Warning: The following contains spoilers for Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall #1 by Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins, Javier Fernandez, Alex Guimarães and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
The events of "Knightfall," a major Batman crossover from the early 1990s, left Gotham without Bruce Wayne to protect it. In his stead, Jean-Paul Valley rose up to become a new, more heavily armored Batman. However, his eventual conflicts with the codes of being Batman came in opposition to what Bruce believed in and forced the Caped Crusader to take back the mantle of Batman from him.
But what if he had failed? As part of DC's exploration of its darkest possible timelines, Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman -- Knightfall introduces Saint Batman, a deadly despot who rules a broken Gotham.
Agent Of The Bat
Jean-Paul Valley, in the main DC continuity, was created by Denny O'Neil and Joe Quesada in the 1992 miniseries, Batman: Sword of Azrael. Valley was a college student in Gotham City when he learned he was just the latest in a long line of assassins for a group known as the Sacred Order of Saint Dumas. Brainwashed by "the system," he took over his father's position as Azrael after he died in the line of duty. Valley eventually tried to leave his role as a killer and even came under Batman and Robin's wing so he could learn how to be a solo hero.
With other heroes busy during the events of Knightfall, Bruce eventually decides to make Jean-Paul Batman. However, Valley ends up believing that violence and death are the only true deterrents to crime. He abandons Batman's no-kill policy and changes his Batman suit to be a more dangerous costume. As he became more delusional, Bruce is forced out of early retirement to stand up to him and ultimately defeat him. This knocked Valley out of his delusional state. Retaking the title of Azrael, Valley became an ally of the Bat-Family and even eventually joined the Justice League.
Lord & Master
However, things don't work out that way in the Dark Multiverse, however. In one world, Bruce was less prepared for his battle with Azrael, which implied to be because Lady Shiva didn't finish training Bruce for the battle as she did in the main timeline and was subsequently unable to defeat him. Instead, Bruce was seriously wounded by Azrael, who was able to retain the mantle of Batman. Over the next 30 years, Valley used the stolen wealth and technology of the Wayne family to essentially become the ruler of Gotham. While the rest of the world falls around him, Gotham still stands - albeit as a totalitarian police state.
Saint Batman, as he dubs himself, and his forces have no hesitation about killing their enemies or executing their captives. Valley himself is exhausted by the frequent battles, and has (ironically, given his eventual defeat and murder of Bane in this world) developed a dependence on Venom.
As battle rages on across Gotham and Valley becomes more exhausted, he sees visions of Saint Dumas, calling him out for failing to live up to the memories and ideals of the original Batman. This implies that at least on some level, he knows how far he's gone. But Valley is convinced that he's turned Batman into a symbol for something pure: peace through absolute control.
However, the city has still fallen into chaos as it's been watched over by Azrael and his agents (including the Torchbearer and Cardinal.) The other Gotham heroes are nowhere to be seen, either having fled the city or been killed at Azrael's hand. It's a dark take on what Batman could have become if he lacked the discipline that defines him.
Fall Of The Righteous
All of this takes an even darker turn on the anniversary of Bruce's defeat. While visiting Wayne Tower, it's revealed that Valley has used science to preserve Bruce's mind. He's barely alive anymore, reduced to a head and chest kept living through technological advancements. But the return of Shiva and Tourne, her son with the long-dead Bane, turns the tide against Saint Batman.
After rescuing Bruce, the pair are able to bring the original Batman back to fighting condition with a mechanized suit that allows him to control a legion of nano-bats. Stripping Valley of his Venom, the trio still has difficulty bringing down him down in a fight, with Tourne even getting an army literally ripped off by Valley.
Tourne is finally able to stab Azrael in the back with one of his own blades before breaking his back over his knee, ending the reign of Saint Batman ends in defeat. However, this doesn't mean his reality becomes any better. All it does is prompt Bruce, who's spent decades being broken by Azrael in isolation, turns on his allies and announces his intentions to take Valley's place as the ruler and protector of Gotham. He quickly kills Shiva and Tourne, and becomes the new Batman of his isolationist city.
Saint Batman's greatest sin may not have been any of the terrible atrocities or brutal killings he committed to "defend" Gotham. It's that he found a way to break Bruce Wayne and create something far worse.