. Lucky for everyone that, at least so far, it's that villain's army of evil 'what if?' Batmen that's taking all the attention to being with.
Each of The Seven Dark Knights will be getting a standalone introduction issue before terrorizing their heroic reflections, and as mentioned above, it's The Red Death who's through the door first (fitting, given it's the version of Bruce Wayne who claimed Barry Allen's speed for himself). DC had previously revealed the costume of Batman: The Red Death, but the issue from Flash's Josh Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Ivan Plascencia has finally arrived.
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It's a fight that no Justice League fan probably wanted to see happen, but make no mistake: unlike Superman, this evil Batman won't be racing The Flash in hopes of a tie.
To Beat The Flash, Batman First Beats His Rogues
The action of RED DEATH is set on the alternate world called 'Earth -52,' presumably titled with a negative number to signify its existence not in the regular DC Multiverse, but the Dark Multiverse. This "roiling subconscious" of the DC Universe was previously described by Scott Snyder, the writer who first dreamed up both METAL and these one-off villain books. It's further clarified in the issue itself by the Batman who becomes Joker as an endless number of worlds that never were - nightmares dreamed of or even simply considered by those in the Multiverse proper. So it's no surprise that the planet is a Hellish disaster area when introduced, with Barry Allen doing all he can to convince his ally that they're a better team together than opposed.
That ally is Bruce Wayne, who for once seems completely oblivious to the red skies above Gotham City. He's focused solely on one-upping Flash, and has apparently eliminated the entire Rogues Gallery that has opposed the speedster in the past. Sporting Captain Cold's visor, and wielding his Cold Gun, Heat Wave's flamethrower, Mirror Master's Mirror Gun, and Weather Wizard's staff, Bruce is outfitted with an entire villain team's worth of weaponry. Claiming that the time has come for Flash to "let someone else have the Speed Force" it's ultimately technology from his own Rogues Gallery (Mr. Freeze in particular) that lets him get just seconds ahead of his superspeed opponent.
And when you're Batman, a few seconds is more than enough.
Batman Takes The Speed Force By... Force
When Barry awakes, the action gets a bit harder to stomach. Neither DC nor Snyder has claimed these villain stories will be pulling punches, but seeing Barry Allen chained to the hood of the Batmobile as Batman plows faster and faster, triggering, and siphoning the Speed Force has to be seen to be believed. This kind of cruelty isn't committed by Bruce with pleasure, but total desperation. As he explains in the issue, it isn't just the death of his parents that he is motivated to set right with Flash's powers, but the deaths of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and his son, Damian Wayne. He wasn't able to be everywhere at once, and it cost him everything... which is why The Flash has the only answer.
Di Giandomenico makes sure to pay tribute to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns on multiple occasions, recreating iconic poses, Batman's war tank, and even in the mutant gangsters who terrorize Gotham's streets as the world tears itself apart. The same premise - a Batman who has lost everything, and must go to new extremes, even fighting his former friend - makes the homages work, but when Bruce claims the Speed Force to become The Red Death, it's something new. When even the ability to be 'everywhere' at once can't save Bruce's world, since it was never intended to flourish in the Dark Multiverse, he has run out of options.
Until a smiling figure proposes a solution to save his world... at the cost of another.
The Red Death Comes To Claim Our World
Since Bruce Wayne is prepared to murder his closest friend (at least in our universe) to save his world, then there's really no going back. Apparently, Bruce is even willing to condemn an entire other world just to keep his alive - the mission that brings him to Earth-0, the prime world of the DC Multiverse and home to DC's main continuity. Upon bursting onto the scene in Central City, The Red Death seems to bring the destruction and devastation of the Dark Multiverse he calls home along with him. Lifting people into the skies, toppling buildings, and turning the sky blood red would be bad enough if Central City had its own Flash to rely upon. But this dark presence isn't a good mix for the heroic Barry Allen, crippling him with a sudden loss of speed and energy.
Fortunately, all is not yet lost. Because when Bruce tried to tear the Speed Force loose from The Flash in his own reality, he absorbed it all... along with Barry Allen. Barry's psyche seems to have survived the process as little more than a voice in Bruce's head for now. Hopefully, the heroism of Barry Allen is strong enough to survive the Dark Multiverse and aid his counterpart in this reality. Otherwise... Central City might be in for a permanent redesign.
BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1 is available now.
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