In the DC Comics’ Dark Nights: Metal event, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have introduced us to a group of evil Batmen from the Dark Multiverse. The creative team has billed this group as a representation of Batman’s fears come to life, and while that may be true, these characters also represent what would happen if Bruce Wayne had failed to live up to what we have come to expect from the caped crusader.
It’s only through these failures that we get to see these fears come to life, while their transformations into unspeakable monsters illustrate just how lucky the DC Universe-proper is that its Bruce Waynes, across the Multiverse, have found the strength to defeat their inner demons rather than submit to them.
The Day Couldn’t Be Saved This Time
We all know Batman as the one hero who is prepared for everything, who is able to save the day no matter the odds, and beat the bad guy. But what happens when Batman isn’t strong enough? Many of the Dark Knights’ origins are stories of Batman’s greatest failures and what happens next.
Two particular stories show Batman’s utter inability to be the hero the world expects him to be. In The Devastator, we see a Batman who is completely unprepared for when Superman turns evil. To the comic book reading public who read JLA: Tower of Babel over a decade ago, where we learn Batman has secret countermeasures against each Justice League member, it seems somehow false that he wouldn’t know what to do when Superman turned on his former friends.
Instead of stopping the mad Kryptonian in his tracks, we see a Batman who can’t come to terms with the fact that his friend has gone bad. Superman has killed the entire Justice League and dismembered Batman by the time Bruce finally enacts his last ditch effort to stop the Kryptonian murderer by transforming himself into a Doomsday monster. This is a Batman who has not been able to sever his head from his heart, and as a result he is too weak to do what must be done until it’s too late.
We see this again in The Batman Who Laughs, which depicts Batman’s final, decisive battle against the Joker, however, the story glosses over the fact that he had been unable to prevent the Joker from destroying Gotham City. While the Dark Knight has always been against killing, he has still been effective enough to stop his arch-nemesis from going too far, but The Batman Who Laughs was not.
For years, we’ve been presented with the idea that Batman needs his enemies to feel important, and that he doesn’t kill the Joker because deep down inside, he knows he needs an enemy. Neil Gaiman put this idea on display during his two-part Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader story, which posited that the Joker was simply Alfred the whole time, giving his “son” an enemy to pursue.
While this theory is usually left for the reader to decide, this Batman shows us how true it really is. That Batman, who previously abandoned his no guns rule in Final Crisis in order to kill Darkseid and save the day, held off until it was far to late for everyone involved is a clear indication of his failures as a protector. Batman lost far before he ever transformed into the Joker.
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