DC Comics’ 2017 crossover event, Dark Nights Metal, was the comic book craze of the summer, and this week, its break-out character makes a horrifying return. Series architect Scott Snyder is bringing the Batman Who Laughs to the main DC Universe, a place where he definitely does not belong.
The Batman Who Laughs hails from a broken splinter of the DC Comics cosmos, a world in which Batman broke down and killed the Joker — only for the supervillain’s final trap to spring shut. The Caped Crusader was infected by a neurotoxin designed to remove the moral limits of anyone present at the moment of the Joker’s death. The Batman Who Laughs has all of Batman’s determination and will, and none of his restraint. He burned his world down from the inside and then escaped its destruction to wreak havoc across the multiverse.
Snyder reunites with the artist known as Jock for a six-issue miniseries — called The Batman Who Laughs, of course — about the Batman Who Laughs declaring war on Batman, and he’s bringing some extra help to do it. The Grim Knight, a new Nightmare Batman who was not featured in Dark Nights Metal for fear he would outclass the other seven Nightmare Batmen, is sort of a Batman/Punisher hybrid.
With The Batman Who Laughs #1 hitting shelves on Dec. 12, Polygon sat down with Snyder and Jock to talk about bringing a dark night’s dream to the page.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Polygon: Scott, you set the Batman Who Laughs up as the most visible big bad of Dark Nights Metal. Did you expect him to be such a hit with fans?
Scott Snyder: I never assume that stuff at all. With the Court of the Owls, same thing, with Joker with his face cut off. You never think about those things taking a life of their own. It’s a huge thrill and honor, and it’s very humbling to see those things stick around for awhile.
With The Batman Who Laughs, it wasn’t the popularity that made me want to do the series. It really was the lack of room in Metal to explore the character. It was just the nature of that story; there wasn’t the kind of room for intimacy I wanted with this character. So I knew back then that I wanted to do a miniseries.
The idea was to bring the Batman Who Laughs to Gotham and do a story that would be the most nightmarish, most probing, consequential story we could do with this character, where he really faces off with Batman and says, “I’ve seen us across the whole multiverse. I know our heart better than you do, and it’s black. And I’m going to show you how dark it is, even though you don’t want to look.”
He comes here with a terrifying, terrifying plan that’s going to involve everything from Arkham Asylum, Penguin in the Iceberg Lounge, to James Jr. But at the core, it’s meant to be a real meditation on Batman’s greatest fears about himself, about Gotham and about his purpose.
What do you think are the most compelling parts of the Batman Who Laughs as a villain?
Jock: We were chatting earlier about how the Joker represents chaos, but he always has an agenda which is tethered to Batman somehow. And the Batman Who Laughs is Batman. To me he’s more extreme other than any of the other villains, and obviously that’s a lot of fun to draw and it’s a lot of fun in the story that Scott’s telling. He’s dark, he’s really dark, but there’s a lot of life in him as well, if that makes sense. It isn’t just dark for the sake of it, there’s a lot of energy in that character because he is — I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, Scott — but the most chaotic worst elements of Batman given life.
Snyder: Yeah, 100 percent. To me he’s the scariest villain in the Batman pantheon that I get to write, because ultimately he is Batman, with his conscience removed. And Batman without a conscience is just an apex predator, who believes in anything to win, survive, anything to make sure any threat is analyzed, planned for and taken down before he even knows you’re looking at it. And he has all of Bruce’s memories, he has all of his training, he has all of his history.
So the scariest part when he sees Penguin or he sees Joker or even Alfred. And he’ll go up to them and he has Bruce’s memories, he had the same experience [...] And it’s terrifying because you’re talking to Bruce Wayne. But then he pulls out a bat-scythe, and you’re like, this isn’t Bruce Wayne.
I find him to be my favorite villain that I’ve created, because the reason he is so scary is he’s the exact opposite of Batman to me. Meaning that what makes Batman Batman — as much as everybody believes it has to do with that he always wins and all these gadgets and his brilliant mind and all of that stuff — to me, it’s that marriage of ethics with determination. He takes his strategy and makes it something inspiring.
And the Batman Who Laughs is the exact opposite. He has all of the things that you think make Batman Batman, but what makes him Batman Batman is not there. That’s what makes him so hollow and frightening to me, is that he’ll come at you with all the skills and none of the heart.
You’re adding in another alternate universe Batman into this story. What can you tell me about the Grim Knight? Your Punisher Batman. Am I allowed to say Punisher Batman?
Snyder: [jokingly] Yeah, of course, why not?
He’s a cosmic character. The Batman Who Laughs comes from a place called the Dark Multiverse, where all of our hopes and fears live. He’s traversed that multiverse and seen so many different versions of Bruce [...] and he brought a bunch of alternate universe evil Batmen here for Metal. The Batman Who Laughs has this one henchman, the Grim Knight, a nightmarish version of Bruce, probably the second-most after the Batman Who Laughs, for me at least.
He is the idea of “What if Batman decided to start using lethal force, indiscriminately, to win?” In this world, when Joe Chill shoots his parents, Joe Chill accidentally drops the gun in the alley, and young Bruce picks it up and kills him. And from that moment forward he has no barrier or restriction to using lethal force to get what he wants. And as much as that involves guns, and it does — Wayne Enterprises on that world manufacturers weapons and all kinds of stuff — he’s much more lethal because he’s an international billionaire with a multi-faceted corporation that has chips and things in every possible piece of technology you own.
So if you’re in your car, he can make it drive off a bridge, or you’re in a plane, he can bring the plane down and you’ll never know it was him. He’s really a really terrifying character.
The worry I had about bringing him in for Metal, honestly, was that the other evil Batmen would pale in comparison to him. I wanted to save him for this story because I feel like if we’re going to go dark and we’re going to pull out all the stops, we might as well do it. I want this to be kind of one of the most nightmarish challenges Batman has ever faced and one of the best books that I’ve done. So that means going to the darkest, most nightmarish places and being okay with that.
And your design on the Grim Knight, did you work on that, Jock?
Jock: Yeah, that was me. It became very clear very early on, because obviously he’s fully loaded for bear. He has way too many guns, way too many heavy weapons, everything. But it became really clear very early on that he can support that, and actually he looks better [covered in ordinance]. I was drawing my first ideas for him and the more stuff I put on him, just the better he looked. So that was entirely come up with for this story, and he’s a lot of fun to draw, I can’t deny. Even though he represents a very dark path, an alternative Batman could have taken, nonetheless visually and for the story he brings an awful lot of punch.
When you and Jock get together, it’s often for horror books. Is this a horror Batman book?
Snyder: Oh, it’s definitely a horror Batman book. I mean it’s a Batman book in that we want it to be something that everybody who loves the character can pick up and feel comfortable with. But it’s a dark book. I mean, the character of the Batman Who Laughs, you’re never going to have him in a story without it being a horror book. Because he’s a natural horror [laughs] himself. So the second he appears you’re in a horror book
The Batman Who Laughs is kind of a mouthful of a name. Do you abbreviate it?
Snyder: I don’t, just say it.
Snyder: Well, when I type it.
Jock: In emails, it’s BMWL.
Snyder: I don’t, I won’t type that.
Jock: [kindly] It’s too much; it’s a step too far for you, Scott.
Snyder: But it would sound like a boy band if people started calling him that in the actual thing! There’s no way. It is [a mouthful]. But, you know, he’s a scary guy so I’m happy to say the whole name.