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The untold truth of the Batman Who Laughs

Parallel Earths, alternate realities, and multiverses are a staple of superhero fiction, and they aren't all created equal. In CW"s Arrowverse, for example, they're downright silly. Travel between one Earth and another is so commonplace, characters regularly date each other while remaining in one another's respective dimensions. 

One of the biggest advantages of telling stories about superheroes in alternate realities, however, is that you get to ask the question of what would've happened if established stories had worked out differently. In the case of Batman, for example, you can see what would happen if he were to become an anti-Soviet operative dedicated to bringing down a Stalin-raised Superman. You could see Batman as a vampire, or in 19th-century London. Or you can meet the Batman Who Laughs — a kill-crazy version of Bruce Wayne whose body count would make the Joker sob in disgrace. 

Introduced as part of DC Comics' 2017 Dark Nights: Metal line-wide event, the Batman Who Laughs is a leather-clad, bone-white skinned villain who is a fusing of Batman with the Joker. The villain's role grew far beyond the scope of that crossover; he enjoyed his own 2018-19 limited series, and he infected DC's heroes to make them twisted, homicidal versions of themselves. To find out more about the most recent Batman bad guy to become an indispensable part of the Dark Knight's rogues' gallery, keep reading for the untold truth of the Batman Who Laughs. 

How the Batman Who Laughs came to be

On another Earth — one not only in another universe, but in a completely different multiverse — the Joker finally pushes Batman to step over the line he swore he'd never cross. In 2017's Dark Nights: The Batman Who Laughs Special Edition #1, after the Joker forces Batman to watch him murder parents in front of their children — children who subsequently become infected with Joker's toxin — Batman brutally beats the clown and breaks his neck, killing him. Unfortunately, upon Joker's death, the toxin that made him the Clown Prince of Crime is released and infects Batman. 

It isn't long before Batman suspects what has happened. While talking about the many children Joker infected, Superman tells Batman that one of the children tried to bite a psychologist's throat out, which gets an unexpected laugh from Batman. He apologizes and soon afterward his murderous rampage begins. 

After murdering his entire world, the Batman Who Laughs is one of many evil versions of Bruce Wayne recruited by the dark god Barbatos in Dark Nights: Metal to lay waste to DC Comics' prime Earth. He's been there ever since, continuing his crusade against that world's heroes. 

The Man Who Laughs

You might wonder why the villain's creators chose a comparatively long name like "Batman Who Laughs." It's accurate, sure, but you don't find many characters with names like that — it'd be like "the Lex Luthor Who Makes Money" or "the Thanos Who Snaps." And you might assume professional writers could come up with a more concise name. Maybe "BatClown" or "Bat Jester" or "Leather Batman." Okay, that last one suggests something completely different, but you get the point.

The truth is that the Batman Who Laughs' creators are referencing something very specific with his name — the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs. The film stars Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, a freak show attraction disfigured with a permanent smile. The Man Who Laughs is often cited as the obvious inspiration for the Joker. In his book Supergods, former Batman writer Grant Morrison goes so far as call Joker's creation a "straight light" from the silent film and even implies that when 1940's Batman #1 introduced the Joker, someone involved with The Man Who Laughs should've been on the phone with a lawyer. 

The Batman Who Laughs murdered the Bat family and beyond

Soon after he confirms that he's been infected with the Joker toxin, most of Batman's former and current sidekicks — Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and the Tim Drake Robin — confront him and he explains what happened. They brainstorm possible solutions, as well as ways to subdue Batman until a cure can be found, and initially Wayne feigns cooperation. Then, in one bloody splash page of Dark Nights: The Batman Who Laughs Special Edition #1, the fully emerged Batman Who Laughs does the unthinkable — he murders his beloved Bat Family. Considering we know he eventually murders his entire world, we have to assume that also means other Bat Family members like Oprhan, Batwoman, and the Signal, assuming they even exist on his homeworld. The only exception is his son, Damian Wayne, who he turns into one of his Rabid Robins. 

Later we see the Batman Who Laughs and his Rabid Robins aboard the Justice League Watchtower, where most of the team's most powerful members are dead. The only survivor is Superman, though it's clear he won't be alive for long. Bruce Wayne brings Lois Lane and Superman's son Jon to the Watchtower and uses a modified chunk of Black Kryptonite on Superman. Though we don't see it happen, it's implied the Kryptonite will cause Superman to go insane and kill his family with his bare hands.

The Rabid Robins

Just about wherever the Batman Who Laughs goes, he's accompanied by the Rabid Robins — Joker-infected children in Robin outfits who do his bidding, which usually includes swarming innocent civilians and tearing them to pieces. 

Most of the Rabid Robins were infected with Joker toxin before their world's Batman became the Batman Who Laughs. The Joker infects the children and murders their parents while forcing Batman to watch, and this is what pushes the Dark Knight over the edge and makes him finally kill the Joker. After the Joker's death, the children remain infected, and the Batman Who Laughs takes advantage of their transformation once he emerges. As far as we know, only one of the Rabid Robins was infected by the Batman Who Laughs directly — his world's version of Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne's son. The Batman Who Laughs tells Superman it only took "a little push" to transform his son, alluding to Damian's training as an assassin under Ra's al Ghul and Damian's mother Talia. 

The Joker infection seems to do more than simply make the children's skin pale white and alter their mental stability. It also causes them to grow deadly fangs as well as pointed ears. 

Dark Nights: Metal and the Nightmare Batmen

The line-wide event Dark Nights: Metal results in part from the Justice League cracking open the Source Wall, thereby letting in the creatures from the Dark Multiverse — a separate multiverse filled with the manifestations of our greatest nightmares. It's from here that the dark god Barbatos leads his incursion into the prime DC Earth, and it's from here that the Batman Who Laughs hails. 

But he isn't alone. The Batman Who Laughs is one of seven Nightmare Batmen — all different, dark versions of Bruce Wayne based on different heroes and villains that serve Barbatos and battle Earth's heroes. There's the Red Death, a Bruce Wayne with the power of the Flash. The Devastator is Bruce Wayne with the strength and form of Doomsday, the alien beast that kills Superman in The Death of Superman. The Drowned is Bryce Wayne, a female Aquaman-themed Batman. A mixing of Bruce Wayne and Cyborg makes the Murder Machine, Bruce Wayne with a Green Lantern ring equals the Dawnbreaker, and the Merciless is who the Batman of Earth-12 becomes after defeating the greek war god Ares and taking the god's power for himself.  

The Batman Who Laughs is the Batman who always wins

Batman always wins — it's a comic book fan mantra. Ever since the older Bruce Wayne brutally defeated Superman in the conclusion of 1986's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, it's seemed to be an almost canonical fact. No matter how powerful an enemy is, given enough prep time, the Dark Knight can figure out a way to take them out. 

Speaking to Collider at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Batman Who Laughs creator Scott Snyder said that "Batman always wins" notion is a big part of what drives the Batman Who Laughs. "[The Batman Who Laughs is] Batman completely devoid of morals and ethics, and he's the Batman who always wins," Snyder said. "His whole goal is just to win. He's sort of the apex predator of his world."

Considering that the Batman Who Laughs murders his entire world along with others in his Dark Multiverse, Snyder's words ring true. This is truly the Batman who always wins. The problem is he isn't fighting for anything, and unlike the Bruce Wayne from the prime DC Earth, he doesn't care about what he has to do to be the winner.

The Batman Who Laughs believes evil is what makes us special

Speaking to Collider at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Batman Who Laughs creator Scott Snyder said that to this twisted version of Bruce Wayne, evil is its own reward. In describing what he calls the Batman Who Laughs' "deep belief," Snyder explained"The bat is the only mammal that can fly, right? And [Batman Who Laughs] believes the bat's job is to show people how to become the thing they were always meant to become, and soar." 

So how do we soar? Well, according to the Batman Who Laughs, that's where evil comes in. Evil isn't just okay to this dark Bruce Wayne — it's the key to evolving. "Evil and selfishness is something that isn't found in the natural world, except in humans," Snyder added, noting that the Batman Who Laughs believes it's this evil that "makes us special."  According to the Batman Who Laughs, "We're designed to be dark. We're designed to be cruel. We're designed to be self-interested. So lean into that... Win. Just win."  

Snyder's words shouldn't be too surprising to anyone who's read the 2018-19 Batman Who Laughs miniseries, as it's precisely this philosophy that the darker Batman tries to sell to the nobler Bruce Wayne. 

The Joker is often the key to defeating the Batman Who Laughs

One thing that remains consistent in most of the Batman Who Laughs stories is that the Joker winds up being necessary in defeating him. The first time this happens is in 2018's Dark Nights: Metal #6. Batman Who Laughs has just about gotten the good guy Batman beat until Joker shows up with cleavers fashioned from bat-a-rangs to help his old adversary defeat this new one.

In the Batman Who Laughs miniseries, Joker's manner of help is a bit more involved. At the end of 2018's Batman Who Laughs #1, the Joker appears in the Batcave and Batman believes he's looking for protection, when in fact he's there to give Batman a tool to defeat the Batman Who Laughs — his insanity. The Joker pulls out a gun, initially looking like he's going to attack Batman with it, but instead shoots himself in the chest. The shot releases the Joker toxin in the villain's body, infecting Batman with it and giving him the edge he needs to anticipate the Batman Who Laughs. 

In Batman Who Laughs #7, the Joker again comes to Batman's aid... sort of. Once Batman defeats the Batman Who Laughs, the Joker toxin he's been fighting the entire miniseries pushes him over the edge, and he's about ready to beat his dark echo to death. Before Batman can cross that line, Joker shows up and shoots Batman to stop him, saying "You're welcome" as he does. 

The Batman Who Laughs is Batman's worst nightmare

If you've ever spent any time thinking about why Batman does what he does, you've probably asked yourself exactly why he continues to be merciful when it comes to leaving his enemies alive. Villains like Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, and more continue to murder countless Gothamites in spite of Batman, and every time he puts them back in Arkham Asylum, he knows their stay there is only temporary. From a particular point of view, every time Batman could kill one of Batman's murderous villains and doesn't, he's enabling the future murders he knows they'll commit. So why doesn't he kill them?

The answer to that question is the Batman Who Laughs. Speaking to Collider, Batman Who Laughs creator Scott Snyder calls the character "Batman's worst nightmare." And that nightmare is created because a line is crossed, one that few could hardly blame Batman for crossing — Joker dying at Batman's hands. The consequences of that act go far beyond Batman's sanity. He murders friends and family, he murders the Justice League, and eventually he murders entire worlds. It's not an unthinkable proposition for the Batman of the prime DC Earth. He may not have super powers, but Batman has traveled through time, space, and other dimensions. He's gathered alien technology and mystical knowledge. He's spent years figuring out how to take out his fellow Justice Leaguers just in case he has to. Batman could kill worlds, and he knows it.  

The Batman Who Laughs loves murdering Bruce Waynes

One of the more disturbing acts of the Batman Who Laughs is what could be referred to as self-homicide. Starting in Batman Who Laughs #2, very specific corpses start popping up around Gotham. The Batman Who Laughs is gathering up versions of Bruce Wayne from alternate Earths, murdering them, and leaving them around the Gotham of DC's prime Earth in order to taunt Batman. Ultimately he uses one of them — a young Bruce Wayne whose parents haven't been murdered — as bait to draw Batman to him. 

It's kind of unfortunate for Batman that Batman Who Laughs limited himself to killing alternate Bruce Waynes instead of alternate Batmen. At the same time as Batman Who Laughs, in Batman the Dark Knight is dealing with a villainous team-up between the back-breaking Bane and the Thomas Wayne Batman from the Flashpoint universe. If Batman Who Laughs were to go after the Flashpoint Batman, then at least he might be able to take some stress off Batman-prime. 

The Batman Who Laughs and the Grim Knight

One of Batman's cardinal rules is that he doesn't use guns, largely because it was a gun that took his parents from him. But in the Batman Who Laughs miniseries, we meet yet another alternate reality version of Batman — the Grim Knight — who has a very different relationship with firearms. 

In fact, the Grim Knight carries around enough firearms for an Expendables movie. He's one of the few alternate versions of Bruce Wayne that the Batman Who Laughs turns into his ally. In 2019's Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1, the gun-toting Batman tells a tied-up Jim Gordon his origin story. Like the Bruce Wayne we already know, the Grim Knight watches his parents get murdered by Joe Chill. The difference is his Joe Chill drops his gun while looking for Martha Wayne's pearl necklace. The young Bruce Wayne picks up the gun and kills Joe Chill with it before he can get away. As a result, when this Bruce Wayne is inspired to become Batman, guns are very much on the table, as is dealing with his enemies in a more lethal fashion. 

The Grim Knight's more lethal measures make him a lot less popular on his world. He's eventually arrested by his world's Jim Gordon, so when he comes to the DC prime Earth, Gordon isn't exactly his best pal. 

The Infected

Batman Who Laughs' machinations are part of the DC Comics line-wide event Year of the Villain, in which the twisted Batman has infected six of DC's heroes to make a new version of the Secret Six. Initially, it wasn't clear who he was turning, but the Batman Who Laughs miniseries ends with the reveal that James Gordon has been infected and the ongoing series Batman/Superman opens with the duo learning Shazam has been transformed into the Shazam Who Laughs. 

The other four infected were then revealed as Hawkman, Supergirl, Blue Beetle, and Donna Troy, presenting a team poised to serve as the main villains for the Batman/Superman series. In the meantime, the Shazam Who Laughs quickly made waves across the DC Universe. In Black Adam: Year of the Villain #1, Shazam Who Laughs assaults Black Adam's home country, the fictional nation of Kahndaq, forcing Adam into the unlikely role of hero.