WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #4, by Scott Snyder, Jock, David Baron and Sal Cipriano, on sale now.
Not only is the Batman Who Laughs forcing Batman to comes to terms with the prospect of turning into a darker version of himself, but he's also been pushed to call a truce with his greatest foe.
In The Batman Who Laughs #4, the Dark Knight continues to desperately track down the Grim Knight and put a stop to the anarchy engulfing Gotham. At the same time, he needs to deal with effects of the serum he's self-administrated, and the consequences of wearing the Batman Who Laugh's special visor. As time runs out so do his options. And without spoiling the big twist about the visor, let's just say that it reveals a lot about the people whom the Caped Crusader encounters.
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At one point in the issue, Batman tests the water of the Last Laugh Resource Compound for contamination and, like clockwork, the Joker appears behind him. Batman pins the Clown Prince of Crime to the floor, and asks him if he came to gloat. It's in this tête-à-tête moment that the villain reveals the true extent of his madness.
The Joker tells Batman that the two of them will always be locked in war, and that he'll win one day and cherish the last laugh. However, he lets the Dark Knight in on a little secret: That's not what he really wants. Confused, Batman asks if the rogue wants him to win instead. He replies no, saying he's only there to wish him good luck (in stopping the Batman Who Laughs).
There and then, the Dark Knight understands the message: This is all a game to the Joker; it's the thrill of the chase. No one is meant to win, but the Clown Prince will be damned if someone else gets the last laugh over Batman. The only person who's ever allowed to beat the hero is the Joker.
The Dark Knight makes a pact with the devil, although there is a lingering question about his state of mind. If he's unable to do what's necessary and turns into the Batman Who Laughs, he entrusts the Joker to put an end to it all and finish him off. The grinning madman agrees, and the two share a sinister laugh.
The idea that the Joker and Batman are in a never-ending dance till death isn't new. It's been explored in countless stories before this one, with more likely to follow. What is interesting is how the Dark Knight manipulates that knowledge of their relationship to his advantage, leaving readers to wonder whether it's Batman or his changing self calling the shots.
Throughout the series, there's been an undertone of desperate times calling for desperate measures, and questioning if the hero will be able to make the tough choices. Well, this is definitely a crossroads moment. No one is sure which part of Bruce's psyche made the drastic decision, but he's effectively teamed up with the most unpredictable and dangerous person possible.
Somehow, though, it makes sense. The Joker's warped moral code prevents him from betraying his promise to Batman. Seeing his dance partner transform into something eviler than him makes him redundant and he knows it. His key purpose of warring with the Dark Knight for the soul of Gotham is automatically rendered moot if Batman turns to the dark side. As a showman, the Clown Prince won't settle for a smaller role in this big play called life; it's a starring part or nothing at all.
Batman is anything but conventional, but this might be his greatest masterstroke yet. He knows that no one else in the Bat-Family has the guts to pull the trigger if he becomes the Batman Who Laughs, so he's placed the loaded gun in the hands of someone who wouldn't hesitate. It's an unusual dynamic duo, but it works.