One of the deepest wells of comic book story telling tropes creators love to dip their ladles in is the concept of alternate realities. Despite expansive casts of characters and the endless number of exotic, interstellar locations, a lot of ground has been covered in the superhero genre. This can make it seem like everything has been done, which, in some shape, form or fashion it has. With so many stories filling up the pages of comic books over the last century, it can feel like an insurmountable task to come up with something wholly original. But while it may have all been done, that doesn't mean a story birthed from a well-tread corner of comic books is inherently bad.
The idea of alternate universes, realities and timelines in comic books have given us some of our greatest tales. They've always helped shape the grander comic book landscape. Often, stories taking place in alternate worlds act as a testing ground for new characters. If they resonate with readers, creative teams might just find a way to bring them into the canonical fold of their primary world. Sure, some leaps in logic have to be taken, but if the end result is a character fans love becoming a mainstay, then the trip is worth taking. A recent example of this is The Batman Who Laughs, a villain from the Dark Multiverse who is now the star of his own miniseries by co-creator Scott Snyder and artist Jock.
The Batman Who Laughs #1 is a wonderful mixed bag of genres. It begins with a heartfelt reflection on Bruce Wayne's upbringing, and then quickly shifts gears in high-octane action, and from there, well, things get weird. But the tonal shifts are what make this first issue so special. Snyder is not playing with his toys to put on a big action-packed spectacle for twenty plus pages. He and Jock are trying to craft something on a much smaller scale than Metal, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Snyder excels at more personal stories with a a narrow focus.
From early on, it's apparent that The Batman Who Laughs #1 is the start of a meditation on the character and mythology around Bruce Wayne. Specifically, what it means to be Batman. The twisted version of the character from Earth -22 possesses all of Bruce's strengths (his tactical abilities, his physical prowess, his intellect and cunning), but is devoid of compassion and empathy. This creates a version of one of the most beloved superheros of all time that is completely terrifying. The Batman Who Laughs is known for saying, "Batman always wins," and the mix of vague details and complete accuracy of this statement make for an ambiguous terror.
Snyder does his best work when he's working in the realm of horror, and when he blends elements of the genre into Batman stories, the end result is nothing short of stellar. His previous stories surrounding the character of Mr. Bloom and his run on Detective Comics focusing on Jim Gordon's murderous son are some of the creepiest tales in the Dark Knight's recent history. The Batman Who Laughs #1 is no different. From the forlorn memories from the opening panels to the shocking final splash page, this issue feels like a descent into an unforeseen nightmare the likes of which Batman has never fully encountered by himself.
Jock's artwork is nothing short of cinematic. An early action sequence on the highway is illustrated like storyboards for a Fast & Furious film. The action is kinetic, but clean and easy to follow. Whenever you see Jock and Snyder's names on a cover together, it's a guarantee you're in for a fantastic comic. These two have forged a relationship that may reach the same level as other writer/artists duos like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, or Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, or Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. As seen in some of their other collaborations, like Wytches and Detective Comics, they work together in a way that results a singular, often unsettling, and always entertaining vision.
The Batman Who Laughs #1 is a great first issue. For newcomers to the titular character, it might behoove you to read the miniseries Dark Nights: Metal, but even for those uninitiated the basic premise is unsettling and utterly exciting. Add this to the stack.