It all comes down to this. Batman and The Batman Who Laughs square off in their final confrontation at Wayne Manor, home to Bruce’s happiest memory and the location where the final Bruce Wayne will appear.
I’ve been reviewing this series from the start, and as part of my process for reviewing a new issue, I like to skim back through the previous issues. In doing so for this review I realized that I’ve committed a serious oversight, one that I’d now like to correct. Thus, let’s talk about Sal Cipriano. This man deserves some serious recognition for his work on the lettering in this series. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that more often than not, I don’t call much attention to the lettering in books I review. But after witnessing firsthand how much Sal’s work contributed to the quality of this comic book, I feel the need to ensure he’s given the heaps of praise he’s earned. Issue by issue, Jock and Snyder have steadily marched Batman towards his transformation into a mirror of The Batman Who Laughs, and Cipriano has had a subtle, but important role to play in that.
Look back to the start of this tale and you will find the faint beginnings to a change in Batman’s voice within the book’s lettering that steadily amps up as the toxin’s infection spreads throughout the Dark Knight’s blood. The Batman Who Laughs has a very distinct voice. How do we know this? Cipriano’s lettering. Its exactly how I’d imagine it — jagged, sharp, and chaotic. The same can be said for the way Cipriano composed The Joker’s voice — a sloppy, dangerous, mess. And now due to the transformation, Batman’s voice has nearly become an exact mirror to his foe’s. Cipriano has done an utterly fantastic job with the lettering on this series, with this issue being the crescendo of his subtle symphony.
Last issue I discovered Snyder has been leaving us secret messages hidden within Batman’s dialogue. When the message is present on a page, a dialogue box will have one or two letters that differ from the rest (thank you, Cipriano), and when you write them all down together you find your message. This issue has another message. Don’t worry, revealing it isn’t a spoiler — if anything, reading it will only entice you.
I’m coming for you
Take the leap
David Baron has done excellent work throughout this series, but I think he’s delivered his best work yet with this issue. The one scene in particular that really stood out to me finds Batman standing in his dark metal helm, draped in darkness and shadows, in a field on the grounds of Wayne Manor. Lightning is shot throughout the sky like fissures in a glass pane, and bats have taken flight behind him. Even without knowing the story behind this moment, there’s such a pure sense of utter awe and expectation infused in it. Baron’s array of colors used with the lighting, sky, and Batman help make this one of the more special moments of the issue.
Jock of course is the architect that builds the foundation that Baron’s colors were laid upon, so he deserves just as much credit for bringing that moment to life. But my favorite work of his comes later in the issue, during Batman’s final confrontation with The Batman Who Laughs. It’s during this that we see the epic confrontation through two vastly different perspectives.
One shows us Batman and The Batman Who Laughs as we’ve seen them throughout the series, as they are in the real world, locked in hand-to-hand combat for the fate of the last Bruce Wayne and Gotham. The other shows Batman and The Batman Who Laughs as only they can see one another, through the eyes of two beings infected with Joker toxin and tainted by the touch of dark metal. It’s the twisted view where Jock really lets his imagination run wild. The Batman Who Laughs appears as a fanged and winged demon, barely resembling a man at all, possessing elongated limbs, fangs, and talons. Batman is still more or less himself, but looking at him is sort of like watching a TV that’s got a bad signal; his image keeps blurring and getting run through with static every few seconds. Jock gives us a look at what The Batman Who Laughs truly is: a horrifying monster, from our worst nightmares.
This is a Batman comic book in title, story, and spirit, but the spotlight is unquestionably being shared. While Batman has found The Batman Who Laughs to be the deadliest foe he’s ever faced, Jim Gordon’s story runs a twisted parallel to the Dark Knight’s, as he enters the final confrontation with his greatest adversary — The Grim Knight. Both men are facing twisted, demented versions of Batman, but it isn’t that straightforward for Jim. In addition to facing an evil gun-toting incarnation of his best friend, he has to untangle the emotional knot that is his son, James Gordon, Jr.: a psychopath and remorseless killer.
Most of us have given someone in our lives a second chance more than once, and in turn experienced the crushing disappointment when they’ve done what you expected, they let you down. So ask yourself, is anyone ever truly beyond redemption? Now what if that person is your family member? What would it take for you to get to the point of no return? And once you were there, could you ever stop loving them? Even after all the letdowns, betrayal, and disappointment?
These are the soul-crushing questions Snyder makes the reader ask themselves as Jim is forced to confront them within the broken relationship with his only son, all while taking on the most dangerous foe he’s ever faced. Everyone who knows Jim Gordon knows that he’s a by-the-book cop, and perhaps no one understands that better than The Grim Knight and James Gordon, Jr. But Jim’s also a father, a father whose son is seemingly trying to once again return from the dark, and help save Gotham City along his way back. Funnily enough, amidst all the horror, violence, and brutality found in this comic book, Snyder manages to tug your heart strings while he makes you watch a man battle for his life, his city, and the soul of his son.
We know The Batman Who Laughs wants Batman to be happy, he wants him to share in his freedom from morality, and the happiness that comes with it. Twisted monster’s desire aside, the question remains: can Batman ever truly be happy? To take a peek inside Bruce Wayne’s psyche, you can pick up any Batman story Snyder has penned over the last eight years, or you can read this one — either way, you’ll find a writer who deeply understands how intrinsically tied this question is to the core of The Dark Knight’s identity.
Batman fears finding true happiness again. The one time he was ever truly happy, it was taken from him in an instant, and it has haunted him every day of his life ever since. Batman is a character who’s defined by the trauma he experienced and he uses the continual pain from that moment to fuel his fight against injustice. But how would the machine that is The Dark Knight continue to operate when its fuel is taken away? Being happy would make him vulnerable, it would leave him in a state of conflict, and it might just take away what makes him Batman.
That’s why throughout the series The Batman Who Laughs has taunted Batman, calling him the worst Batman of all the different Batmen from across the multiverse. Poking with his psychological barbs, wounding Batman by murdering the happy possibilities that could have been his life, and pointing out how much better all those other versions of Batman were. Peeling back the armor around Batman’s heart to stab again and again at what he could have been, if he was only better.
Suffice to say, Snyder will have everyone on the edge of their seat with this one. The start to two epic conclusions await you: Jim and James Gordon, Jr in a fight to the death against The Grim Knight; and Batman, the last Bruce Wayne, vs The Batman Who Laughs in a battle for the soul of Batman and Gotham City.
I have to be honest, I have no idea how this is going to end. Snyder has me completely baffled. Sure, I have about ten different theories I’ve come up with, but the only one that seems plausible is that at the end we’ll find that perhaps this is it for the bloodied and battle-weary Batman. He’s already conceded that the plan isn’t working; Batman isn’t working. Maybe he can’t outthink the darkest version of himself. So what does that leave him with? An offer to embrace his greatest fear, without any of the conflict that comes with it. Being happy without any of the worry or morality that comes with it. I absolutely love to find myself in a situation where I can’t imagine the hero walking away, let alone being victorious. Maybe this time the bad guy wins.