There’s so much I enjoyed about this issue that I just don’t know where to start. It’s absolutely loaded with “holy sh*t!” moments, and is hands down my favorite from the series thus far. I find myself in a difficult position where I’m so excited about what I just read that not only do I not know where to start, but avoiding spoilers while writing this review is a serious concern. Away we go.
Throughout this series Batman has been fighting a two-front war: one against The Batman Who Laughs, the other against himself — more specifically the changes Joker’s serum has been imposing on him. Neither war has been going particularly well for The Dark Knight. With every engagement it seems The Batman Who Laughs is five steps ahead of Batman, which is bad enough, but on top of that Bruce is slowly losing himself to the changes wrought by the serum. With that loss of control, it becomes harder and harder to resist the horrible impulses the serum and his dark metal visor feed him.
Outwardly, Batman’s changes have been relatively easy to catch — his eyes have turned red, he drools like a toddler, shoots spit with every animated response, and his patience has dwindled to an almost nonexistent level. But what this issue really brings to a head is the internal conflict. We’ve watched it slowly unfold across five issues, and now with the serum’s work finished, the destruction of the last vestige of Batman’s psyche is upon us.
As you can see above, Jock and Scott Snyder elected for a less than subtle metaphor to illustrate what Joker’s serum and Batman’s obsession with defeating The Batman Who Laughs has delivered: the death of Bruce Wayne. And as with so many other Bruce Waynes from around the Multiverse that The Batman Who Laughs ensnared, this one is taking bullets on the back of the man they were meant for, except this time, literally. You may be saying to yourself, “Hey that’s pretty messed up,” to which the creative team would immediately reply “Hold my beer.”
Shortly after Batman uses an alternative version of himself as a bulletproof vest, we’re led to the page that turns over the metaphoric death of The Dark Knight, something I think every reader of this series has been waiting for since it began. The moment is powerful, wonderfully brutal, and quite possibly Jock’s single best page yet. It’s the first time we witness Batman embracing both what the serum and The Batman Who Laughs have done to him, and while from an artistic standpoint it’s without question incredible, what struck me more was how Snyder built the entire series to this moment. In his addled state, The Dark Knight doesn’t appear to realize the oppressive weight of the irony behind what he’s done.
Anyone who reads Snyder’s Batman stories over the years understands that the man has a love for digging into the depths of Gotham’s history. This series is no different. Since the first issue I’ve witnessed him tie a beautiful knot together that interlaces Gotham’s history with the present crisis facing our hero. Just when we thought the knot was coming undone, Snyder goes and throws another loop around things. We know that in 1780 a plague wiped out a third of the city, and the founding families developed Last Laugh to preserve it from future disasters. But there’s an even earlier history, one before the founding of the United States, and it could change everything. I really enjoy that events nearly 300 years ago are changing the entire direction of the story. But perhaps even better is that they open up the Batman mythos for other creative teams to tell stories about Gotham’s early years.
That’s not the only stop down memory lane. Some familiar faces from one of Snyder’s previous Batman runs make an appearance, and damn do Jock and colorist Dave Baron make them look so freaking cool. Reading this series has felt like a homage to nearly every Batman story of Snyder’s past. Pay close attention and you can find Easter eggs all over the place. And it’s not just to Snyder’s previous work, Batman’s rogue gallery gets plenty of nods, with this issue using an easily overlooked sentence to wave Solomon Grundy’s way.
It dawns on me that I’ve yet to address The Batman Who Laughs’ Robins, his little twisted henchmen. They’ve popped up throughout the different series he’s been involved in, and this issue they’re strongly used to push the horror end of the tale. As we saw last issue, they’re out for Commissioner Gordon’s blood, but it’s not that simple; it’s actually much worse. Snyder adds a particularly twisted touch to this already horrible situation.
Oh, and if you weren’t aware, the only words they ever really say is “Crow!” and getting them to stop or heel requires their master to say “Bar.” Crowbar. Robin. Ya get it? Snyder’s one sick f*ck.
I can’t really cite too many specifics without giving away the goods from this book’s best scenes, but I just need to take a moment to heap some praise on David Baron. His work on this series has been phenomenal, but this issue felt like he really took things to a new level and delivered utterly exceptional work.
We’ve watched as Batman slowly gave inch by inch to the serum’s influence, and now we see what happens where there’s nothing left to give but himself. This culminates in the best piece of dialogue from the series thus far, seeing Batman’s two front war come to its zenith in the face of Gotham’s dark past and The Batman Who Laughs’ ace in the hole. I can’t say I’m particularly worried though, because as The Joker said Batman when he first infected him: “The only way you’ll beat him is to become him. Heh.”