Facing up to nightmares is one of the hardest things that anyone can do. They force us to confront our deepest fears and see the worst parts of ourselves. Over the years, Batman has had to battle with many nightmares. But none have been more terrifying than the Batman Who Laughs, a twisted version of Bruce Wayne who became the new Joker.
In Scott Snyder’s The Batman Who Laughs, the character returns in a huge way to terrify Gotham. The graphic novel features Batman having to find the darkest parts of himself to fight against his doppelganger. But how far is he willing to go and is it true that a Batman who laughs is a Batman who always wins?
The dark heart of happiness
The Batman Who Laughs was the breakout star of Snyder’s wonderfully fucked up Dark Nights: Metal. So, it was great to see Snyder bring him back to wreak more havoc. The story begins with Batman discovering a dead version of himself from an alternate reality. But to Bruce, the most notable thing about the corpse is that his other self had died happy.
“When I was training to be Batman, travelling the globe, it struck me how many different cultures cite the heart as the location in the body where happiness lies. There’s a science to it, though. Happiness, joy, they require more blood from the heart than other emotions. It’s what you reach to protect when you’re scared. Not your throat or other real vulnerabilities like exposed arteries or nerves – the things I target when I fight.”
“That night in the alley, as the gun rose, I remember my father’s hands covering my chest…his fingers like an extra set of ribs, filling in the spaces. When the explosion came, I thought I’d been hit. I was sure. But my heart had only skipped a beat. Then his hand was falling away and everything was different. That missing beat though…sometimes I think I live my whole life inside that missing beat.” – Batman
The nature of happiness and how it’s connected to the heart is an important theme. The Batman Who Laughs wants to prove a point to Bruce by calling him the most miserable of all the Caped Crusaders in existence. Each version of himself that he encounters has been able to effect change in their world, while the original Batman has remained stuck in an endless loop of depression.
Old faces and new plans
The Batman Who Laughs leaves his mark on Gotham by murdering a decoy of The Joker. Realising that he’s in danger, Joker infiltrates the Bat Cave and shoots himself in front of Batman. This releases a toxin that infects Bruce. It puts him on the path towards becoming as evil as his nightmarish counterpart.
Desperate for help, Batman turns to another psychopath for answers in the form of James Gordon Jr. Commissioner Gordon gets involved too and it leads to an interesting dynamic between all three characters. If that wasn’t enough, another dark version of Batman emerges called The Grim Knight. Unafraid to kill, The Grim Knight is a one-man-army with a personal vendetta against Gordon.
Before facing the Batman Who Laughs, Bruce has a final heart to heart with Joker. There’s something disturbingly fun about the two of them being on the same page and agreeing with each other. It’s a reflection of how high the stakes are and a credit to Snyder’s pacing.
But the best moment is saved for the very end. The Jokerised Batman has a philosophical conversation with Bruce about what it means to be Batman.
“What is a bat, Bruce? A bat is the only mammal on the planet that can fly. It’s learned to rise above all other creatures like it by embracing its strengths. Its true nature. Its urges. The bat shows us how to evolve, Bruce. How to win! See, every single version of us I pulled through, the happiest versions, they’re all selfish. They gave up on ideals to compromise….to win. They are bats!”
“But you…you hold people’s feet in the fucking dirt. So, you can bring forth whatever version of us you choose. Hell, you don’t know a single version of Bruce Wayne that was…is or will ever be truly happy.” – The Batman Who Laughs
A poignant ending
Batman’s war with his darker self leaves him changed. It makes him realise that he truly is the unhappiest version of himself across the entire multiverse.
“Joker says that to accept that there’s no meaning in your actions is to win. I say, to believe there is meaning in all your actions is to win. That demon, what he says is that there is no meaning in your actions. Therefore the only meaningful act is to win. He is the fear that we’re both right, Joker and I. The fear that without any grander meaning, at heart, we are cold, animalistic, selfish things.” – Batman
But out of that realisation comes the knowledge that to be Batman is to defy your nature. It’s about being better than you were the day before and striving to overcome the darkness inside so you can bring light into the world.
With The Batman Who Laughs, Snyder has created yet another comic masterpiece. The art from Jock is brilliant as well. His panels are moody, grainy and visceral. He makes the Batman Who Laughs look sinister and demonic in every scene. He also beautifully captures Bruce’s descent into madness.
And that’s what the graphic novel boils down to. Madness. How to fight it. How to overcome it. How to win. Buy the story today.