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.
Over the years, plenty of Batman stories have painted a bleak picture of the Dark Knight. From alternate reality Elseworlds tales like Batman: White Knight to the backstory of the Batman Who Laughs or especially dark nights in DC's main Gotham City, batman has spent plenty of time in nightmarish worlds that have seemingly been turned upside down.
However, in the What If?-style Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall, we've now gotten what may well be the most chilling and shocking Batman story to date. And considering how bleak Batman's life has been through the deaths of multiple Robins, the breaking of his back and Bane's ongoing Gotham City takeover, that's really saying something.
In this issue, Jean-Paul Valley cuts a tyrannical figure, constructing a "No Man's Land" Gotham that Bane could only dream of. He's got acolytes instead of a police force, and his Robins (Cardinal and Torchbearer) don't mess around as seen where they behead Penguin. What makes it worse is this formula actually works as Gotham's isolated from the rest of the world but under order -- something Bruce could never achieve. And make no mistake, it's what Azrael does to Bruce that makes the story so much more sadistic, chopping off his limbs and keeping his mind alive so he could see what control, an iron fist and a merciless attitude does for justice.
It's light years ahead of the Joker's worst plans, since this Batman has been broken, mind, body and soul. Kept barely alive by "Saint Batman," the story's overly graphic as well, with beheadings, stabbings, shootings and Azrael tearing off the arm of Bane and Lady Shia's son before drinking his Venom-rich blood. There's a level of horror-infused violence here that DC could never do with the mainstream Batman books, and this title even feels like a Black Label release at times.
However, this is hardly the first time DC has offered an especially dark take on part of the Batman mythology. Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Joker , Batman: Damned and even director Todd Phillips' Joker movie have all thrived in this context. The Dark Multiverse is built around applying this dark, macabre tone to the wider DC Universe with stories that imagine Lois Lane as the bloodthirsty Eradicator or zombies returning in another spin on Blackest Night.
The tragedy of this world is only compounded when Bruce is rescued and his team topple Azrael, only for the nanotech-infused Batman to turn and murder his allies in cold blood. With these actions, Batman puts Thomas Wayne's evil Batman to shame here and accepts that bloodshed is what's needed to keep Gotham stable, ending the book on a cynical and unhappy note. It remains to be seen what the Crisis is that the Dark Multiverse's version of the Watcher, Tempus Fuginaut, is talking about as he narrates this particular story, but clearly it's going to be one that'll rival Barbatos' invasion from Dark Nights: Metal.
And as we witness Batman become the very thing he hates in this book, plus a Gotham beaten and bloodied into submission, it doesn't feel like it's going to be a that Crisis heroes will be walking away from. These stories are about doom and gloom, and they strip those who want justice down to their basic instinct, until they become the kind of monsters they once fought.