The Batman Who Laughs, arguably one of the scariest new additions to Batman’s rogues gallery, has returned to Gotham City, and the mystery continues this month in issue #2. Those who have read my review of issue #1 know that I absolutely loved that one as it offered a fun mix of super-heroics, body horror and psychological horror. This issue picks up where the first one left off, and while I consider issue #1 to be quite a home-run, the question is whether or not Scott Snyder and Jock manage to keep the quality consistent with their opening chapter? Well, my fellow comic fans, let’s step back into the shadowy world of Gotham City and have a look at this month’s episode of The Batman Who Laughs!
There definitely are things in this book that I like, but before I get to the fun stuff, there’s some criticism that I need to get out of the way first. My first point of critique is not a small one, either, because it concerns Alfred Pennyworth’s actions in the opening pages of the book. What we are presented with is an Alfred who is performing open heart surgery on the Joker in the Batcave, and whereas I’m certainly not a doctor, there are problems that I have with this from a literary standpoint.
First of all, while it’s true that Alfred has some medical skills and that he has been tending to Bruce’s wounds over the many years that they have been on this crime-fighting journey, there is a big difference between being able to set a broken bone or stitch a cut and performing open heart surgery all by yourself in a dirty cave. Now, comics and realism don’t always have to go hand-in-hand, but attributing the ability to single-handedly perform open heart surgery to a character that should not be capable of this is just too far. It takes a specialist to pull off this feat, someone who has the right kind of experience, knowledge and training. Alfred simply does not have that. Moreover, the cave is not a sterile environment. While it’s entirely possible that Alfred doesn’t care about sterility because it’s the Joker, and Alfred and Bruce are also running out of time and need to act fast, it just makes me wonder why Alfred is attempting this at all, which leads to my second point.
This is the Joker. A man who once cut off Alfred’s hand. A man who has been making Alfred’s life and that of countless innocent Gothamites a living hell for years. What is the reason that Alfred doesn’t just straight-up refuse to save the Joker’s life? In my opinion it doesn’t make sense that Alfred would readily attempt to save one of the most terrible super-villains Gotham has ever seen. At least not without an argument. As such, we skip over any potential character drama between Bruce and Alfred here, and I consider this a missed opportunity. And this, in turn, leads me to my third and final point about this problematic opening scene.
With all due respect, to me it seems like Alfred is just being used as a plot device here. Because I fundamentally disagree with the notion that Alfred is capable of open heart surgery and because no time is spend examining Alfred’s own objections or personal feelings in this, it really looks like the creative team is attributing these abilities to the character only because this is convenient for the plot. For these reasons I don’t think Alfred is handled well in this comic and it’s hard for me to take the opening pages seriously—never mind Bruce injecting himself with all Joker toxin antidotes that he has available. The difference between Alfred and Bruce is, however, that Bruce is starting to become unhinged because he got exposed to the toxin that was in Joker’s heart at the end of #1, so seeing him resorting to such over-the-top, extreme measures adds a bit of larger-than-life action to the story and I can live with that. Alfred, however, should still be in his right mind, which does not at all help to explain his actions.
Having said that, the comic is also heavy on exposition. None of it is badly written per say, but I do wonder if any truly valuable information would be lost if the exposition throughout was cut down by, say, 50 percent. An example is when Batman explains to Jim Gordon that he has created a security system in case a disease breaks out in Gotham. That’s all well and good, but before Batman gets to the point, he sneaks in a history lesson about how certain families of Gotham in 1780 first came up with a system that Batman ultimately based his on. Furthermore, the conversation between Batman and BMWL is also very heavy on exposition, and while some of it is certainly relevant information and most of it is entertaining to read, I do once again think that less words would have benefited the comic, because it slows down the pacing significantly. Especially for a book in which everything becomes a race against the clock.
But what the book does really well—and this is also perhaps its biggest strength—is how it depicts Batman’s degrading mental state. Over the course of the story we see Bruce slowly losing his sanity as the Joker toxin continues to spread through his body. In other words, Batman has been compromised. We see him beginning to make mistakes, such as almost letting slip that Bruce Wayne is Batman to the wrong person, or snapping to someone instead of remaining calm, or threatening to kill, which, of course, goes against his code. This means that Batman is not the one in control in this story and he has to combat BMWL while also working incredibly hard not to lose his mind. All the odds are stacked against him in this comic, which helps to build up suspense as well as a physical and mental struggle for Batman to overcome.
The artwork by Jock is pretty solid this month, although it looks rather static throughout. Even during fight scenes some of the dynamism is lost because the fight is broken up in panels that appear completely separate from one another, like a collage rather than a flowing sequential fight scene. That said, Jock’s BMWL is properly menacing what with his dark outfit and permanent, psychopath grin, and a nice visual parallel is drawn between BMWL and Bruce as the latter slowly loses his mind over the course of the story. We see Bruce’s eyes starting to bulge out of their sockets, gaining a bit of a reddish hue to them, and especially Bruce’s body language helps to convey his increasingly erratic mental state to the audience. Lastly, I really appreciate the way that Jock draws character interactions. All characters seem to move in their own unique ways and their facial expressions match Snyder’s words very well, which makes for a nice, coherent aesthetic. I just wish that we could have gotten more intimate horror passages, because I still think that this is where Jock shines the most.
- You want to see Batman and BMWL duking it out
- You want to see Alfred creating a bloody mess in the cave
- You’re a fan of Batman: The Black Mirror
Overall: This comic opens with a problematic scene where the creative team has Alfred perform open heart surgery on the Joker in the Batcave. Failing to see the reason why Alfred would even attempt to save the Joker’s life in this way and—more importantly—failing to see how Alfred would even be capable of performing open heart surgery, it’s safe say to say that I just don’t think the opening pages work. The comic is also rather heavy on exposition which slows down the overall reading experience. However, Batman’s biggest obstacle is his own infected body, which creates suspense and just has me wondering how he’s going to overcome this, and I’m looking forward to the next installment all the same!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.