Batman has had no shortage of darkness in his life, beginning with the iconic murder of his parents at a young age that guided his evolution into the Dark Knight. However, Bruce Wayne has always managed to turn that darkness into a weapon and rise into the light as a hero. Of course, that isn't always the case, as we've seen recently with series like Batman: Damned which features a very dark version of the mainstream DC universe. The multiverse is full of these examples of the world's greatest detective, with the recently revealed Dark Multiverse providing an entire team of dark versions of the Bat... but more on them later.
But the DC Multiverse is usually represented as a delicate balancing act, with many of the alternate Earth's serving as reverse analogs of opposite Earths. This means that for every dark Batman we encounter in the Multiverse, there is usually an incredibly ridiculous version of Batman to balance things properly. Ridiculous doesn't necessarily mean bad of course, as a number of great stories come from the lighter side of the Bat-mythology. Harley Quinn could easily be considered ridiculous as well, and she is one of DC's most popular characters. So we are going to further examine the delicate balancing act of the DC Multiverse by exploring both the darkest and the most ridiculous versions of Batman we've seen over the years.
20 DARK: ALL-STAR BATMAN
The concept of a dark and gritty Batman was at one time considered a radical idea, despite the characters equally dark beginnings. DC released Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in 1985, which featured a retired Bruce Wayne called back into action as Batman. The series helped change the climate of the Batman comics and launched a new direction for the character.
Miller also revealed that his controversial All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder series was set in the same continuity as the "goddamn Batman." All-Star Batman was a vicious take on the hero, and the series showcased the brutal conditions he forced his young ward Dick Grayson to live under after he first agreed to become Robin.
19 RIDICULOUS: BATMAN '66
The reason Miller's Batman was such a turning point was in large part due to the huge success of the Batman live-action TV series starring Adam West. Comic fans know this version of the character as Batman '66, in honor of the year the series debuted on ABC. The series focused on the campier side of Batman that followed the Golden Age's era of aliens and monsters, and the success of the series boosted DC sales exponentially, locking in the camp for years to come.
This isn't to say that Batman '66 is bad because of the inherent silliness, quite the opposite, in fact. We love Batman '66 for all of its quirky ridiculousness, and it serves as a bright contrast to other darker versions of the character.
18 DARK: VAMPIRE BATMAN
Doug Moench and Kelley Jones released Batman & Dracula: Red Rain in 1991, which brought the Lord of the Vampires to Gotham City, setting up the ultimate battle between these two creatures of the night. While Batman was victorious, it came at the cost of his humanity, and he was soon brought to the lowest levels of his character.
Subsequent sequels Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist featured the Dark Knight's decline into the monster he always fought against as he turned on those he loved and sacrificed his ideas by slaughtering his greatest villains. The "Elseworlds" trilogy showcased the lowest Batman could go as he became everything he dedicated his life to destroying.
17 RIDICULOUS: REVEREND BATMAN
While not the first "Elseworlds" tale, Batman: Holy Terror (not to be confused with Frank Miller's Holy Terror graphic novel) was the first comic to feature the "Elseworlds" logo on the cover. Alan Brennert and Norm Breyfogle introduced readers to an altered history with a significant divergence that resulted in a theocratic commonwealth USA.
Bruce Wayne still lost his parents, but he devoted himself to the church instead of a war on crime, becoming Reverend Bruce Wayne. Eventually, he learns that his parents may have been taken down by the very church he has placed his faith in, and he dons a bat-like costume to bring down the corrupt system on a mission from God.
16 DARK: HUGO STRANGE
Not all Dark batmans feature Bruce Wayne behind the cowl. There have been many sanctioned heroes who have stepped in to take over for Bruce if needed over the years. However, there are quite a few villains who have worn the suit as well, usually to frame the Dark Knight. Professor Hugo Strange appears quite frequently in his own version of the Bat costume, which serves as an odd example of bot his hatred and admiration of Batman.
Strange has even modified the suit into what he called a "Suicide-Suit" which was rigged to explode should he be met with any physical violence from Batman. It's Strange's brilliant insanity and obsession with Batman that makes this one of the darkest Batmans.
15 RIDICULOUS: ELIOT NESS BAT-MAN
Max Allan Collins and Eduardo Barreto's Scar of the Bat was an "Elseworlds" tale that was set in Prohibition Era Chicago and didn't feature any characters most commonly associated with Batman. Instead, the story reworked the real-life character Eliot Ness. Federal Agent Ness and his squad (more famously known as The Untouchables) were tasked with bringing down infamous mobster Al Capone, which follows the real-life events.
In Scar of the Bat, Ness is inspired into vigilantism when they begin losing the war against Capone and begins aiding the Untouchables as the Bat-Man. Ness wears the cowl but takes his name from the club he initially wields on his first appearance, erasing any connection to the Bat-mythology.
14 DARK: I, JOKER
Bob Hall's Batman: I, Joker is set in a futuristic cult-like society where cultists annually compete for the chance to take on their leader The Bruce to become the new Batman and ruler of the cult. In order to take on the Bruce, they must first fight other reprogrammed cultists who have been surgically altered to look like Batman's greatest villains.
When a member of the resistance to the Batman Cult is altered into the Joker, he dons a costume of the legendary Batman and follows in his footsteps, taking on The Bruce and becoming the new Joker/Batman of Gotham City. While the story has a relatively happy ending, the ritualistic atrocities of the cult that lead to the new Batman's creation are incredibly dark.
13 RIDICULOUS: RAINBOW BATMAN
1957 saw the release of Detective Comics #241 by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff, which featured the most colorful versions of Batman ever seen at the time. The story follows Robin searching the city for a group of bank thieves, with Batman wearing various brightly colored costumes throughout the week in order to draw the attention away from Robin, who had an injured arm at the time.
While most criticize the Dark Knight for putting the youth in danger as his sidekick, this story revealed that he would do anything to protect his young ward, including wearing ridiculous costumes out in public every night. We've even seen all of these costumes combined, both in the comics and on the animated Batman: The Brave and The Bold.
12 DARK: BATMAN OF ZUR-EN-ARRH (MORRISON & DANIEL)
Grant Morrison took over the main Batman title in 2000 and began working classic story elements from the Golden and Silver Ages of DC into his storyline, which featured a very dark period in Batman's life. One of those classic stories brought back the crazy-colored costume of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
The phrase "Zur-En-Arrh" began popping up in the background of Morrison's issues, and it was finally revealed during a mental break that Batman had been installed with a post-hypnotic trigger that caused him to revert to a violent and unhinged persona. This character was known as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, and while proving to be Bruce's salvation in the storyline, showcased a dark look at a damaged Batman.
11 RIDICULOUS: BATMAN OF ZUR-EN-ARRH (GOLDEN AGE)
of course, the original Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was absolutely ridiculous. Created by France Herron and legendary artist Dick Sprang, Batman of Zur-En-Arrh first appeared in 1958's Batman #113 in a story called "Batman-Superman of Planet-X!" In the story, Bruce Wayne is teleported to the planet Zur-En-Arrh, where he meets the brightly-costumed alien Batman, whose real name is Tiano.
Tiano brought Batman to his planet to help defeat lethal robots, and Batman finds himself imbued with powers like that of Superman, due to the sun of the planet Zur-En-Arrh. The storyline was ridiculous at the time and would have likely faded into obscurity if not for Morrison's later twist of the concept.
10 DARK: FLASHPOINT BATMAN
Barry Allen has never done more harm to the DC Multiverse than in the Flashpoint event. The Flash changed a key event in his own timeline which drastically altered the DC Universe, creating a new version of Batman that rivaled Bruce's darkness, with a bit less hopefulness. In this new world, Bruce Wayne was the one who was shot on that fateful night in Crime Alley, which in turn damaged his parents as it had him.
Thomas Wayne became the Batman out of a need for revenge instead of justice. Tragically, the demise of Bruce caused his mother, Martha, to go insane and become the Flashpoint's version of the Joker. Thomas Wayne used the weapons that took the life of his son, whereas Bruce forever spurned the guns that ultimately caused his parents' demise.
9 RIDICULOUS: CAVEMAN BATMAN
Grant Morrison's finale of his DC Final Crisis event featured the demise of Bruce Wayne, which kicked off a bright period for Batman and Robin as Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne took up the fight. However, Bruce Wayne's consciousness had actually been lost in time and he was living out various lives across the time stream.
This meant we not only got to see Caveman Batman but also Pirate Batman, Puritan Batman, and even Cowboy Batman. While the Caveman version of the character would eventually tie in to the epic Dark Nights: Metal event, it was still a little ridiculous to see the various versions of Batman across time, especially when he was wearing a loincloth.
8 DARK: TITANS TOMORROW BATMAN
During a Teen Titans arc from Geoff Johns and Mike McKone, readers were introduced to the Titans of the near future, where the teen heroes had each grown into their respective legacy identities. Tim Drake had become Batman, though this was a darker version of Tim Drake than we had ever seen before.
The former Teen Titans had clearly been through a great deal of trauma over the years, and Drake's Batman had resorted to extreme measures to complete his mission, by using the gun that ended the life of Bruce Wayne's parents to wipe out Gotham's supervillains. This version later traveled to the present alone and renamed himself as Saviour and tasked himself with sing his future knowledge to saving the timeline as he saw fit.
7 RIDICULOUS: BAT-MITE
Bat-Mite was created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff and first appeared in 1959's Detective Comics #267. Bat-Mite is a tiny, childlike man in a knock-off Batman suit who modeled himself after his hero Batman, and frequently appeared in the comics until the early 60s. While he may look ridiculous, don't let his appearance fool you. Bat-Mite is an incredibly powerful imp from the fifth dimension, the same reality that Superman foe Mr. Mxyzptlk calls home.
Bat-Mite has often been represented as a metacharacter with nearly infinite magical powers, though he also got a modern makeover at the hands of Grant Morrison, who reimagined Bat-Mite as a figment of Batman's imagination during his "Zur-En-Arrh" mental break.
6 DARK: OWLMAN
There have been a few versions of Owlman over the years, with each new iteration becoming increasingly darker. The Post-Crisis version was a member of Earth 3's Crime Syndicate, which was an evil version of the Justice League. Thomas Wayne Jr. became the crime lord known as Owlman, who increased his intellect through drug enhancements.
In the New 52 continuity, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo introduced the character of Lincoln March, who became the Court of Owls' Owlman. He also suggested that he was the previously-unrevealed brother of Bruce Wayne, Thomas Wayne Jr. This Owlman was a very damaged villain and added a sadistic madness to an already dark character.
5 RIDICULOUS: ZEBRA BATMAN
We've previously discussed some of the crazy costumes Batman has had over the years, but this one came with an equally weird villain and powers. in Detective Comics #275, an experiment creates the supervillain known as Zebra-Man, who is able to attract and repel non-metal items.
As would often happen in comics, Batman accidentally went through the same process, and not only gained the same powers as Zebra-Man, he also received the black-and-white striped costume of Zebra-Man. Zebra Batman is eventually able to reverse the process and defeat Zebra-Man, though the damage to Batman's fashion credibility was already done.
4 DARK: AZ-BATS
Gotham City is left without a Batman as Bruce Wayne was paralyzed following the iconic first battle between Batman and Bane. Bruce Wayne left his new trainee Jean Paul Valley with the mantle of the bat when he left to seek treatment for his broken back.
Unfortunately, Valley's former identity as Azrael would begin to taint his time as Batman, as the former avenging angel succumbed to torturous psychic training known as the System that he had undergone during his time with the Order of St. Dumas. Things would escalate when he began lethally wounding villains as Batman, which brought Bruce Wayne back to reclaim his former identity. Azrael eventually found redemption and returned to work alongside the Bat-family.
3 RIDICULOUS: FRANKENBAT
Castle of the Bat was an "Elseworlds" tale that reimagined Mary Shelley's literary classic Frankenstein. In this case, Bruce Wayne became a doctor following the demise of his father and soon becomes obsessed with mortality and reanimation. His research specifically focuses on transferring animal energies and their properties into human bodies.
After discovering his father's brain in a vault at the university that had threatened to shut down his experiments, Bruce and his hunchbacked servant Alfredo construct a new body for his father, Thomas Wayne. He also transferred the energies of a bat into the creation, which resulted in a uniquely ridiculous Frankenbat.
2 DARK: THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS
The Batman Who Laughs first appeared in the Dark Nights: Metal event, which introduced a team comprised of twisted versions of Batman and the Justice League. These Darkest Knights were led by The Batman Who Laughs, a Jokerized Bruce Wayne who truly is one of the darkest Batmans the comic world has ever seen.
The Batman Who Laughs costume not only looks scary, but he is also usually flanked by his chained cadre of Robins, who each has been Jokerized into mindless beasts. The Batman Who Laughs seems to specialize in finding other dark Batmans like himself, though none have so far surpassed his unique version of evil.
1 RIDICULOUS: DARK CLAW
The Marvel/DC crossover Amalgam character known as Dark Claw is another case of ridiculous not necessarily meaning bad. This Wolverine Batman hybrid was created for the 1996 event that merged the Big Two's most popular characters.
The crossover merger not only resulted in an odd interpretation of Wolverine/Batman but the other characters in their lives. Robin and Jubilee became the forgettable Sparrow while Joker and Sabretooth became Dark Claw's scene-stealing nemesis Hyena. Things really fell apart when the character's secret identity of Logan Wayne was explored, as the Canadian fighter pilot billionaire genetic experiment just didn't seem to mesh together, despite looking incredibly cool.