WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for BATMAN: THE DEVASTATOR
They've always said that Batman's mind could beat Superman's strength, but Bruce Wayne cooking up a DOOMSDAY virus was never the best plan. Yet it's the premise of BATMAN: THE DEVASTATOR, the latest entry in DC's massive METAL event designed to throw evil versions of Bruce Wayne up against the DC Universe's heroes. These 'Dark Knights' have all been assembled from the Dark Multiverse - a kaleidoscope of realities all too horrible to exist forever, shaped around the very worst fears of Superman and Batman. And with THE DEVASTATOR, the fear being explored is one familiar to fans of DC in the 1990s: what if Doomsday killed Superman?
Except this time, the 'Doomsday' in question is Bruce Wayne infected with an ancient alien virus to transform him into an unkillable beast... and in this case, Superman's death is anything but a tragedy. Modern movie fans may balk at the idea of Superman being "turned evil" or fighting his superhero allies with rage, but in this story from Frank Tieri, James Tynion, and Tony S. Daniel, Batman is actually the only superhero left to stand against Superman.
Readers don't get to (or have to) see Superman's shift to the dark side, which is almost the point of the story. Bruce Wayne of this parallel, Dark Multiverse openly admits that nobody ever learned why Superman snapped, or what took control of his mind. And despite his gloomy exterior, Batman kept on hoping for a solution to save his friend... until he murdered Lois Lane. From that point on, all that mattered was killing Superman. If not to protect innocents - that ship had long sailed - then to punish Superman for the heartbreak of his betrayal.
It's technically the virus which kills Superman, transforming the landscape of the Earth itself into harsh, fang-like outcroppings that burst forth to puncture any unkillable heroes that may be nearby. But the real horror comes when this Doomsday Batman is recruited to wage war on the main DC Universe. And it's the horror that Scott Snyder spoke to when promoting the Dark Multiverse back at San Diego Comic-Con:
"The origins of these characters, too, are really, really special. They’re a lot of the nightmares I thought about, like ‘What if Batman goes too far?’ in different ways. What if he took this one turn as a kid and wanted to bring his parents back in a way that would take him into the dark? What if after Superman died, Batman started experimenting with the Doomsday virus in a way that would prevent this from ever happening again, but he goes too far?… Why Bruce might use the Speed Force to try and be faster should a catastrophe have happened. Why he might go up against Ares."
The comics haven't disappointed on that question thus far. And as is usually the case, a superhero viewed through the mind of Bruce Wayne shows new sides and weakness of themselves. Even as the Bruce Wayne doppelgangers of the Dark Multiverse embrace evil, fear, or hate, they possess Bruce Wayne's mind. Which is what makes the stories so chilling. 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.
And now, the fear that Superman would turn evil - something that every Bruce Wayne plans for - could push Batman past his limits if it meant saving what's left of the world. Becoming the monster strong enough to kill the Kryptonian... and infecting a planet with the same hideous strength.
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 MERCILESS #1 by writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Francis Manapul
- THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #1