SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #5 by Scott Snyder, Jock, David Baron and Sal Cipriano, on sale now.
Gotham has always been a city of secrets, and Scott Snyder and Jock's The Batman Who Laughs #2 introduced another one: the secret of Last Laugh. As told in that issue, this is an infrastructure put in place in the 18th century in order to protect the city from the spread of an internally generated threat.
Batman himself revealed that he later added the means to prevent the spread of a biological or chemical attack. The new, enhanced protocols were specifically meant to limit an epidemic of the sanity-robbing toxin often used by The Joker. The Batman Who Laughs #5, however, reveals another secret within the secret of Last Laugh -- and it's far more sinister than the system's original benevolent intent.
If Gotham Has Secrets, Then They Must Involve …
It's no surprise that the discovery ties into perhaps Gotham's most notable clandestine organization -- the centuries-old Court of Owls. The Batman Who Laughs visits the secret society, asking for their help in carrying out his twisted goal of poisoning the city. The similarly twisted version of Batman wants the Court's assistance in transforming its citizens into dark versions of themselves. The Court of Owls, though, sees The Batman Who Laughs as the exact threat he is, putting the two evil forces at odds.
The evil Batman then shows that he has already corrupted the Court's own enforcers, the Talons, into even darker manifestations of themselves. With the Talons under his to control, the members of the Court are either dispatched or forced to flee. The Batman Who Laughs then has easy access to the Court of Owl's own secrets.
Batman Gets the Last Laugh – Maybe
The actual Batman, meanwhile, is on the verge of succumbing to his previous exposure to The Joker's toxin, and become this world's own Batman Who Laughs. With his wits still about him, he and Commissioner Jim Gordon start the process of deploying the Last Laugh protocols. Their intent is to stop the spread of Batman Who Laughs' poison beyond the boundaries of Gotham, effectively quarantining the city but protecting the world outside.
After Gordon activates his half of the protocols, though, Batman has a troubling realization. He deduces that the ease of activating Last Laugh is actually playing into The Batman Who Laughs' strategy; the villainous doppelgänger wants the Last Laugh defenses to be initiated.
The Batman Who Laughs, Laughs Last
With the countdown started, the Batman Who Laughs sends a game-changing message to the Batcave. The holographic image reveals a disheartening truth he uncovered in the Court of Owls' lair. That truth is the original seemingly altruistic intentions behind Last Laugh were in reality something far more ominous.
The Batman Who Laughs' message reveals that Last Laugh wasn't created to keep the world safe from Gotham – it was the other way around. Last Laugh was a shield to allow Gotham's founders and influencers to craft the city into one of immense power – safe from outside interlopers seeking to prevent it. With Last Laugh in place, Gotham could create soldiers, weapons, and other offenses against the outside world – and that original intent perfectly aligns with the Batman Who Laughs' current plan.
After momentarily reconsidering activation, the Batman Who Laughs' message sways Batman back to his original decision – but for different reasons. Having nearly completed his evil transformation, a tearful Batman completes the activates, per the Batman Who Laughs' sinister wishes.
Is Gotham Evil to its Core?
Has Batman just doomed Gotham, and handed victory to the foe that he's nearly become a duplicate of? Is the city now destined to become a walled-off breeding ground of evil, where its citizens stand to become corrupted by the Batman Who Laughs' evil? And was this really the kind of thing that the city's founders intended – that Gotham become a fortress of power?
If one believes The Batman Who Laughs, the answer to that latter question is yes. But, he is a bad guy, and the Batman Who Laughs could just as easily be the Batman Who Lies. Was the villain's claim that Gotham was founded as a city of power, rather than a city of light, even on the level? His words could have just been a fabricated line of excuses to appeal to an unstable, evil-leaning Batman. Or maybe that was the history of Gotham on his world – and the city's origins in this one truly are as well-meaning as originally told.
Or, perhaps the Batman Who Laughs was telling the truth, but it was the Court of Owls who were wrong. Their intent might have been along the lines of evil Batman's claim, but that doesn't necessarily mean they succeeded in influencing Last Laugh's construction. Last Laugh might have been created in opposition to the Court's will, or perhaps even without their knowledge.
Can Batman Save the City from Its Own History?
Even if Batman has helped the Batman Who Laughs implement his plan, a quarantine protocol that contains evil doesn't necessarily sound like something bad. It could conceivably enable Batman to save the day, without concern of this evil spreading. There are plenty of heroes in Gotham, after all, who could band together with Batman and stop the Batman Who Laughs' insane plans.
Gotham might have been founded on an intent to create some kind of power base, but that's not to say that the city is inherently evil. The Batman Who Laughs, who comes from a dimension where everything is corrupt to its core, might not be able to understand that, and that could very well prove to be his undoing.
The villain's plans will continue to unfold in The Batman Who Laughs #6, on sale June 12.