Batman boldly declares that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. That’s not entirely fair because if a six-foot tall bodybuilder dressed like a giant demon bat descended on you in a dark alleyway and starting doing kung fu, you’d probably wet yourself even if you weren’t a criminal. Batman’s whole gimmick is that he’s not just a master detective, he’s also legitimately scary as hell. Many writers run with this to the extreme, and as a result, you’ve got a history of Batman stories that aren’t just scary Batman, but otherworldly and terrifying.
This is where brands like Elseworlds made their mark, with the first two stories (the retroactively Elseworlds Gotham by Gaslight and the first officially branded tale Batman: Holy Terror) both being about Batman in strange and unique situations. Over his nearly 80-year existence, Batman’s had a number of revamped appearances and reboots in new media, and many of them hinge on playing up the terrifying nature of Batman’s appearance. With an army of dark Batmen debuting in the Dark Nights: Metal event, we’ve decided to dive into this long-running trope. Here are 15 of the most terrifying, chilling and horrific alternate versions of DC’s Dark Knight Detective.
15. THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS
Good lord. The Multiverse’s evil incarnations of Batman are something to anticipate, but The Batman Who Laughs might just be the scariest. With a black leather cloak and spiked visor that obscures his eyes, this Jokerriffic Batman looks like he’d be just as happy running around in an issue of Berserk as he would in Scott Snyder’s current DC event.
Dark Nights: Metal is already the greatest, craziest thing, with the return of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Red Tornado and using Nth Metal as an explanation for metahuman abilities. But this twisted Batman, with his dominatrix gear and grotesque Joker grin, would genuinely keep people awake at night. The Dark Multiverse isn’t going to be a pleasant place in the slightest if The Batman Who Laughs is any indication. The only question left is if he’s The Joker… or a dark Bruce Wayne?
14. RED RAIN
One of the strangest things to be popular in the ‘90s was a Batman & Dracula trilogy. Calling it as such is something of a misnomer, as Dracula only appears in the first instalment, 1991’s classic Red Rain. Throughout the trilogy, Batman slowly evolves, first becoming a vampire who ultimately preys on the criminals of Gotham’s underworld before facing the dilemma of having no more criminals to feed on.
By the finale, Crimson Mist, Batman’s terrifying visage is purely otherworldly. Made of rotting flesh and protruding fangs, the vampire Batman is truly monstrous as he slinks through Gotham, killing all in his path. By story’s end, this Batman took his own life, but an alternate take did appear during the Countdown: The Search for Ray Palmer series of one-shots, where Batman turned Dick Grayson, and a vamped out Batman and Robin patrolled the skies of Gotham.
13. KNIGHTFALL & BEYOND
Why doesn’t Batman just kill the same villains he deals with on a nightly basis? This argument has been the basis for a number of comic book stories, including the popular Injustice franchise, but perhaps was its most successful during Knightfall. With his back broken by new villain Bane, Bruce Wayne went in search of Jack Drake and Shondra Kinsolving, but not before he passed on the mantle of the bat to Jean-Paul Valley.
Jean-Paul had been introduced earlier as Azrael. Though he was determined to live up to Bruce’s standard, he soon fell back into the pitfalls of a brainwashed assassin named Azrael. He redesigned his costume to be way over the top, with body armor and nasty talons, later implementing guns and flamethrowers. Azrael’s Batman was a classic with fans and a remarkable story, so much so that the suit recently resurfaced in Detective Comics, but it was an unmistakably chilling and violent Dark Knight.
12. SON OF THE BAT
First debuting in Batman #666 and hailing from a possible future that may never be, Damian Wayne’s naturally terrifying childhood manifested into a terrifying Batman as well. With an origin story relayed in the Andy Kubert miniseries Damian: Son of Batman, a trap set by The Joker kills Dick Grayson and sends Damian spiraling into despair, only exacerbated by him accidentally stabbing Bruce in the heart.
Damian donned a pretty sweet long coat and cowl outfit, adding spiked scallops and knuckles to the costume’s gloves and going on a killing spree throughout Gotham, executing any criminal who had the audacity to claim responsibility for Batman’s death. The character showed up a few times, and at one point was implied to have made a pact with The Devil for immortal life.
11. VISION OF A DARKER KNIGHT
Whether or not Batman Begins has aged well is mostly up to personal preference, but it’s still an enjoyable movie. A crime drama at heart with a flurry of super heroics sprinkled in, the Nolan-helmed movie revitalized a franchise that was long thought dead after Batman & Robin, and the strength of that revival is still being felt today.
Notable in the film was the first big screen portrayal of Scarecrow, complete with a terrifying mask and his trademark fear gas. But it was when Batman dosed Scarecrow with his own fear toxin that we got perhaps the most terrifying Batman on screen to date, seemingly made of a fleshy, oily substance with pointed teeth and a black fluid dripping from his lips, Crane’s hallucination cemented Batman Begins as something squarely not for younger viewers.
10. JASON TODD
Who would win the Battle for the Cowl? Fans were clamoring to know, even though the cover showed Nightwing holding it so, uh, spoilers? In all seriousness, this era of Batman comics had a ton of potential and paid off in spades. While Dick initially refused to take on Batman’s mantle, this led to Tim donning the classic early ’90s outfit while Jason Todd went his own route.
Jason outfitted his own cowl with a terrifying new face mask and eyes that lit up red, as well as a cape that was more jagged and stylized. The suit also is comprised of more armor than Bruce’s, and capped with two semi-automatic pistols, the weapon of choice for Todd since he assumed the identity of Red Hood. This naturally brought him into conflict with Dick, Tim and Damian, leading to a Batman showdown that ended with Dick assuming the mantle of Batman.
9. THE MIDNIGHTER
Maybe featuring The Midnighter is a bit of a cheat. Maybe he shouldn’t be on this list. You tell him that. Undeniably a Batman pastiche (and paired with a Superman pastiche in his lover/husband Apollo), Midnighter is the violent, enhanced, tactical genius member of Wildstorm’s Stormwatch & The Authority, and later a member of the New 52 spy organization Spyral.
Midnighter is terrifying on his own, a man built like a brick house and dressed in head-to-toe black leather. He is also one of the best fighters on the planet. With enhancements thanks to bioengineering, he’s also so fast he can move before you even think about it, allowing him to win any fight before it even starts. Hell, he literally just survived a fist fight with the devil in 2016’s Midnighter & Apollo miniseries. Midnighter’s nowhere to be seen right now, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s cracking skulls again.
8. THE BRUCE
The 1998 hidden gem I, Joker is an Elseworlds tale like no other. It’s a strange story, told from the POV of The Joker. Or at least, someone who thinks he’s The Joker. The story is set during something called The Night of Blood, overseen by The Bruce. The Bruce is a man who presents himself as a God, kept young and vital by medical treatments.
Every year, during the Night of Blood, Gotham citizens fight for the right to defeat The Bruce and replace him as The Batman. To get to him, they must fight several surgically modified, brainwashed individuals made to look like Batman’s old rogues. The Bruce typically captures his own enemies and turns them into these rogues, sacrificing them in a terrifying display of carnage to cement his own rule over Gotham City.
7. THE BAT-MAN
An eerie, gothic horror story based on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, Castle of the Bat features Batman as yet another classic movie monster. On a snowy night, Thomas Wayne is killed by a mugger. Years later, his son Dr. Bruce Wayne attempts to revive his father in a patchwork body, infusing it with the electrical essence of a bat. But what he gets is a monster.
The Bat-Man of this tale is literally part bat, thanks to Bruce’s efforts to resurrect the body. The hulking, monstrous figure has its scars hidden with a costume resembling that of the traditional Batman uniform, but its metamorphosis continues to the point that it becomes a creature that even looks like a bat. The horrifying transformation is one of the more obscure Batman stories, but definitely a gorgeous and notable one.
6. ETRIGAN, THE BAT-DEMON
Every night, Bruce Wayne is locked into his bedroom. He suffers from horrific nightmares of murder and violence, nightmares which have plagued him since he witnessed the death of his parents. But soon Bruce learns that he’s not locked in for fear that he’ll sleep walk, it’s to try to mitigate the damage he causes when he sleeps, for Bruce Wayne shares his body with a demon.
The Bat-Demon Etrigan is a bizarre hybrid of Bruce and Etrigan’s classic designs, with orange speckled skin and spikes across his forearms, as well as a flowing, scalloped cape. He’s also patently insane, tearing through the streets of Gotham. Batman/Demon: A Tragedy lives up to its name, ending on a hell of a downer, but at least it features some gorgeous surreal art by Jim Murray.
During 2008’s Countdown to Adventure miniseries, we briefly meet Earth-10’s JLA while Forerunner explored the Multiverse at Monarch’s behest. The byproduct of a world where the Allies lost World War II, the JLAxis were incredibly violent, acting on the behalf of the remaining Nazi regime. Among those members was Leatherwing, a Batman with a Nazi allegiance.
In terms of appearance, he looks identical to our Batman, though he bears a bright red swastika in the center of his logo, and later with altered gauntlet scallops and goggles. He also has a hell of a mean streak, attempting to seduce Forerunner after witnessing her in combat, stating that he finds a woman who can break that many bones incredibly attractive. Forerunner wisely shoots him down, but the notion of an Axis regime-aligned Batman is certainly terrifying.
4. THE TYRANT
Hailing from the era of Elseworlds tales as annuals, Shadow of the Bat featured a tyrannical Batman in a story aptly titled “The Tyrant.” This Batman is a touch more ruthless and has fewer qualms about justifying his means, which includes teaming up with a scientist, Dr. Jonathan Crane, who had not become Scarecrow in this reality.
“The Tyrant” sees the young Anarky leading a resistance against Batman, who unmasks himself as Bruce Wayne and publicly leads the city. But things fall apart when it’s revealed that Batman has proven willing to poison the water supply of Gotham with a tranquilizer, making Gotham’s citizens sedate and crime easier to stop. It takes an incredibly unscrupulous person, even by Batman’s standard, to willingly poison an entire city, making “The Tyrant” an example of a chilling Batman in the non-traditional sense.
It’s hard to argue that Owlman isn’t terrifying. After all, he is literally an evil Batman, and even a Batman with a moral compass is scary. Hailing from an antimatter universe, this Owlman is Thomas Wayne Jr., who saw his brother and mother killed by a police officer (which was retconned in The New 52 to his family being murdered by Alfred Pennyworth).
Owlman is every bit as capable as Batman, but with no sense of justice. A meticulous planner and master combatant, he wrangled control of Gotham’s crime families during the event Forever Evil, but still managed to be one of the few to escape the day. Owlman would appear again during the Darkseid War event but would vanish in a flash of light when he attempted to use Metron’s Moebius Chair.
2. THE BATMAN OF EARTH-51
A Death in the Family was a turning point for the Batman titles. After a fan vote resulted in the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, Batman slunk into a period of depression and the books began to skew toward a darker tone. But still, Batman refused to take revenge for his dead sidekick, though on another Earth he was unable to fight his anger or slake his thirst for vengeance.
On Earth-51, as seen in 2007’s weekly event Countdown to Final Crisis, this Batman lashed out and began executing his villains, starting with The Joker after he killed Jason. He was able to succeed, and did so in secret, creating a peaceful world where heroes have no secret identities. Though his world fell, it’s a testament to just how terrifyingly capable Batman can be when he’s not held back by his own moral code.
1. THE ORIGINAL DARK KNIGHT
Sometimes the original is still the best. Since his debut in Detective Comics #27 and through countless revamps, Batman has remained reliant on his remarkable ability to inspire fear. Sure, it may have been downplayed for a long while in the past, thanks to low sales numbers and the popularity of Adam West’s Batman television series, but time and time again Batman goes back to what he does best: scaring the crap out of criminals.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Batman, in all honesty, doesn’t resemble a bat at all. With his pointy ears, scalloped cape and dull colors (typically shades of gray or black, but occasionally blue and gray), he’s clearly more of a theatrical representation than an actual bat. But it’s worked for years, allowing Batman to gain the edge on countless thugs and villains as he’s stalked the streets of Gotham at night.
Which version of Batman scares you the most? Let us know in the comments!
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