WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman: The Drowned #1, by Dan Abnett and Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham, on sale now from DC Comics.
When Barbatos arrived from the Dark Multiverse with his Evil Batmen in Dark Nights: Metal #2, the bat-demon taunted Wonder Woman by booming, "You want Bruce Wayne? Look around." His introduction was followed by a chorus of "I'm right here" from the seven Dark Knights, nightmarish versions of the Caped Crusader from parallel worlds doomed to exist in the shadow of the DC Universe. However, we know neither of those statements is exactly true, as one of those sinister figures was clearly a woman. In this week's Batman: The Drowned #1, we learn why.
The answer is pretty straightforward, by superhero-comics standards, even if the character's origin isn't: Strictly speaking, she's not "Bruce Wayne," but rather Bryce Wayne, who hails from the Dark Multiverse's mirror of Earth 11, where the genders of the superhumans are reversed (as first seen in 2005 in Superman/Batman #23). For instance, in The Drowned we're introduced to the Aquawoman of that shadow world, which was undoubtedly also once home to doppelgängers more heroes -- Superwoman, Wonder Man, et al.
Yes, "once home," because this Earth-11 (that's "negative eleven") was just as cursed as the worlds of the other Dark Knights -- and Bryce Wayne just as tormented by, and obsessed with, her failings as her counterparts. In Batman: The Drowned, by writer Dan Abnett and artists Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham, it's suggested the defining trauma in Bryce's life may have not been the murders of her parents or the death of a sidekick, but instead the loss of her great love, Sylvester Kyle.
"The only world I've ever known sinks into the darkness below me forever," she says in the issue's opening narration. "As does the only love I've ever known. But Sylvester died a long time before my world did. I fought hard to cling on and keep it afloat after Sylvester's death. But it couldn't be saved." We swiftly learn Bryce isn't speaking entirely in metaphor, as Earth-11 was at first consumed by her rage-fueled vendetta and then, quite literally, by water.
It's unclear whether Bryce's "I shall become a Bat" moment came well before Sylvester was killed by "rogue metahumans," or only after. But we know the costumed vigilante sought revenge, and hunted down all of those she deemed responsible for his death. Bryce thought she'd "finally made my world safe," only for the Atlanteans, led by Aquawoman, to emerge from years of self-imposed exile.
Although she should probably be viewed as an unreliable narrator -- after all, like the other Dark Knights, she is "evil" -- this Batwoman saw through Atlantis' claims of friendship, and when peace talks collapse, Bryce waged war once more, ultimately killing Aquawoman. Instead of ending hostilities, the act led to an escalation, first in the flooding of Gotham City and then in Batwoman's own desperate act. If we required any further evidence that the Dark Knight of Earth-11 is, at her core, the same as the one we know best, we need look no further than the lengths she was willing to go to defend her world: She surgically altered herself to be able to breathe underwater, like her foes, and used "mutated hybrid DNA" to accelerate healing and give herself the ability to control water.
Even more horrific, she engineered an entire army of Dead Water, an eel-like predator/villain introduced during Abnett's run on Aquaman. Just as Bryce can spew enough water to drown Amnesty Bay, as we saw in the first look at this issue, she can ... well ... vomit these mutated aquatic troops, which can overwhelm and infect their opponents.
With her new gifts, and her new allies, Batwoman saved her world, by drowning it. Like her own surgery and mutation, it's a drastic, last-ditch solution to what Bryce viewed as an existential threat. We're left to wonder, however, whether Bryce's war against Atlantis was really an effort to protect or world, or merely an extension of her vendetta against metahumans. With the last of the of those rogue elements "hunted down," and presumably dead, she was left with no place to channel her obsession with keeping her world "safe," or to focus her rage over the death of Sylvester Kyle.
That is, until The Batman Who Laughs introduced her to the "light" of the worlds above hers -- the DC Universe that we know -- and the source of all the problems of the Dark Multiverse. Now that rage, once drowned, has been rekindled.
Batman: The Drowned #1, by Dan Abnett and Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham, is available now from DC Comics.