Warning: Minor SPOILERS for The Batman Who Laughs #2
When DC brought an army of nightmare versions of Batman from across the dark, twisted, evil Multiverse, none was more terrifying than The Batman Who Laughs. And now, his plan to destroy Bruce Wayne (and his world along with him) is finally beginning to unfold.
Out of all the dark versions of Batman introduced in DC's Metal event, it's only their leader who has earned his own comic miniseries with writer Scott Snyder's The Batman Who Laughs. And with good reason, too. The other dark Batmen were all the terrifying answers to questions Bruce Wayne had asked himself: what if Batman stole Flash's speed? What if Batman became Doomsday to stop Superman? But no villain embodied the answer to a more chilling question than The Batman Who Laughs: what if Bruce Wayne... became the next Joker?
Screen Rant got the chance to speak with writer Scott Snyder about the shocking conclusion to The Batman Who Laughs #1, in which Joker's death infects Bruce Wayne - and the imperfect solution he finds to keep himself from becoming the next Joker. We also find out what to expect from the title villain, the antagonist Snyder refers to as the "ultimate" Batman enemy. And for somebody with as acclaimed a history writing some of Batman's most chilling tales as Snyder, that is seriously saying something. Make no mistake: even if Bruce Wayne survives The Batman Who Laughs... his vigilante alter ego might not.
After setting up Batman and Joker needing to join forces against the Batman who became Joker, the first issue really slammed that door shut.
Yeah [laughs]. Well, you never know. Joker is a pretty chaotic character. I actually just wrote a scene where the two of them have, I think, their most connected moment that I've ever written. Outside of the one in Superheavy where they're both kind of human. So Joker plays a very big role as a kind of Batman ally, in that weird, twisted way that he tends to operate. I'm excited for you to see what happens with him.
That ending to Issue #1 isn't a case of Bruce Wayne being instantly transformed as part of the Joker's last laugh, but it does seem to be putting him in a situation that is not like the other times he's been hit with Joker toxin.
Oh yeah, it's very different. It's meant to be, it's much more dire. That idea in our version of the mythology - that Joker's last laugh, or last joke would be that he has this super-virulent version of the stuff from ACME Chemicals in his heart that would turn anyone who kills him into the next Joker, their own evolved version of that - has been there for a long time. So the idea that Joker is forcing that on Batman is something much more urgent and dire, and dangerous than any normal Joker toxin. In [Issue #2] at the beginning you see pretty quickly that he doesn't have anything to stop it. The best he can do is slow it down.
For me, The Batman Who Laughs is almost... I don't want to say it's my final villain, but I don't know how many more times I'm going to return to Gotham proper. I have a story with Greg Capullo that I'm doing. But it takes place in the future, and it's more of a DCU story, Last Knight on Earth. I've had such a great time doing so many Gotham stories that I really only want to come back for special kind of personal stuff. And the Batman Who Laughs, for me, brings a lot of things that we've done full circle. All the way back from Black Mirror through my run with Greg, in terms of the ideas that we explored, about the human propensity for evil, what Gotham brings out of its citizens, all of those things.
The Batman Who Laughs is himself a kind of final villain for me. Meaning he is the scariest villain that I've ever created or gotten to work on. Because he isn't the Joker, who is absolute alpha villain for Batman. He's worse, in the way that he's got all of Joker's evil but he's not chaotic and he's not impulsive. He's got Batman's strategic and brilliant mind, and all of his memories, and all of his training. So it's incredibly hard even to find a vulnerability, you know? And he believes very passionately that this Bruce Wayne on our Earth is the worst version across the Multiverse of Batmen. The weakest, most ineffective, least content. And he's here to sort of say, 'I'm going to fix all that.'
This issue builds to a moment that feels unique, and one I can't really compare to anything even from your previous run. It's a betrayal, an invasion of privacy, a violation almost. That makes Batman more vulnerable than most readers will have ever seen him. Was that the final goal in creating a villain out of Bruce, himself?
100%. Yeah, that is the goal. Because the hardest thing about creating villains for Batman is that he's so confident. He's such an engine of meaning. Like, anything you throw at him he turns into fuel for his mission... and that's a great thing, it's why the character is so enduring. People tease and make fun of the idea that Batman always wins. When people ask me, 'Who wins in a fight, X-Men or Avengers?" I'm like, 'Batman wins.' The fun of that is he's human. He doesn't have powers, or a magic ring or lantern. he takes the tragedies and catastrophes and failures in his life, and turns all of that into gasoline for this incredible engine that just makes meaning out of it. He says, 'I'm going to make my life matter, and have a purpose.' So in that way I think having a villain who knows all of that about him, knows every aspect of him, and says, 'I know the ways in which you fool yourself into believing that because I have the same memories. I know you inside and out. I know Alfred. I know everything. And I know that it's false.'
And believing that it's false, too. The Batman Who Laughs isn't lying, he really believes this. Having traveled the Multiverse he comes here saying, 'I am the apex predator, I am the version of you that you're meant to be. But i'm going to show you why you're the absolute lowest on the food chain of Batmen. And why we all despise you.' Do you know what I mean? It's very intimate to me. it's a very intimate series. There's a moment in the issue where he puts his hand over Bruce's ribs, and says, 'I remember the exact same feeling you do. I remember feeling it right here.' And he puts his fingers over Bruce's ribs the same way Bruce describes his father putting his hand over his ribs and filling in the spaces with his fingers, as he was about to get shot. That's the terror of The Batman Who Laughs to me, and the fun of the series: there is nothing you have hidden from him. He knows you, and that's the ultimate villain, you know?
Joker knows him so well, that's what makes him so scary. The Joker says, 'I know what you're afraid of, and I'm going to show you why that's so.' But Joker always does it in such a way that he's trying to prove a point and I think there's something about Joker, also, that is performative and needs Batman. He wants Batman to acknowledge him, he doesn't want Batman ever to kill him, or do something past the line. At least our version of Joker, he's creating these things in his own weird mind to make Batman stronger, and continue this weird, evil dance with him. The Batman Who Laughs doesn't give a shit about dancing with Batman or any of it. He's just like, 'You're nothing to me, and the moment I saw you I had ten ways to kill you. I'm just going to move right through you.'
The story also highlights some of the iconic moments where Bruce could have stopped, but kept on going, and it was treated as heroic at the time for him to just keep going. But there's that saying that 'change is inevitable, growth is optional.'
So when you introduce evidence that Bruce Wayne could be more effective NOT being Batman. When you propose the power that could come, not from giving up, but giving in... do you not want to be too convincing? It seems like a really good argument based on the evidence, obviously by design.
No! I want it to be a really compelling argument. I want it to be something where he's not saying, 'Hey you should've given up and been an altruistic Bruce Wayne.' He's saying 'Every other version of you is more effective than you, in affecting change in Gotham.' Meaning ones that turned into a police state, one that works through politics... why is that so? And what does that mean? Why are you so ineffective and why are you okay with that? You're not really okay with it, and I'm going to show you why. It's a really dark argument... but, there's a counter-argument [laughs]. The counter-argument from Batman, I think, hopefully will be more convincing in some way at the end.
It's coming but look, I mean it, I don't know how many more times I'm going to be in Gotham. If I'm going to be there, I want to really draw some blood and be like, 'This is a story you're going to remember. Because I want you to feel Bruce is challenged in a way that really rocked him to his core.' So when he comes out the other side - if he survives, and lives [laughs] - that he's changed in a way. And that it shows you something about Batman you might not have seen before.
As almost a bonus to that story you have the Grim Knight, who we now know is going to be getting his own one-shot. It's not the least sensitive time to be discussing a Batman who uses guns and kills people, I'll say...
Fair enough [laughs].
Can you give some insight into how you created him? Because he's also not just a killing machine, he seems like an attack dog.
Yeah he's the mini-boss to The Batman Who Laughs. And I want to make one thing clear, which is as much as I think sometimes--especially when you give the concept to artists to get to draw variants or play around with--the strange novelty of Batman with guns can overpower the idea... A lot of the visuals of him, we're pulling back on in that regard. I want to be sensitive about those things. Because the idea behind him is not 'he's a Batman who uses guns,' or 'he's the Punisher, rah rah!' The idea of him is that he's Bruce's second worst nightmare. Which is the slope that he would fall down if he started using lethal force.
Within the story itself, he barely ever uses gun. He uses... all kinds of horrifying other weapons which doesn't make it better [laughs]. But that said the really scary things about him isn't... he doesn't use big machine guns and that stuff. He's a multi-billion-dollar industrialist on his world, so you have to imagine that if he wants to kill you, he doesn't go after you with a machine gun. He has something in your GPS that drives your car off a bridge, and you don't even know who did it. Or your apartment just starts releasing CO2 and you die, and you don't know who killed you. He's the deadliest man on Earth in his world, and he's hooking into Gotham bit by bit. So the terror for me isn't 'Batman with guns.' The terror for me is he's Batman completely unleashed from his moral codes that have to do with preserving life. He's a walking military-industrial complex.
So just to be fair, you will see him--he comes after Batman and James Gordon Jr. and he shoots at them in Issue #3. But that said, you're not going to see him walking in with big machine guns and shooting up places in ways that are insensitive. We want to be careful about that stuff as well.
Because you bring up James Jr.... I didn't think the first issue's twist ending could be topped, but was even more stunned by the second issue's ending, like I'm sure other fans of your and Jock's work on The Black Mirror will be. It suggests that if Batman is going to win the day here, he's going to need help from the least likely places imaginable.
Yeah! I want you to feel that this series can really go places I haven't been able to go before, but also it will all feel inevitable in some way. To me, James Jr. is a character who is a real investigation, he allows you to investigate Jim Gordon's blind spots, and all that stuff. But he's also a really great vehicle to sort of interrogate what makes us good and bad. The kinds of things that makes us strong and weak, and all of that is built into the DNA of what this story is about. So it gives a really rich vein to mine when it comes to Jim Gordon and Batman, both. But there's also a lot of long-planned plot reasons as to why James Jr. would be back in a big Batman narrative now. And we worked it out with the Bat group and all that too. There's plot reasons that have to do with who he was when he was younger as a kid, and the plans that he made to take down Gotham in all kinds of ways. Now he's almost known as somebody in criminal circles who knew exactly how best to poison the city.
So is he part of the way this story will bookend your time on Batman? This feels like more of a callback to where you started with Batman than I even really expected.
Yeah, it is. A lot of ideas, a lot of themes that I've been working... but I want to take them past where I've been able to before, and really create a much darker extension of a lot of those thoughts through The Batman Who Laughs. Because he's a character who has this intense pliability for that. He pushes the story past anything possible with characters I've used before. So it allows me to take a lot of those ideas to their almost logical end. And in that way do a final villain story.
Is that the same inspiration behind Batman: Last Knight on Earth?
Yeah it is. Look, honestly, it would be pretty easy at this point to just spin my wheels... I could have stayed on Batman much longer than I did. But to be able to do small mysteries... You learn those things after a while on the book - and I love doing them, don't get me wrong - but I just felt that after everything we had done, staying to do a small Scarecrow story when I had done these big, very personal epic stories, to me, would almost be doing a disservice to the character. Or doing a disservice to whoever was going to come up after me and get a chance to tell their biggest, best Batman story. So in terms of doing stuff here that brings everything full circle, I really want everything I do with Batman right now to be intensely special, and personal, and intimate. And bring back a lot of the things that I've been able to do from the beginning.
[Last Knight on Earth] with Greg does that. I want it to feel like the last story we tell together. It is our plan to have it be the last Batman story that we do as a team. That doesn't mean we won't do other Batman things that have Batman in it in some way. But in terms of like a Batman-Batman story, I think it's time to do a coda to all that stuff.
The Batman Who Laughs #2 is available now from DC Comics.