This is it—the conclusion of the 7-part The Batman Who Laughs miniseries. Snyder, Jock, Baron and Cipriano have been crafting a dark horror story that, despite a few missteps along the way, has been scary and a lot of fun: every issue has been a page turner. When the news came out that DC Comics was adding this seventh issue to give the creative team more time and space to wrap up their story properly, I was excited, but also a little bit skeptical as I wondered how predictable the ending would be, even with a seventh issue added. After all, there’s been a trend in Snyder’s Batman work where most of his stories end up being about a massive threat to the city, jeopardizing the lives of pretty much all of Gotham’s citizens, making you wonder why anybody even lives in the city anymore. So far, The Batman Who Laughs has mostly been a claustrophobic body horror story, but what about the ending? Well, let’s have a look.
First of all, this final issue is all about getting to the end. There are no more stops along the way in the form of flashback sequences or deep explorations of characters’ psyches. Seeing as this is the story’s conclusion, I think that this is a good thing, because now the focus is on the ending itself and not cluttered up by unnecessary sidesteps. However, it’s not smooth sailing all the way throughout, as the story does end up being somewhat convoluted. For example, while the young Bruce Wayne definitely serves a purpose when Batman pulls him to regular-continuity Gotham City and Snyder thematically ties this moment to the opening narration on page one of the first issue, the young Bruce’s inclusion feels anticlimactic to me because I don’t think it really goes anywhere. Moreover, the Batman Who Laughs monologues about his exact plans for Gotham City, and while it’s a classic move to have a villain do their monologue at the end, I do wish that BMWL’s motivation was made more clear throughout the entire story. Granted, Snyder has indeed spent time establishing who this demonic version of Batman is, but I think the character could have been fleshed out more, because, as it stands, he seems rather one-dimensional to me, which brings me to my next point of criticism about the story’s ending.
So BMWL’s entire plan is to turn every single citizen of Gotham into twisted nightmare versions of themselves. In that sense, Snyder is indeed falling back on the same pattern that has been running through his Batman work. While a big and bold scenario works for certain stories, I don’t think it works for this series in particular. See, this story, up to this point, has for the most part been a very intimate, nightmarish body horror story. I admire how the creative team has been able to enter Bruce’s mind and show us how he descends into madness from issue to issue. I feel that, by expanding the scope to encompass the entirety of Gotham City, the story loses some of its nuances, personal touches and claustrophobic elements—the building blocks of this book, as it were. Now, I’m not saying that the story completely falls apart because of this, because there’s still plenty to enjoy in this issue, but I do think that this kind of ending doesn’t align properly with all the build-up that has come before this. It seems to me that several of Snyder’s Batman endings are the same in essence, just dressed up differently with different villains and settings. Therefore the ending of BMWL becomes predictable in the sense that we have seen the entirety of Gotham being threatened numerous times already, whereas the story up until now has been anything but predictable. In short, the book’s tone becomes inconsistent toward the end of the story.
But, that said, this is still a pretty good issue. I like how all the main characters are thematically connected to each other. For example, BMWL is working hard to turn Batman into a monster, which is mirrored by Grim Knight’s attempts at making James Jr revert to his psychopathic ways. At the same time, there’s an interesting difference between Batman and James Jr, which is that Batman is still trying to hold onto his sanity but seems to be losing it, while James Jr comes from a place of darkness and is trying to turn his life around. Furthermore, James Jr’s ending is great as it’s a direct follow-up to The Black Mirror and makes the themes from that book blend with the themes in this book, all of it coming full circle in a satisfying way. Snyder has truly made me care about James Jr, and I’m glad that James Jr has some actual character growth, especially in a comic book universe where many characters tend to remain static due to the corporate nature of shared continuity.
There is also a great moment in the book where BMWL tells Alfred how he killed Alfred’s Dark Multiverse counterpart. Whether the stuff that BMWL tells Alfred is true or not, this is a return to the more claustrophobic, psychological horror stuff that we saw in the previous issues. While I won’t go into specifics, the sheer idea that Alfred would try to kill Bruce and then end up getting tricked and killed by Bruce highlights just how twisted BMWL and the dimension that he comes from are, and, simultaneously, illustrates how much Alfred loves Bruce and what he’s willing to do to protect him.
What works less well is Batman’s explanation of how he knew that Joker had rigged the toxin in his heart and thereby has given Batman more time to defeat BMWL before the toxin would completely take over Batman. Snyder has Batman talking about a phrase uttered by Joker in an earlier issue, “You’re breaking my heart,” which, apparently, goes all the way back to ancient times. The entire explanation that follows is pretty farfetched and I’m not buying it. However, I do like how Alfred disagrees with the farfetched notion and just tells Bruce that he won because he’s Batman, and that’s that.
Before I wrap up, let’s turn to the artwork by Jock and David Baron. As I’ve come to expect from this art team, the art is top notch. Take for example the first page of the book, where we see a beautifully sequential passage of Batman sliding into madness. Over the course of four panels, Batman starts smiling maniacally, and I love the detail of his pupil shrinking and growing from panel to panel. It’s a great choice to start off with an almost upside down panel, and to have the panels in the sequence tilt until the fourth connects with a fifth panel depicting Batman lying on the ground with BMWL towering over. This way, the first page hammers home to us that Batman is now crazier than ever, and thereby sets the tone and foreshadows the ending of the story. Throughout the book, there’s plenty of horrific eye candy too. For example, there are numerous images of BMWL rendered as a true demon with large bat wings and a mouthful of sharp teeth.
However, there does seem to be a continuity error: about halfway through the issue, we first see BMWL holding a large chain with a batarang attached to it, but then a couple panels later he’s suddenly holding an assault rifle. It’s unclear where he got the rifle from, so it looks like it just magically appeared in his hand. This is a strange oversight in an otherwise near-perfect collection of horror visuals.
- You have been reading The Batman Who Laughs from issue #1.
- You’re a big fan of Batman: The Black Mirror, because this story makes James Jr’s arc, which started in Black Mirror, come full circle.
- You need more amazing horror art from Jock and Baron in your collection.
Overall: This is an okay conclusion to an otherwise fantastic series. I dislike that the book, in the end, falls back to the same old pattern of having the entirety of Gotham City be threatened by the super-villain of the week, especially because the awesome body horror and claustrophobic elements, which gave this book its character and voice, get lost somewhat. Other than that, each character’s individual arc is resolved in a satisfying way, except for BMWL’s, who is merely taken off the playing field for a while until he can come back in the upcoming Batman/Superman series. Yet, despite all my criticism, it’s definitely an entertaining book and if you’ve been reading the miniseries from the start, I recommend that you pick this up to complete the set and to marvel at the beautiful art.