This is the penultimate chapter in the Batman Who Laughs miniseries. So far, this has been an exciting and thrilling ride, rich with horror elements, interdimensional insanity and superheroics. Although I have expressed some of my criticism about the story up until this point, I’ve mostly been praising Snyder, Jock, Baron and Cipriano’s work for drawing me into their twisted version of Gotham City, making me witness how our incorruptible hero’s heart becomes more and more tainted, dragging Bruce Wayne down into madness. This issue is the beginning of the end. The final battle starts here. So, let’s get into this review, shall we?
The first thing I want to address is the artwork by Jock and David Baron. It amazes me how consistently this creative team has been rendering the visuals, but also have been focusing on details that add to the changing atmosphere of the story as it switches from superheroics to psychological terror. For example, the very first page of issue #1 presents us with a nostalgic, happy moment in Bruce’s childhood. The setting sun has serene and romantic qualities to it. But at the same time, as the sun sets and night descends on Gotham, it is like a bad omen. Also in issue #1, the superhero scenes are more energetic and brightly colored. However, by issue #5, and continued here in issue #6, the artists have fully embraced darkness and shadows and a moody, depressing atmosphere. Looking at the art, I feel somber and dreadful, like Batman’s defeat is already hanging in the air.
Furthermore, these visual qualities are a direct reflection of the story’s themes—or at least, the themes that I personally see in the narrative—and it hammers home to me just how intricately this book is crafted. Of course, Batman is not just fighting a physical opponent in the form of BMWL, but he is also fighting himself. This isn’t merely implicit in the narrative, but it’s also right there on the surface, given that BMWL is in fact Bruce Wayne too, though from another dimension. However, the way this admittedly simple idea is executed is just solid.
Over the course of the story, our Bruce has been slowly transforming into BMWL, which isn’t only conveyed through Snyder’s narration boxes and dialogue or the way that Jock and Baron have been penciling, inking and coloring Batman’s posture, look and vibe, but also through Cipriano’s lettering. The red font in Batman’s text corresponds with how far into the transformation process he is, something which is continuously pointed out by Alfred as he warns Bruce that he only has an X amount of healthy blood cells left. Once all Bruce’s blood cells are corrupted, he has become BMWL. But Bruce isn’t just going through this process physically. At the same time BMWL keeps tormenting our hero psychologically in an attempt to prove that our Bruce isn’t good enough and should give in to his dark side and laugh—for laughter, according to BMWL, equals happiness.
What’s especially great about this story is Batman’s tenacity. Every step of the way he’s resisting BMWL’s influences. Indeed, Batman has seemed like a victim, especially when it looked like he was breaking down during last issue’s cliffhanger, when he activated the Last Laugh protocol. But, this being the OG Bruce Wayne, not all is as it seems, and even though this issue’s overall tone is poignant and demonic, a ray of hope shines through because Bruce himself has started to reassure me that everything is going to be okay. That he has a plan. An ulterior motive for activing Last Laugh, and even allowing himself to turn into BMWL. Despite his mind being plagued by madness, he is still calculating, still fighting, still Batman-ing. I won’t go into details as to what exactly he is doing, in part to avoid spoilers and also because Batman’s victory won’t be realized until issue #7. But clearly Snyder is cementing the fact that Batman is indeed incorruptible. To me, this story exists to hammer home that point, and I can’t wait to read this series’ finale.
Before I wrap this up, I shouldn’t ignore Jim Gordon, James Jr, and Grim Knight’s roles in this. Where the battle between Bruce and BMWL is a deeply personal one, it seems to me that Gordon, James Jr, and Grim Knight’s conflict exists to mirror that of Bruce and BMWL. Where BMWL doesn’t merely attack Bruce on a physical level but also a psychological level, so too does Grim Knight attack Gordon and his son in a similar way. Grim Knight cuts deep into Gordon’s principles, his fatherhood, and his sense of self. And moments before the fight against Grim Knight, for Gordon specifically, we can see his mental struggle, his self-doubt, when James Jr opens up to him, telling him he wants to work on himself and become a better person. But given James Jr’s past, Gordon can’t trust him. Not yet. It is only when Grim Knight pushes Gordon to the edge of death that Gordon’s love for his son comes out and rises over the dark. Their conflict is also a direct continuation of the Grim Knight one-shot, and while those who missed out on the one-shot and have just been reading the main miniseries will still be able to follow the story without any problems, having read the one-shot does enhance that conflict.
- Batman’s unwavering resolve inspires you.
- You enjoyed the Grim Knight one-shot and want to see a follow-up to it in the main series.
- You appreciate intricately crafted comics with a simple but clear idea and solid execution.
Overall: As a huge horror and Batman fan, this comic pushes just the right buttons for me. The more I think about this issue—the underlying themes, the visuals, the pacing and the characters—the more I’m starting to appreciate just how well this is put together. Snyder, Jock, Baron and Cipriano are all fulfilling crucial roles in the making of this comic book, and the result is a cohesive, rock-solid horror show. Highly recommended!