When Scott Snyder and Jock brought the Batman Who Laughs back for his very own miniseries, the first part of the terrifying villain’s new plan was a ghastly one: He was grabbing Bruce Waynes from other universes and murdering them in this one.
Now, thanks to The Batman Who Laughs #2, we know why.
[Ed. note: This piece will contain spoilers for The Batman Who Laughs #2.]
In Dark Nights: Metal, the story that introduced the Batman Who Laughs, the villain was all about collecting evil versions of Batman from other worlds in the dark multiverse, the place where the worlds of the DC Multiverse that are fundamentally broken go to die.
But Batman Who Laughs kicked off his own miniseries by doing precisely the opposite: He’s grabbing good versions of Bruce Wayne and bringing them to Gotham. In The Batman Who Laughs #1, Batman examines the remains of a Bruce Wayne who quit being Batman after Bane broke his back, started investing in civil improvements to Gotham, had a daughter named May, and became happy with his life.
In this week’s second issue, we meet another. This Bruce retired from being Batman after the death of Jason Todd, then later became mayor. He had a speech in his pocket, in celebration of getting a federal energy contract for Gotham City. He was old enough to have gone gray.
Batman has a theory about what his ultimate goal is.
Here, Snyder is blending weird facts about cutting-edge science, high-concept superhero mythology, and emotional stakes into a tonal smoothie that has become something of his trademark.
The Batman Who Laughs has always represented the darkest possibilities in our Batman’s psyche; the answer to the question “What would it be like if Batman had the moral standards of the Joker?” Much of Dark Nights: Metal involved Batman confronting literal embodiments of the impulses within himself of which he was most frightened.
And it speaks to Snyder’s chops as a master of psychological horror that, in The Batman Who Laughs, he’s found an even more terrifying thing than having to acknowledge your own capacity for darkness. And that’s facing the possibility that there is a better version of yourself that you will never be.
“See, all these versions of us I’m bringing here to use,” the Batman Who Laughs tells our Batman, “they’re happier than you, Bruce. They’re at peace, because they effect change. Out of every version of us across the universe, you’re the most miserable. The least accomplished. You don’t understand why yet, but you will. See, to me, to us, you’re the Nightmare Batman. The bad joke.”
“Me,” he concludes, “I’m the gun,” meaning the pistol that killed Batman’s parents — both of their parents — so many years ago.
It’s enough of mind game that you almost forget that the other parts of the Batman Who Laughs’ plan involve bringing a Batman Who Uses Guns to the main DC universe and turning Batman into a terrible Joker hybrid just like him. Almost.