Dark Nights: The Batman Who Laughs #1 review

Batman Who Laughs 1

It’s no secret that I don’t love the whole “Metal” event we’re having, but this book was a surprisingly not-terrible read. Even better than not-terrible, it was actually pretty great!  While it follows a similar pattern to the other Dark Multiverse tie-ins we’ve had so far: grim origin story typically involving a dystopian future or current emergent cataclysm and Batman losing his marbles to grief, revenge, and general entropy, perhaps the fact that Batman’s not taking on the mantle of one of the other Justice Leaguers saves this from some of the groan-inducing rationales that have plagued previous books.

And even though this is yet another blurring of the lines between Batman and the Joker and we’ve had this story a dozen times over previously, James Tynion IV manages to keep it interesting and infuse it with the full brunt of the Bat-ethos without smacking us in the face with it repeatedly like the Joker wielding a laughing fish.

This is also a good example of a comic book that is positively reeking of ghoulishness without it being overwrought, maudlin, or venturing into the realm of torture porn. Though make no mistake, Tynion pulls no punches as this Batman slaughters his way through friends and foes (and anyone else he can get his psychotic mitts on). I would hate to imagine this is what would happen if Batman ever did get poisoned with Joker-toxin, but if that question has ever come your own mind, this is the book for you.

So first, let’s just dispense with the Joker:

He had to go, right? It was his time

There’s this lovely moment before things really start to unravel when Superman and Batman challenge the age-old question of how far is too far?  When has the world had enough of the Joker’s mass-murdering insanity? Apparently the answer is now. Joker has created a particularly virulent strain of toxin and created a sickening army of Jokerized children, torturing Batman to breaking, at which point he snaps (as does the Joker–at the neck).

The aftermath of this act is a sobering deliberation over the consequences of “crossing that line”, and next thing we know the whole Batfamily is put to work training hard against increasingly difficult obstacles and objectives. None of them really know what’s going on until finally Batman reveals a terrible truth: he’s been poisoned too.

There’s a great moment when the family comes to the realization that they’ve essentially been training again Batman himself for what they assume in an inevitable potential battle to come.

They assume wrong.

GREAT BIG HONKING SPOILERS FORTHCOMING!

Without giving away the farm, but since I know you are all curious if you haven’t read this yet, Batman hasn’t been training them in preparation for a Doomsday inevitability.  He just wants to get them all in the same room together, to make it all that much easier to take them out in one fell swoop. Because he’s already lost his marbles, and he’s about to go on a rampage, the likes of which the world is not ready for.

Because he’s Batman. And he knows everyone’s weaknesses and has all the necessary weapons in his arsenal to take them out. What follows is a kaleidoscope of horrors to sicken and delight you.  After which, of course, this new Batman Who Laughs will make his pact with Barbatos to be the chaos he wants to see in the world. Tynion keeps the script tight even when there’s too much explaining to be done, and as a result the whole story feels cohesive and conclusive in ways many of the others don’t. While it still ends with some dangling mysteries to be addressed in the scope of the subsequent extravaganza, if you only intend to pick up this book, it’s a curiously satisfying (though very dark) read.

Welcome to JokerBats Mad Mad World

I have always been a huge fan of Riley Rossmo and this book doesn’t disappoint. There were a couple of moments I felt like the characters were going a little sideways (Batgirl’s encephalitic head was maybe the more tragic of these), but the big spreads are glorious, the blood-letting is harrowing both for what we see (and some things we don’t), and the rising imminent nightmare Dark Multiverse, which we have seen repeatedly in one variation after another through these books is full of strange new and interesting things to fuel your nightmares.

Rossmo’s style is perfectly suited to a book like this–even when it’s a bit off-kilter. It fits with the skewed world of this story, and the scrabbling dementia of its protagonist. Also props to letterer Tom Napolitano, who gradually takes Batman’s text from Bruce Wayne to Raging Psychopath along a nice evolution toward his final insanity.

It follows the formula a little too closely, but this is a book worth re-reading–to enjoy both its brutality and its beauty. Madness hasn’t looked this grand in quite some time.

Recommended If…

  • You love the Batman/Joker dichotomy and secretly have always wanted Joker to win!
  • You like your comics bloody, but beautiful–there’s purpose in all that savagery.
  • You want to read a Metal one-shot that won’t make you wish you didn’t.

Overall

The Batman Who Laughs has been along for the ride in this very deeply entwined Metal event since the beginning–now you can finally see where he comes from! This is an origin story, but also an interesting investigation of the dual nature of good and evil, of Batman’s long-running battle to conquer the Joker without resorting to the ultimate violence. As will all the Dark Multiverse books, Batman will fail and fall, but he does so here with spectacularly cruel and vicious aplomb, you wouldn’t want to miss it! Great for ghouls and geeks alike, but definitely not for the faint-hearted.

SCORE: 8.5/10

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