WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall #1, by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Javier Fernandez, Alex Guimaraes and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
The debate of a hero, or people in general, reaching a breaking point has been stirred up once more in comics thanks to the Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall one-shot. In this alternate reality, Azrael defeated Batman and took over his mantle, becoming Saint Batman in the process and ruling Gotham for three decades with an iron fist.
However, at the end of this period, Bruce Wayne, alive but in pieces, was rescued by Lady Shiva and Bane's son, Tourne, only to turn on them after taking out Azrael. 30 years of stewing had finally broken him mentally and so, the Bat turned into a killer, slaughtering his rescuers and taking over Azrael's throne to rule the city. But while there's a moral issue at hand regarding Bruce following in Azrael's dictatorial footsteps, one truth stands out: the Joker really was right all along when it came to his philosophy of the Dark Knight eventually cracking under the weight of the city.
In so many iterations, we've seen Joker preach how the Bat -- and all of Joker's enemies -- are just one bad day away from breaking. All Batman needs, thinks Joker, is that push, and once he breaks his one rule and kills, the floodgates will be opened. We saw it in The Killing Joke, Heath Ledger preached it in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and now, Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck is spreading the same message in Todd Phillips' Joker, albeit speaking about people in general reaching a tipping point before their rage boils over.
In this Dark Multiverse tale, there's no Joker but you can see how his message has sunk its teeth into Batman's skin, wallowing and soaking for years. Bruce has been maimed and his dismembered body kept alive by robotics in Azrael's tower; and all this time, it appeared as if he was holding out hope and plotting a course to justice. When Tourne and Shiva outfitted him with nanotech and he killed Azrael's henchmen, Cardinal and Torchbearer, the warning signs that he was going off the hinges became alarm bells.
When Azrael fell and Bruce murdered his allies in cold blood, it became obvious -- he was lost to the darkness. Killing with a demented smile on his face, wide-eyed and holding no regrets, you could see the Joker manifesting under the cowl. In this case, it wasn't a bad day, but a bad 30 years with the Joker's presence not even remotely part of the corruption. That's intriguing, but again, it plays into the fact that not just the Caped Crusader, but anyone will break if they absorb enough pressure and endure torture for so long. No gas needed, no brainwashing required.
All the Clown Prince of Crime needed was time, something we even saw in Sean Gordon Murphy's Batman: White Knight. But there, Bruce could still walk back to the light and redeem himself. This scary spin on Knightfall has no such second chance, however, as it's all about Batman deciding how chaos should truly be treated: with pure force and swift retribution. In other words, he has to become the very thing he hated.
It's a tough pill to swallow, but Azrael does act as the Joker and emerge victorious at the end. He may have been crucified by this "Batman the Broken," who's now policing Gotham, but while the battle's been lost, the war has been won, with the Bat becoming an uninhibited killer. Bruce didn't die a hero, he lived long enough to see himself become the villain; in so doing, Azrael followed through on Joker's doctrine -- the monster was there beneath the surface all along, all it needed was a little nudge to awaken it. It may have taken longer in "Batman Years" but it happened, just as the clown predicted it would, and even though it wasn't by his hand, we're sure Mistah J would be proud of the Bat's descent into madness.