Rebirth’s first event, Dark Nights: Metal, is revving its engine in preparation for its August starting line, and bringing with it no shortage of ominous teases for the future.
One such tease arrived late last week in the form of a Justice League’s worth of evil, alternate Batmen (Batmans?) to be spiraling out of Metal’s “Dark Universe” concept. The seven evil Bats have been shown in silhouette and given names and symbols to correspond with which League member they’re inspired by. There’s the Evil Flash Batman, Red Death, or the Evil Cyborg Batman, The Murder Machine -- you get the idea.
Each evil Batman will be given his own one-shot story with creative teams largely pulled from the current roster of Rebirth books.
Now, for as ridiculous as a cabal of alternate, villainous Bruce Wayne doppelgangers may sound on paper, the DCU actually has a rich history of evil Dark Knights, both in the main continuity and peppered across the multiverse.
Let’s take a look at some of the most famous (and most absurd) among them.
Perhaps the most famous “evil” version of Batman, Jean-Paul is also known as the infamous anti-hero, Azrael, a zealot with a dubious grip on his own sanity. Azrael’s tenure has Batman came on the back of the Knightfall event that left Bruce Wayne decidedly out of commission after his spine was broken by Bane.
This strange late 80s/early 90s period in DC’s history was defined by this sort of upheaval -- a drive to replace classic heroes by more “extreme” new characters to, theoretically, rid them of the dated baggage that came attached to characters that had been around since the Golden Age. And as you probably could have guessed, it turned out a more “extreme” Batman was completely unstable. Naturally.
Jean-Paul wasted no time after putting on his new (hilariously 90s) costume before diving off the deep end. He started using deadly force and turned on Batman’s closest allies almost immediately. This included exiling the brand new Robin, Tim Drake, from the cave just as he was trying to kick off his first ongoing solo series. Talk about a rough start.
Eventually, Bruce himself had to come back from recovery to stop Jean-Paul’s reign of terror, evicting him from the role before handing the cowl over to Dick Grayson while he finished healing up. You know, like he probably should have done in the first place.
The codename “Owlman” actually refers to several versions of a character throughout DC’s history, but the one we’re going to focus on today is Thomas Wayne Jr. of Earth-3, or the “Evil Earth” where the world is controlled by the Crime Syndicate, rather than protected by the Justice League.
Thomas witnessed the murder of his mother and younger brother, Bruce, at the hands of police during the botched arrest of his father, Thomas Wayne Sr. In a topsy-turvy parody of the main continuity Batman origin, this traumatic event inspired Thomas Jr. to become friends with a thief named Joe Chill who mentored him in the art of crime.
Owlman has a bag of tricks reminiscent of the regular Batman, except -- you guessed it -- all his costume components and weapons are owl-themed. Also, rather than being a highly disciplined and trained detective, he's addicted to a sort of experimental Earth-3 drug that grants him an enhanced intellect to increase his tactical skills in a fight.
Of course, as the multiple Earths are wont to do in the DCU, Earth-3 has had more than one run-in with the Prime Earth. Most recently, Owlman came into conflict with Batman during the New 52’s Forever Evil event where it was revealed that Thomas even had his own version of an Earth-3 Dick Grayson, who sadly did not survive.
1991’s Elseworlds limited series Batman & Dracula: Red Rain told the story of Bruce Wayne going up against the literal vampire lord, Dracula after uncovering his brood of vampiric minions at the end of a string of brutal murders. The final encounter between Bruce and Dracula ended with Bruce killing him, but losing his own humanity in the process.
That’s right, Batman became a vampire.
In subsequent Elseworlds stories told on the same (or very similar) alternate Earths, Vampire Batman continues his war on crime until his bloodlust gets the better of him. Batman: Bloodstorm tells the bleak story of an encounter with the Joker that ends in Bruce viciously biting and draining him. Horrified with himself, but seeing no alternative, Bruce then has to drive a stake into the Joker’s corpse to prevent him from turning.
Unable to cope with the breaking of his vows, Vampire Batman goes to Jim Gordon and convinces him to stake him that that he can never lose himself and kill again.
One of Batman’s earliest enemies also happens to be one of his most bizarre and brutal imitators. As a psychiatrist, Strange’s traditional mode of operation is all about obsession and the pursuit of perfection. He became completely obsessed with Batman after being brought on board a task force to help bring the Caped Crusader in as a vigilante.
Unfortunately, his work to get into Batman’s head for the benefit of the police also ended up with Batman invading his. Strange became fixated on the idea of Batman being a case for his work -- he started doing everything he could to become Batman, talking like him, dressing up like him, putting himself through a gauntlet of rigorous physical exercise -- you name it.
Eventually, Strange’s obsession lead him to be one of the first villains to deduce Bruce’s identity -- making him more dangerous than ever before. He decides that he’d be a more perfect Batman than Bruce and sets his sights on destroying him publicly so that he might take his place as the Dark Knight.
As you can probably imagine, it takes some fancy mind games on the part of not just Bruce, but the entire Batfamily, to convince Hugo that his deductions were actually wrong (even though they clearly weren’t.)
Predating even Azrael's take on Breaking Bad: Batman Edition, Wrath was villain who first appeared in the comics back in 1984 as a literal "anti-Batman."
Similar to Earth-3's Owlman, Wrath underwent an origin story that essentially mirrored Bruce's own. His parents, who were both criminals, were killed by police before his eyes when he was a child. This, naturally, caused him to grow into a vengeance obsessed vigilante who declared war on the law and law enforcement. Unlike Owlman, however, Wrath essentially underwent the same training procedures as Bruce, becoming a highly skilled assassin and tactician rather than relying on experimental drugs.
Naturally, Wrath and Batman come to blows when Wrath's crusade returns him to Gotham and drives him to target Commissioner Jim Gordon. During the ensuing battle, Wrath would actually deduce Bruce's true identity (all that training apparently paid off) and begin to target his allies like Alfred Pennyworth and Leslie Thompkins before Bruce could corner him into a real fight.
Wrath was finally killed (by accident, of course) after a bomb of his own design exploded during a fight, causing him to catch fire and fall to his death as Bruce looked on, helpless to save him.
Later, a second Wrath would appear on the scene, this time in a purple variation of the costume. This Wrath was eventually revealed to be a man named Elliot Caldwell, who had actually been trained to be the original Wrath's Robin-like sidekick.
The 1994 Elseworlds story, Batman: Castle of the Bat re-cast the Batman myth as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Bruce playing the title, mad scientist role.
After seeing his parents murdered, Bruce become obsessed with the idea of avenging them at any cost. He decides to follow in the footsteps of his father by becoming a doctor, but rather than focusing on the more altruistic side of the job, dedicates his time to developing strange, experimental serums that can imbue their subjects with monstrous powers.
The powers are, unsurprisingly, very bat-like.
Bruce conducts his experiments on animals (making his very own alternate, monstrous Ace the Bat-Hound in the process) before coming to the conclusion that he can use his serum in conjunction with electric currents to actually revive dead tissue. If you’ve seen or read Frankenstein you can probably see where this is going.
Bruce attempts to recreate the body of his deceased father, Thomas, in his lab, and uses his serums and electric currents to bring him back to life. There’s a catch, however, this Bat-Man is really more monster than man. To try and hide his creation’s deformities, Bruce creates a costume for it to wear.
Unsurprisingly, the Bat-Man eventually escapes from the lab and attempts to violently war on criminals (Batmen, are, after all, kind of predisposed to do that, even when they’re reanimated corpses.) This drives the townsfolk into a panic and...well, even if you're not familiar with the Frankenstein story, you can probably hazard a guess that it doesn't end well for anyone involved.