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The terrible origin story of the Joker-Batman hybrid villain of Dark Nights: Metal

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Who he is and how he came to be

Batman kills the Joker in The Batman Who Laughs #1 (2017), DC Comics Riley Rossmo/DC Comics

DC Comics fans have been fascinated by the Batman Who Laughs, the most prominent villain in the company’s fall crossover event, ever since he was revealed this summer.

All we knew then was that he was a terrible mashup between Batman and his greatest foe, the Joker, a traveler from an alternate side of the DC Multiverse, where the greatest fears and dark desires of the main DC setting are fully real. Today, we found out more than we might ever want to know.

The BWL is the leader of a whole squad of “Nightmare Batmen” based on the other members of the Justice League, and each of them have had their own one-shot story explaining how Batman came to wear the helm of Ares, or harness the Flash’s Speed Force or wield a Green Lantern ring for evil. The BWL is the last, and this week, The Batman Who Laughs #1 walked readers through a story of how the Joker’s moral center was grafted onto Batman’s intellect and determination, and what that did to one version of the DC Universe.

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #1.]

Imagine, if you will, that the Joker’s final revenge on Batman was to infect his body with a neurotoxin that would be released instantly upon his death, and slowly corrupt the mind of whoever had been exposed to it to see the world as the Joker does. (This is actually not that dissimilar to the plot of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.)

Now stop imagining it, because that’s what happens in The Batman Who Laughs. The Joker hatches a scheme so unrelentingly evil and destructive that Batman snaps. He does what every arm-chair comic editor has always wanted him to do: He kills the Joker. Everything seems fine, except for his new tendency to laugh at really inappropriate things:

Batman and Superman in The Batman Who Laughs #1 (2017), DC Comics
He’s bad at jokes, but very good at riddles.
James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia/DC Comics

A few days later, Batman convenes his family in the Batcave to give them the news: He’s turning into the Joker. Naturally, Nightwing, Batgirl, the Red Hood and Red Robin are ready to spring into action — they’re going to pull together and figure out a cure. Just like every other time in the long history of Batman, the family of allies Batman has created will set aside the grudges and misunderstandings that might divide them and work to save one another from the direst outcomes, especially when it means saving the father figure who taught them everything they know.

Except the whole trick of the Dark Multiverse is that nothing ends the way it’s supposed to.

Batman and Nightwing in The Batman Who Laughs #1 (2017), DC Comics James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia/DC Comics

And when the moral compass of the DC Universe’s master planner gets bent in the wrong direction, everything ends badly.

Batman and the Bat-family in The Batman Who Laughs #1 (2017), DC Comics James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia/DC Comics

And as painful as this is to read, what the Batman Who Laughs does to the family of his Superman might be even worse. I don’t even want talk about what he does to Plastic Man and Swamp Thing.

Or maybe it was the Martian Manhunter. It’s hard to tell, and that should be everything you need to know about it. The Batman Who Laughs #1 is on shelves now, and Dark Nights Metal will continue with Batman: Metal #4 in December.