All right, fellow comic fans, I hope you’re ready for this, because Snyder and Jock have really done it this time! Those who’ve read my reviews on issue #1 and #2 know that I’ve been enjoying the show so far—issue #1 in particular because it offers such a great mix of psychological horror and body horror. This third issue in the series—which marks the halfway point—continues that trend, although there’s plenty of room for superhero action as well. However, what I expect to be of particular interest to long-time Batman readers is that this story can be read as a kind of sequel to Snyder, Jock and Francavilla’s Batman: The Black Mirror from 2011. Besides that, there’s a lot more to get excited about, so let’s wrap up this little introduction and have a look.

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So far, each issue of this miniseries has opened with Bruce’s inner monologue, and every time the notion of happiness has been discussed. In a story as dark as this one, I wonder exactly how a theme of happiness fits in. In issue #1, for example, the opening monologue is about Bruce’s happiest memory: his younger self, his parents and Alfred right outside Wayne Manor, playing and “laughing like lunatics.”

Issue #2 opens with Alfred performing open heart surgery on Joker in the Batcave, and the monologue that runs through the scene is about the heart as the location where happiness lives. So far we can see a connection: in issue #1 the notion of happiness is linked to “laughing like lunatics” and in issue #2 it’s linked to the toxin inside Joker’s heart. These two sequences, to me, more or less provide a glimpse of where the story might be going: namely Bruce’s transformation into a kind of BMWL. None of this is particularly ambiguous or vague to me, but it’s certainly unnerving. Especially after reading the opening page of issue #3.

We see a young Bruce Wayne who has just fallen into the hole outside Wayne Manor. Jock creates a moody and foreboding atmosphere. All the panel borders are pitch-dark, and we see many bats flying through this darkness. The panels themselves are dimly lit as sunlight trickles into the hole, illuminating Bruce’s face. We can see the fear in the boy’s wide eyes. He appears unfocused, perhaps scared of whatever monsters he imagines living down there besides the bats. But what makes the opening sequence truly scary to me are the black shadows on the rocky walls: it’s almost like these are shadow creatures encircling Bruce, forming obstacles between the darkness of the cave and the light of the sun. This sense of claustrophobia echoes throughout the rest of the comic: where the bats and shadows terrify Bruce in the hole in the ground; it’s the shadow aspects of his own psyche—manifesting as BMWL and Grim Knight—that haunt him as Batman.

So how does this theme of happiness relate to what we see on the opening page, and the events that occur throughout the rest of the comic? On page one, we see Bruce’s father appearing above him, and Jock illustrates Thomas as but a silhouette against the sunlight (which could be interpreted as another shadowy aspect that has been haunting Bruce all this time). Snyder writes about how Thomas Wayne believes that envisioning good things coming is an important factor in happiness and achieving goals. Thomas calls for Bruce to envision a rope so he can climb out of the hole, and Snyder continues to write the following: “I make [the plans] real…one, then the next. So often I’ve forgotten what it’s like to reach for one and grasp nothing…or worse…reach and find something entirely else.” These are important words because not only do they set up this issue’s ending (indeed, issue #3 goes full circle in the end and in doing so it forms a solid conclusion to the first half of the series—more on this below in spoiler tags), I think those words also speak to a possible character flaw of Batman. To what extent does being prepared for everything have a negative impact on Batman’s psyche? I guess you could say his mind is one of his superpowers—but could it also be his blind spot? I won’t claim to know what Snyder’s true intentions are, because I don’t know. But I appreciate that these themes add more depth to this horror story, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these themes will be fleshed out.

Moving on, like I said in my introduction, this story also has a connection to The Black Mirror. James Gordon Jr shows up in the book and it seems like the character has a larger role to play in the second half of the story. There are a couple things going on in James’s introduction scene that I’d like to comment on. First, James Jr tells his father about how he feels shame, guilt and remorse for his past. The way the scene plays out almost convinces me that James Jr is really doing better and perhaps no longer the psychopath that he’s known to be. Except, later on in the comic, he tells Batman that he used to practice sounding sincere and faking emotions, which calls into question the character’s introduction scene. Is James Jr really what he seems, or is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Whether this is truly Snyder’s intention or not, this suspicious detail does add to the suspense and excitement as it makes me wonder exactly what James Jr’s role is going to be. In fact, with everything that’s happened in the story so far taken into account, it’s hard for me to predict where all of this is going at all, and in this case, that’s a good thing.

However, there is also something about James Jr’s introduction that bothers me. Now, before I go into that, I want to say that this is not a deal-breaker for me, but it does seem like an odd narrative choice—or maybe that’s just me. I’m talking about Jim Gordon’s disposition toward his son. While it makes perfect sense that he approaches his son with caution, I’m surprised that he just lets Batman lash out at his son and thereby completely disrespecting him. Whereas James Jr used to be a true villain and Gordon certainly hasn’t been forgiving toward him (for good reasons), the commissioner has also been a good man who wants to protect his family—and his city—as much as he can. Even in James Jr’s introduction here, Gordon seems to be willing to give his son the benefit of the doubt. He attempts to calm Batman down somewhat, but I don’t really see why he won’t actually tell Batman to stop being such a jerk. Of course this probably won’t work because Batman hasn’t exactly been himself as of late, but in my opinion this should be a matter of principle for Gordon: people should treat his family with respect.

That said, I have one more complaint and this has to do with a rather confusing sequence of panels. We see Batman and Grim Knight facing each other. Batman aims his grapple hook at Grim Knight, while Grim Knight has his rifle trained on Batman. It gets confusing when Batman fires his grapple hook. The hook latches onto a train that drives by on a bridge above Grim Knight. In the following panel we see the cord of the grapple gun wrapping around Grim Knight’s ankle before he’s swept up and carried away. But I don’t really understand what happens here. If Batman shoots his grapple hook past Grim Knight’s head, at an object above Grim Knight, then how does the cord wrap around Grim Knight’s ankle? It doesn’t really add up; it’s almost as if a few panels are missing to fill in this gap.

But aside from those complaints, I love this issue. Batman’s descend into madness continues, and the pacing is really well done. Back in #1, Batman was pretty much himself and only got infected with the Joker toxin at the end. In #2 he was acting more angry than usual, showing signs of desperation, losing focus. And this issue pretty much seals the deal. Of course this transition is well structured and planned out by Snyder, but it’s Jock and David Baron who interpret Snyder’s script and translate the writer’s ideas into visuals. Back in the first issue, Batman walked and fought and jumped around with full confidence, but as the story continues, his posture changes. Jock renders a Batman who’s hunched over and shiftily looks around for any signs of danger like a madman. Batman also lashes out at people and punches objects when it’s totally uncalled for. Baron colors Batman’s eyes red and makes his skin lighter, resembling Joker’s skin. In other words, we see Batman change from the hero we all know and love into a monster from the shadows, which ultimately manifests itself on the final page of the book. I’ll comment on this final page below, but I’ll wrap it up in spoiler tags in case you haven’t read the comic yet.

Spoiler
The book ends with Alfred trying to gain access to the Batcave, but Bruce has disabled the grandfather clock through which they normally enter the cave. Alfred walks to the hole in the ground outside, which is now covered by a metal hatch, and he is able to open it. Perhaps Bruce didn’t think to block this entrance as well, which is entirely possible because he has pretty much lost his mind at this point. Alfred enters the cave and sees Bruce working on a new mask, which is essentially a copy of BMWL’s mask. Alfred tries to stop Bruce, telling him that Batman will work in the end, but Bruce simply tells his butler that plans change. No longer is Bruce a hunched-over, desperate madman, but Jock and Baron’s visuals show that he has given in to the darkness within him. Though he hasn’t completely transformed into another BMWL yet, this certainly marks the beginning of the end.

This is also where the issue comes full circle. Where Thomas found a young Bruce in the hole at the beginning, telling him how to raise himself out of the darkness and back into the light, we see a complete opposite of that on the final page. There is no more light here. There is only darkness. And where the opening monologue speaks of plans and of envisioning good things to come, the final page speaks of how plans can change. It’s a powerful note to end the first half of the series on, and I’m almost anxious to see what happens next.

Recommended if…

  • You like Batman: The Black Mirror
  • You are into psychological horror
  • You are a fan of James Gordon Jr

Overall: The Batman Who Laughs #3 is a well-written and well-drawn comic book. The theme introduced on page one comes full circle in the end, and thereby concludes the first half of the story. The cliffhanger also makes me clueless as to how the conflict will be resolved in the end, which has me eager to find out. The artwork is also great: Jock and Baron establish a foreboding and moody atmosphere and especially the way they render Batman’s body language adds depth to Snyder’s script, as it shows how Batman continues to descend into madness. Honestly, I recommend that you pick this one up because this is a comic that you don’t want to miss. Enjoy!

Score: 9/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.

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