Overview: Has Batman gone too far in his quest to stop the Batman Who Laughs?
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Bruce notices he is not quite like himself. When he has felt lost, he always came back to the same thing: Gotham. He reminisces about his first time riding the subway. His father smiled and handed him a subway token. On the face of the token is a map of Gotham. His father tells him he is holding everything Gotham stands for. Bruce asked him what he meant, and his father told Bruce that Gotham was founded on the idea where everyone is equal. On the token, the number one stands for “single fare for all.” The shape of the token, a ring, means they, all Gotham’s citizens, ought to protect each other. The light in the sky means they all ought to strive to be better. This token, a small piece of brass, is the bedrock of what Gotham is. Bruce says he is Gotham, and Gotham is Batman. Batman and Gotham bring out the best in each other.
In Blackgate, Batman tries to escape the GCPD ambush the Batman Who Laughs had set up. Disguised as another officer, the Batman Who Laughs orders the officers to aim for Batman’s mouth. Pinned down, Batman succumbs to the darkness. He manipulates the guards to let him go by threatening their families. These threats are not empty ones; he knows their addresses and loved ones’ names. If he is followed by the police, he will come for them. One day or another, he will collect on their debt – for he is the Batman Who Laughs.
In the sewers, Jim Gordon is running for his life. With the Grim Knight watching from afar, the pack of Jokerized Robins are hunting him down. In the midst of things, the Grim Knight tells Jim these little birds were specially made by the Batman Who Laughs. They are all versions of his son, James. Jim cannot believe this news, but the Grim Knight confirms it. Out of terror and horror, Jim dives into the sewage water, hoping to swim to his escape. Unfortunately, the pack continues their hunt until gunshots echo through the sewers. James Gordon, Jr. holds a smoking pistol and tells his father to leave with him. Astonished of how James knew where he was, James tells him he forgot at first. But being down in the sewers again reminds him that his past was actually real.
The Batman Who Laughs stands before an audience and asks for their help. They know who he is and what he is. According to their customs, the youngest decides whether to hear out his request. The youngest comes forward, and she shares that they, the legendary Court of Owls, will not help him. With that, they call for the Talons to take care of him. However, the Batman Who Laughs has already dealt with the Talons. The Talons run into the room with both arms cut off. The Court of Owls try to escape, but the Batman Who Laughs has blocked off the exits. He detonates bombs, and the members are killed. However, one man challenges this monster. This man is Bruce Wayne, a Talon from another multiverse, and he asks what the Batman Who Laughs has done. He attacks the Batman Who Laughs, and the two begin to spar.
On a rooftop looking down on the city, Batman looks on his city. He is looking to Gotham to ground him back to reality. Because of his transformation, he sees the dark energy all around him. He sees the people below, and he sees their nightmares. James radios Batman to let him know he has retrieved his father. Due to all the traps the Batman Who Laughs has set, they will need a vehicle that could withstand anything. Batman tells James he has something that could help.
After ferrying them to the Batcave, James and Jim both tell Batman they know the Batman Who Laugh’s plan. Jim tells Batman he saw the Batman Who Laughs create a serum which changes people to their worst selves cell by cell. Batman tells them their only advantage is they go after the Batman Who Laughs; they come before he has time to hack the system. With Jim here, they can preemptively set off Last Laugh before the Batman Who Laughs can inject the serum into the system. Jim asks what the Last Laugh will do, and Batman tells him effective immediately, it will dismantle all of Gotham’s entry points. It will remove Gotham from the national electrical grid and cut them off from outside water sources. It will turn Gotham into a quarantine zone.
Since it is a two key system, Jim places his hand on the panel and the screen gives Batman two minutes to place his hand on the scanner. Batman thinks out loud and reasons that they were lucky. It was like the Batman Who Laughs had wanted this the entire time. He let Jim escape because he cannot hack the Last Laugh. The Batcomputer alerts them there is an incoming message.
A hologram of the Batman Who Laughs manifests, and he tells Batman he wanted to show him something special. He brings up a map of Gotham from 1699. He stole this from the Court of Owls to show him what Gotham truly is. He says Batman thinks Gotham was created to be a beacon of hope. But, this map and the Last Laugh show the opposite. The Last Laugh was created so that Gotham would become a seat of power. Gotham was meant to conquer and the Last Laugh was a strategy of destiny. Despite the warnings and pleadings from James and Jim not to listen to this madman, Batman takes in everything this monster has said. Batman disarms James and Jim and goes to the panel. Alfred pleads for Batman to not activate it. He tells Batman this city may not be what his family stood for. They stood for something better, and he is part of their legacy. Batman tells Alfred standing in the sun has not worked. With one second left on the timer, Batman activates the Last Laugh.
Analysis: Wow! Just…wow! This issue is the best of this mini-series so far.
First, this issue opens with an amazing monologue. Bruce recounts another memory from his father. His father tells him Gotham was built to be a beacon of hope. Its citizens were meant to protect each other. Everyone was equal. Yet, Gotham does not have “one fare for all.” The income inequality in Gotham is outrageous. You have the one percent who party in their lofts while the rest of the city crumbles. People are being forgotten. Gotham is dark and dirty, with no rays of hope. Crime is rampant. The city is on the verge of a total plunge into the abyss.
And, Bruce says Batman is Gotham and Gotham is Batman: they bring out the best in each other. The best Gotham can be is a Gotham with Batman. Bruce can be the best version of himself as Batman, fighting crime in the city which broke him as a child. What if it is truly the opposite? What if the presence of Batman brings in more deadly criminals? What if Gotham holds Batman back from life? This is hinted at in Tom King’s Batman. Bruce has no room for anyone else because Gotham is his priority. Crime Alley holds him back from moving on.
I gasped when the Grim Knight tells Jim these “Robins” are actually versions of his son James. How crazy and cruel is that?
At the end of the issue, the Gordons and Bruce believe they finally have the upper hand on the Batman Who Laughs. But, Batman begins to ponder. What if this was all a ploy? The Batman Who Laughs is a version of Batman. I tend to read him as a darker version of the Joker. We know Batman has backup plans for his backup plans. He thinks fifteen moves ahead of everyone. Activating the Last Laugh might be exactly what the Batman Who Laughs wants. Then again, it might not be. It reminds me of that scene in The Princess Bride where Vizzini and Westley (as The Dread Pirate Roberts) are about to have a drink. You have Vizzini trying to reason who is actually going to drink the poisoned cup of wine. It ends up that both cups were spiked and Westley had an immunity to the poison, leaving Vizzini to die. This is the same situation with Batman. No matter what Batman chooses, Gotham will be poisoned.
The art in this issue is the best in this whole entire series. Jock does a wonderful job of creating horror and suspense without being unruly. Each panel has this dark and gritty tone, yet everything is well-defined. There are a few panels in this issue where if they were full size, I would by them to be wall art.
Final Thoughts: This story ends on such a cliffhanger, I do not know what to expect or what to hope for in the next issue. With two issues to go, I am not sure what craziness Synder has in store for us.