SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #1 by James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo, on sale now.
The origin of the seventh and final Dark Knight, the de-facto leader of Barbatos’ nightmarish assembly of alternate versions of Batman, is finally told by James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo in The Batman Who Laughs #1. With his Joker smile, spiked medieval blindfold, and leashed pack of Joker-poisoned Robins, this Batman has served as the Dark Knights’ ringleader throughout Dark Nights: Metal, and has shown himself to arguably be the most evil and creepiest of his counterparts.
The character’s disturbing nature is highlighted in this issue as his story is relayed through his own narration to a captive listener who goes unseen until issue’s end – although once seen, the mysterious victim remains unknown, thanks to the bloodied bandages that cover the unfortunate character head-to-toe while they’re chained to a wheelchair. So, who is this apparent latest victim of the crazed Batman Who Laughs’ machinations? The issue itself provides a few possibilities.
The catalyst for The Batman Who Laughs’ increasingly maniacal state was his point-blank exposure to the Joker toxin in the immediate wake of The Joker’s death at Batman’s hands. His psychological state led him to first slay the closest members of the Bat-family, followed by the Justice League and then Superman’s own family. The member of the Bat-family who is shown to be spared, though, is Bruce Wayne’s own son Damian, although he’s become grossly malformed, presumably by his own exposure to the Joker toxin. Once the Batman Who Laughs is seen to have eventually taken over the world, though, Damian is nowhere to be seen.
Could the mysterious masking-taped figure be Damian? As Batman had stated before his exposure to the toxin, those same toxins had been pushing The Joker’s mind into a state of increasing instability. As Batman Who Laughs’ own transformation had been more gradual than instantaneous, the love Bruce once had for his son might have stayed his hand from immediately killing Damian outright and instead allowing him to fight at his side, albeit after causing him to be hideously transformed. If Batman Who Laugh’s transformation is anything like The Joker’s, though, then his relatively merciful treatment of Damian could likely have given way to something less accommodating than allowing him to serve as a dark, twisted sidekick – perhaps choosing to imprison him and subject him to abuse, as seen near the end of the issue.
The bleeding eyes seen behind the mysterious figure’s bindings offer up another possibility: namely that Batman Who Laughs’ captive could be Superman, who was also seen to have bloodied eyes from exposure to Black Kryptonite. While Superman was shown to have killed Lois and Jon because of his proximity to the deadly mineral, he himself is not shown to have actually died – did Batman Who Laughs remove the kryptonite before Superman succumbed, but embed a shard in his wrappings to keep him weakened and powerless while imprisoned?
Superman aficionados, of course, know the more significant effect Black Kryptonite that has on Kryptonians: it splits the subject into good and evil counterparts of each other. Did this in fact happen to Superman, and did he in fact perish, leaving a doppelganger behind? If Earth -22’s Superman stood opposed to The Batman Who Laughs, then an opposite duplicate would in theory have stood with him, and therefore would not pose a threat requiring execution. This evil incarnation of Batman just might see a Superman double as a potential ally for a future Dark Multiverse equivalent of a World’s Finest team.
Or, The Batman Who Laughs’ victim could simply be someone readers haven’t seen before, although the mystery raised by the secrecy would be somewhat empty without any kind of meaningful reveal. With the Dark Knights’ origins now all told, the story of the man inside the masking tape stands to be addressed within the course of Metal. Dark Nights: Metal #4 goes on sale December 20.
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