SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #1 by Scott Snyder, Jock, David Baron and Sal Cipriano, on sale now.
One of the few characters to survive the incursion of the Dark Multiverse in Dark Nights: Metal was the Joker-ized incarnation of Batman known as The Batman Who Laughs. That series' most popular Dark Knight now makes a proper return in Scott Snyder and Jock's self-titled The Batman Who Laughs #1. But this dark version of Batman isn't the only one from the Dark Multiverse to survive. In fact, at least two other previously unseen iterations of Batman – at least unseen in Metal – have apparently made the journey with him.
The Batman Who Laughs was seen not long ago, in Justice League #8. In that issue, the character was imprisoned by Lex Luthor, but freed after revealing to Luthor the identity of the being who had been imprisoned behind the now-breached Source Wall. He makes his appearance here late in the issue, and only then for two pages. In that time, though, his plan is revealed, or at least part of it – and it involves more than just him causing trouble for Batman.
The Grim Knight
The Batman Who Laughs is certainly dark enough, but there's another version of Batman allied with him who's no less dangerous. The so-called Grim Knight has broken into Arkham Asylum at his ally's direction, to lead him to Arkham's most notorious resident, The Joker. The Batman Who Laughs' intent is to kill the Clown Prince, but his hapless victim turns out to be only a decoy. The Grim Knight isn't seen after this point, but he certainly leaves a deadly impression.
While our Batman carries a largely non-lethal arsenal of weapons, mostly in his utility belt, the Grim Knight's is one more akin to a mercenary. Rifles, flamethrowers, and (apparently) even Wolverine-like claws are all deftly wielded by this lethal and murderous Batman. This array of weapons is far deadlier than that of the usual gun-toting, alternate-reality Dark Knight. If Batman were amalgamated with Garth Ennis' take on The Punisher, the Grim Knight would be the likely result.
Has this version of Batman been seen before? He's not immediately recognizable, and he's clearly from the Dark Multiverse, so it's not likely. Still, he's certainly patterned after aspects of some alternate Batmen that have seen print. The "New 52" title Earth 2 featured a Batman who regularly employed firearms of all kinds. Countdown unveiled a militarized version of Batman known as Bat-Soldier, who inhabited Earth-8. In mainstream continuity, Jason Todd momentarily assumed the role of Batman in Batman: Battle for the Cowl, and carried enough firepower to hold off a small army.
Another nudge towards the darkness, and these characters could've been on par with the Grim Knight.
The Batman Who Quit
This issue kicks off with Batman on a seemingly unrelated mission. Trailing a group of reckless corpse-smuggling thieves, Batman makes a discovery that no one, least of all him, could have expected. Once the thieves are stopped and neutralized, Batman liberates the body of the deceased victim, and inside the coffin is none other than a doppelganger of Bruce Wayne himself.
Ever the detective, Batman learns all he can from the body of his expired counterpart. Perhaps not surprisingly, he observes scars and markings on the body that are identical to his own, proving that the deceased really is some incarnation of himself. It's actually what Batman doesn't find that's surprising. The body's battle scars only match those of Batman up to a certain point in his career – his initial crippling encounter with Bane, to be precise – with no subsequent markings to match. Batman concludes that, whoever this alternate reality counterpart of his was, he had given up being Batman.
He further deduces that this retired Bruce Wayne went on to serve Gotham in other ways, and lived a life of happiness as a family man. A decidedly alternate happy ending, to be sure – perhaps one that's a little too happy for the Dark Multiverse. With no apparent connection to The Batman Who Laughs, it's possible that this Bruce Wayne came from elsewhere in the known multiverse, rather than a darker one.
Where exactly, however, isn't known – there haven't been many, if any, storylines featuring a Batman who simply quit. One possibility is that he could be the Batman of Earth-16, featured in Grant Morrison and Ben Oliver's Multiversity: The Just. On this world, Batman is believed to be either retired or dead, with his identity being assumed by Damian Wayne. His absence on that world could be explained by way of his arrival on this one.
The Batman Who Laughs #2 promises to explore other realities featuring divergent Batmen. The issue goes on sale January 16.