WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Mother Panic/Batman Special #1, part 2 of the Milk Wars crossover by Jody Houser, Ty Templeton, Keiren Smith, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew, in stores now.
The Young Animal/DC Universe crossover has already proven to be something quite different from what readers usually expect from a comic book event. The first issue of the so-called "Milk Wars" saw the Doom Patrol and the Justice League of America (sans Batman) clash, but when the two teams met, the tone was much more Young Animal than it was traditional DCU. Both super-teams had no choice but to fight when the JLA fell victim to an evil inter-dimensional organization known as Retconn, which is using its enforcer Milkman Man and a special brand of reality-warping milk to homogenize every person in the world. In the end, the JLA reverted back to normal, and the two teams are now teaming-up to save all of reality.
The team-up continues in the Mother Panic/Batman Special #1, where we see why Batman wasn't with the rest of the JLA in the first chapter of the story. In the one-shot, we meet a new Batman, an alternate version of the Dark Knight who might be even more frightening than anything we've seen in DC's other current event series, Dark Nights: Metal.
In Metal, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have introduced the concept of the Dark Multiverse, which is comprised of many alternate Earths that are effectively nightmare realities. Every one of these Earths house an alternate version of Batman, each more frightening than the last. There's the Red Death, a Bruce Wayne who uses the Speed Force as his murderous weapon; the Dawnbreaker, a Batman who's will and rage are so strong that he harnesses the forces of the Dark as well as a Green Lantern ring; and a maniacal Jokerized-version called The Batman Who Laughs, among others. And yet, none of these evil Dark Knights actually come close to the alternate Batman we see in the Mother Panic/Batman Special #1.
While this is the DC Universe's own Batman, he's been transformed into alternate version of himself because he's under the effects of Retconn's warping milk. This Batman still has the cape and cowl of a bat, but his uniform reflects a preacher's suit. He is the head of a private establishment, a shelter for children that doubles as a boarding school as well as a church. When Mother Panic finds herself inside this church, she sees the aptly-named Father Bruce deliver a sermon, revealing this version of Batman is a Bible-quoting cult leader. His flock consists of orphaned children, and he uses the milk to re-write the young boys and girls into his own army of brainwashed, shotgun-toting sidekicks.
This Father Bruce, this alternate version of Batman rivals the horrors of the Dark Knights from Metal, not because he is a cruel Justice League-inspired version of the character. Rather, he's so frightening because the story takes the elements of Batman we're all familiar with and twists them into something truly terrifying, something that is based in the real world. Too many times we've been faced with stories of religious leaders who have abused their power and position, torturing members of their congregation for personal amusement and gain. To see that all too real horror grafted onto a character we've come to recognize as a protector and kids identify as a true hero, well -- that's as scary as it gets.