WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall #1, from Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Javier Fernandez, Alex Guimaraes and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
DC's Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall explores a world in which Azrael defeats Bruce Wayne at the end of the original arc, taking over Gotham in the process. "Saint Batman" is as an unforgiving overlord. However, one would think Azrael would truly turn out to be the most sadistic, punishing Caped Crusader in the book. In a sinister twist, though, we find out it's not him, it's actually Bruce Wayne, who shows a lust for blood we've never seen before in the final pages.
Azrael runs a fascist regime as he isolates Gotham from the rest of the world. It's his take on "No Man's Land," ruling with an iron fist. Crimes are punishable by death as seen with his generals, Cardinal and Torchbearer, decapitating Penguin and dispatching a bloody brand of justice. It's a true dictatorship, made all the more demented by Azrael actually having a citadel known as the Cathedral, where Bruce is hooked up to a machine keeping his mutilated body alive.
This is the tyrant's way of gloating, especially as he has halls of acolytes who also patrol the streets in his name and ensure that judge, jury and executioner must follow Azrael's vision and walk his path. With the Bat-family slaughtered or gone, the police force purged and Azrael's wife Madeline acting as his own Oracle, via this uneasy order, Azrael paints a picture of the scariest Batman ever. That is, until Bruce gets free.
Lady Shiva and her son with Bane, Tourne, are seeking revenge, but also the city's liberation, as they have a new League of Assassins with them, ready to rebel. When they free Bruce, they need him to be the Bat again, unbroken and ready to lead with conviction. The key to this is a nanotech suit which literally gives his body the ability to behave like a Bat, swarming and cutting through the air to attack victims. What's even more epic is once these bots touch their opponents' flesh, it assimilates everything they know into Bruce, meaning they live on in him, making him a better warrior. It's the ultimate Batman, to be honest, and we see him easily devouring Cardinal and Torchbearer to garner vengeance when Madeline betrays Jean-Paul, allowing them to infiltrate the Bat-cave.
But oddly enough, it's not Bruce who takes Azrael down, it's Tourne, who plunges Azrael's sword through his chest. As the villain lays dying, Shiva and Tourne discuss a way forward with Bruce. However, he turns on them and uses his nanotech body to disintegrate them. He doesn't care how they freed him and, when he delivers his final word and testament to an Azrael in disbelief, Bruce admits the villain's methods were right. In fact, Bruce, in retrospect, should have done it himself as this total control is the only way he thinks Gotham can survive and evolve. It's dark poetry here, as the apprentice taught his master the way, with the final page showing Bruce's Nano-Knight parading Azrael's crucified body around the city for all to see.
Batman makes he's going to be even more stringent and a worse version of Azrael. His eyes, his smile and just the way Bruce embraces this power is more demonic than the likes of the Batman Who Laughs, the Grim Knight or even Thomas Wayne from Flashpoint, and the reveal is made all the more intriguing by the potential for the story to continue. We're not sure if Azrael's truly dead and there's the chance some of the old Robins may have survived. Either way, in Azrael's 30 year rule, he proved to Bruce that darkness was the answer to Gotham's troubles, and it appears that's going to remain the case in this pocket of the Dark Multiverse.