Overview: Batman breaks his one rule… and then breaks all the rules!
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The Batman Who Laughs is laying down cards, talking about how to play the game. How to be strategic, but how one single card can change the entire hand.
On Earth -22, Joker has the city destroyed and Batman tied up. He talks about killing Jim Gordon via dissolving him in acid. He puts on his trench coat and tells him he’s taken care of all of Batman’s villains himself. See, tonight, he’s going to tell the joke that takes it too far. He pushes Batman on the ground and has a family sent down the street for him to shoot. He spares the child, only to Jokerize her. He has another family sent out… and then another… and another… until Batman breaks. He tears through his restraints and gives Joker the beat down of his life, telling him to stop. Joker replies to him over and over again that he’ll never stop. Batman realizes this and breaks his neck, killing him.
Two days later, Batman is showing Superman all the children that Joker infected. Superman checks to make sure Bruce is okay and says that he’ll see to it that he administers their treatment himself – a psychologist spoke to one earlier and he tried to bite her throat out. Batman laughs.
Three days later, the core Bat-Family is in the training room, practicing more vigorously than ever. Almost getting seriously injured on more than one occasion. They meet with Bruce afterwards and he admits that something is wrong. When he killed Joker, a toxin buried in his heart was released, infecting anyone in close proximity… it causes them to become him. They try to come up with a plan for how to deal with this and comfort Bruce. However, Bruce knows that they would known something was up before anyone else did, and shoots them all before they can act.
A week later, the Justice League has been destroyed in the Watchtower – only Superman remains. Batman brings Lois and Jon onto the satellite and infects Clark and Jon with black Kryptonite. When he tested it on Supergirl, she ripped her family apart before dying herself. They kill Lois and then each other as Batman and his rabid Joker-Robins watch.
Batman tells how Barbatos found him. He told him he could be his secret weapon to destroy the multiverse. Batman continues to explain how before he was a King. A powerful, but not perfect card. The joker card is entirely dependent on what it is matched with. When paired with a king, it can hold nearly any value. He shows his prisoner the nightmares he intends to bring into this world – every nightmare that the multiverse has ever had. See, he found the trick. Before, he thought it was preparation that made him strong, but now he knows that a Batman who laughs, is a Batman who wins.
Analysis: I kid you not, the premise of this comic, is an idea I had if I were to ever write a Batman story one day. Now, this is a much more condensed version of that, and it would have played out very differently, but the bones of this story are the same, and that’s just weird. James Tynion IV kills with this script. I felt like this version of Batman was being hyped up and I didn’t really know why, but now I get it; he’s a bad dude. I still wonder about Barbatos and don’t understand what it is exactly he wants, but I don’t expect that to be answered here. Tynion nails the voices of the characters here. I was particularly impressed with Joker. He sounded like Mark Hamill once Batman is infected, he does some messed up crap here to his friends and family. I am now more terrified of this Batman more than any of the others.
I love Riley Rossmo’s art. It’s funky, different, playful, and eerie all at the same time. A perfect fit for this type of story. His visuals are amazingly dynamic and fun to look at. His storytelling is amazing. AND he works well with Tynion. The subtle hints before the reveal, like the smile on his face before he shoots up his family was incredible. His use of negative space and body language are all beautiful to look at. I also enjoyed the progressive changing of his batsuit. I don’t know why we have to use Batman’s Rebirth costume in all of these books when none of the other looks match (Joker looks straight out of the Animated Series). And I don’t know that I care for the finished product of the Batman Who Laughs, (how can the guy see when there is a spike crown around his eyes?) but I know that’s not Rossmo’s choice. I do really like the look in the Watchtower. Primarily blacks and greys with wrappings and a yellowish/green on the inside of his cape and the insignia on his chest was a neat look.
Ivan Plascencia’s colors are great. It really gives Rossmo’s art that playful look that makes it pop. It’d be hard to imagine someone else taking this guy’s place, as he is such an integral part of the look of this book. Tom Napolitano letters this issue and does a fantastic job with his letter placement. Being a one-shot, it tends to be a bit wordy (it needs to be packed if it’s a one-shot), which could cause some trip-ups now and then, but this guy made it easy to follow along. Not Napolitano’s fault, but I absolutely hate the balloons for The Batman Who Laughs. It’s so hard to read and it’s distracting. I’m constantly thinking about how it makes it harder to read WHILE I’M READING IT. Red scratchy font over black backgrounds don’t read well. I get that you know who’s talking right away when you see it, but this is still Bruce. A nightmare version of Bruce, but still Bruce. It’s hard for me to have Kevin Conroy’s playful tones in my head when I see red scratchy font that’s hard to read.
Final Thoughts: This was a great one-shot that cuts right to the character relationship between Batman and Joker. Tynion really shines through in his work, especially their voices.
Side Note: For those of you counting (let’s be honest, none of you were), THIS review marks my 200th review for TBU… yay me!