The Batman Who Laughs
“In the end the mind-blowing art can’t save a book that fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.”
Comics have come a long way since their inception. The writing, language, subject matter, and even the art has grown more sophisticated, adult in overall concept that many are now called graphic novels. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series won multiple awards including the World Fantasy Award in 1991. The Batman Who Laughs is Scott Snyder’s attempt at a grittier, grimmer version of the Dark Knight combining slick writing with almost chaotic graphics.
Gotham is its usual crime-ridden venue, peopled by mobsters and monsters galore and watched over by the ever vigilant Batman (no Robin in this story), but the normal chaos that plagues the city is interrupted by the discovery of Bruce Wayne’s corpse.
Most people would be rattled, but this is Batman and he realizes (after DNA testing) that this Bruce Wayne hails from an alternate reality. The Dark Multiverse that is born from our fears and anger. The same place that spawned his greatest foe . . . the Batman Who Laughs, a Batman infected with the Joker virus, an evil hybrid possessing the genius of the caped crusader combined with the hideous madness of the Joker.
As the corpses of more Bruce Waynes appear, our hero realizes that the Batman Who Laughs has an ally—Bruce Wayne, the Grim Knight, another Batman from the Dark Multiverse who killed his parents’ murderer and became a hyper-violent vigilante who doesn’t mind using guns.
Batman must team up with Commissioner Jim Gordon and his psychopathic son, James, who is being treated chemically for his insanity and is slowly regaining mental health. They must stop the Batman Who Laughs and the Grim Knight from infecting Gotham’s water supply with the Joker virus and survive the encounter with the dangerous duo.
With edgy writing, graphics that contain equal amounts of horror and terror, and a twisty, turning plot that is common to the Batman saga of the past two decades, The Batman Who Laughs tries to set itself apart from the normal comic book fare and, by most standards, succeeds. It is visually stunning, drawing the reader into the chaotic, nightmare world of this crazed Batman, so much so that it seems that the crisp dialogue is not needed to drive the story.
Those are the pros. Let’s get to the cons: beautiful illustrations and witty dialogue aside, the story still relies on some of the same tired old tropes that other writers have pulled off with more success. Good vs. evil, human nature vs. a chemically induced madness, trusting in love and friendship and hope. The reader will appreciate the art and style of the book, but the re-treaded storyline is stale. How many times has the Joker (or some costumed villain) attempted to poison Gotham’s water supply? How many times has Batman been forced to push himself beyond mortal limits to save others?
In the end the mind-blowing art can’t save a book that fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.