Perhaps the most anticipated crossover of DC’s Metal event is finally here: the origin story behind the mysterious leader of the Dark Knights, The Batman Who Laughs!
“As the events of DARK NIGHTS: METAL rock the DC Universe, the creatures of the Dark Multiverse stand ready to invade our world! How can the World’s Greatest Heroes stop a horde of deadly beings that appear to be powerful nightmare versions of familiar figures? Find out in these special tie-in issues!”
This book first showed up on my radar a little over a month ago while I was attending New York Comic Con. I was sitting in on DC’s Metal & The New Age of DC Heroes panel, when James Tynion IV unexpectedly launched into a spoiler strewn breakdown of his upcoming Metal book, The Batman Who Laughs. Tynion excitedly described a book that was dark, disturbing and utterly shocking. After a nearly unbearable wait of a little over a month, I’ve finally got my hands on this book. Let’s see if it lived up to the hype.
What’s the skinny?
The Batman Who Laughs has been glimpsed in bits and pieces throughout Metal, as a shadowy and sadistic puppet master pulling the strings of the Dark Knights and forging a path of death and outright destruction in his wake. Each member of the Dark Knights is a Bruce Wayne representing the antithesis of a different Justice League member and we’ve been walked through each of their own unique and tragic stories. This Bruce is different in the way that he’s the one and only to have adopted the traits of a villain, his nemesis the Joker.
Our tragic tale begins many years ago on Earth 22 and commences with the Joker administering the most sadistic form of torture imaginable to a tied up Batman. Regardless of how tough or resilient a person may be, they have a lever and when enough force has been applied, that lever can be pushed. If anyone knows what Batman’s lever is, it’s the Joker. Unfortunately for this Earth the fallout of Batman’s lever getting pushed is his infection with a nano toxin which alters his brain chemistry to remove his moral compass and convictions to replace them with something horribly evil.
When the dust settles from these changes we’re left with a person that possess no morals, mercy or compassion, the trauma and unique brilliance of both Batman and The Joker, Batman’s martial arts prowess and an intimate knowledge of Earth’s mightiest heroes and villains. Yeah it’s pretty scary right? It gets better, you have front row seats to watch this force unleashed against everyone Batman holds dear.
What’s the catch?
The story Tynion’s delivered is truly messed up and I absolutely love it. My only concern here is it just might be a little too much for some readers to handle.
Is it good?
At NYCC while I listened to Tynion talk about this project I was struck by how genuinely passionate he came across. So much so that I made a point to stop by his table in artist alley later that day and tell him how much his passion fed my excitement for the book. There was one thing in particular he said during our conversation that has stuck with me since “This is the darkest story I’ve ever written.”
For reasons I couldn’t initially understand, I couldn’t get that comment out of my head, so I dove into Tynion’s library and then I realized why. For those of you who may not be aware Tynion’s works include the horror comics The Eighth Seal, The House In the Wall and Memetic. All three are critically acclaimed and two of them have been nominated for awards. So yeah the guy knows what he’s talking about when it comes to horror.
I was less than four pages in before I found myself exclaiming “holy shit!” and reexamining the same page five times over because of how shocking the events and imagery are. Riley Rossmo has worked with Tynion before on Hellblazer and I’m thrilled to see them collaborating again. With his work on Rebel Blood, Rossmo is no stranger either to horror, violence and the traumatic imagery. Joshua Williamson once described Rossmo as “an insane genius when it comes to storytelling in comics,” and I find myself inclined to agree. There’s so much horrible violence and brutality, but as with the rest of the Dark Knights there’s also an immense tragedy occurring and Rossmo ensures that isn’t lost in the chaos.
I’ve read this issue five times and it still doesn’t feel like I’m done with it yet. You watch Batman cross a line he’s never crossed, break his most important rule and transform into something that’s the opposite of everything he believes in. That’s all within the first few pages. From there things only continue to escalate and then they escalate some more and then when you think it’s done Tynion says to hell with it and escalates a little more. Yet every time you read a story like this there’s always hope. You can always say to yourself “Okay, they’ll figure out a way through this somehow”, but this time around I don’t see a way out. I don’t see hope and I have to say it’s such a refreshing feeling to have when you finish a story this dark and bleak.
Not only is this the darkest story Tynion’s ever written, it’s hands down one of the darkest comic books I’ve ever read. As an avid Image and Vertigo reader, that’s saying something. I contacted all of my friends that read comics to ensure they had this book on their pull list — it’s made quite the impression to say the least. But it’s important that you know this story isn’t for the faint of heart. Trust me when I say you need to be prepared for one of the most brutal and disturbing comic books you’ve ever encountered. Tynion is writing with his gloves off — better yet, he’s got brass knuckles on and the haymakers are coming hard and fast.