Everyone knows Batman is a master tactician. In Bruce Wayne’s quest to turn himself into the ultimate crime fighter he trained himself relentlessly in a myriad of deadly combat techniques, studied countless military leaders, and researched every field of science and technology that could be even remotely applied to fighting crime. Combine all of that with a will power that rivals Hal Jordan’s, a few billions of dollars, and you have yourself a Batman. At least this is the most common story a comic book fan would tell someone who isn’t familiar with the process of how Batman became such an unstoppable badass with an endless supply of aces up his sleeve. Batman has a plan for everything and everyone. But is that how Bruce Wayne would explain his transformation in Batman to someone else? And what happens to a man whose gone his entire life without running out of aces? What happens when they finally do run out?
Before we dig into the issue I just had to take a moment to ensure I shared Riccardo Federici’s variant cover with you. I’ve seen some incredible covers for this character from a lot of artists — Jock and Jason Fabok in particular have done truly awesome stuff. But this cover might just be my favorite. In The Batman Who Laughs one-shot Riley Rossmo literally has him sitting on a throne of corpses, and from that moment I’ve thought of the character as the unofficial grim reaper of the DC multiverse. The Batman Who Laughs for all intensive purposes death incarnate, and this cover perfectly encapsulates that. A mountain of skulls, skeletons in his wake, and maniac laughter on his lips as he swings down the scythe at you — it doesn’t get much cooler than this.
In a move that will probably surprise no one, Jock is once again doing Jock things by using as few lines as possible to make one of the most menacing Batmans you’ll ever see. I’ve ranted and raved about Jock’s ability to use negative space to its fullest extent with this character, so I’ll spare you another trip down that road. What I will talk to you about is how great it was to see Jock include one single small frame with Batman drooling, that could easily be missed due to the amount of dialogue surrounding it, but put it there anyway to ensure readers understood that he’s starting to lose control of himself. I love that kind of attention to detail.
Unfortunately I can’t share the best piece of Jock’s work on this issue with you. To do so would spoil a moment that’s not only important plot wise, but also just feels wrong to deprive people from experiencing the way it should be — by reading the comic. What I can say is that it involves both The Joker and Bruce, each in a similar pose on their own full page, but in different parts of the book. Once you see both pages you’ll understand how they’re connected, and next to the first appearance of The Batman Who Laughs in this series, it’s definitely the coolest thing Jock has created thus far.
To make amends for withholding the goods, allow me to let one thing slip, you get to watch The Batman Who Laughs headbutt one of his eye-spikes into someones brain, and it looks just as brutal as it sounds.
When you think of Bruce Wayne’s connection to bats, you think of the moment he first encountered them when he fell into a cave. The bats frightened Bruce, which drove him to later channel that fear into a symbol, and use that symbol to strike that fear into the hearts of his enemies. But thanks to Scott Snyder we’re reminded that there was something else that happened in that cave, a moment that grew to become a pillar of the foundation that Batman was built upon. With the help of Thomas Wayne, young Bruce made a plan: he saw himself grabbing the rope, being brave, and climbing out. He made a plan, he visualized it, and he executed it. We see that the master tactician that is Batman was perhaps born in this moment. All the risk assessment, the aces up his sleeves, the contingency plans — they grew to become the core of Batman from this one vital life-shaping out experience.
In the illustration of the importance of this moment from Bruce’s childhood, we’re seeing continuation of a key pattern Scott Snyder has been following since the start of this series, tying the plot progress to a component of Batman’s origin story. Batman has always worked for Bruce Wayne, that’s always been his plan, being Batman. Combat crime? Batman. Stop the Legion of Doom? Batman. Stop an alien invasion? Batman. Donning the cowl has always worked for Bruce to combat whatever the multiverse and Gotham city threw at him. A major component of that is the savant level of planning that gets applied to Batman’s approach to solving problems.
But what happens when being Batman stops working? What happens when every ace up Batman’s sleeve is completely useless, because his adversary knows how many Batman’s holding and when he’s going to use them? Batman has come back from having his back broken, faced down Darkseid, and even defeated the Justice League. But he’s never faced the worst possible version of himself. Snyder is going to show us what happens when the pillar of Batman crumbles, the rug is pulled out from under him, and the plan of being Batman no longer works. You won’t be disappointed with the results.