We enter the second chapter of Scott Snyder and Jock's descent into the depths of Bruce Wayne's broken psyche with a glimpse at what's inside the chest of his greatest nemesis—literally—as Alfred performs open heart surgery on the Clown Prince of Crime. It's an interesting opening that pushes the limits of the ever-faithful butler, who attempts to convince Bruce that letting the Joker die wouldn't be the same as killing him. Even the kind-hearted Alfred Pennyworth is being tempted towards darkness by the actions of the Batman Who Laughs. As is Bruce's way, though, he won't allow it to happen, opening up about his need for the grinning sociopathic menace who has defined so much of his life as a crime fighter.
Bruce is attempting to save himself from the Joker toxin, which he was infected with at the end of issue #1, and the bodies of his alt-universe counterparts are still popping up all over Gotham. In case that wasn't bleak enough, the most recent alt-Bruce holds a particularly bleak mirror up to our hero. The world that this latest dead Bruce came from was one that saw him leave the crime-fighting/playboy life after Jason Todd was murdered by the Joker and instead take up the role of his city's mayor. Once again, his wallet is full of proof that he lived a life far fuller than the Wayne of this Earth, who's currently struggling to survive the week without becoming a mutated amalgamation of himself and his arch-nemesis.
As our hero begins to truly lose himself, he finds the Batman Who Laughs—or should we say the Batman Who Laughs finds him. After a meeting with Jim Gordon that sees Batman almost give in to his growing Joker side, he reveals his fail-safe plan to his close ally and adds to the history of Gotham as he does. See, here it's not just Bruce who's hiding something dark beneath the surface, as it's revealed that his beloved hometown was once the center of commerce which quickly became a plague pit, wiping out most of the population. As Bruce tries to learn from the city's past and safeguard its future, the Batman Who Laughs is headed towards Wayne Tower, ready to demolish any hope Bruce had in his agency or power over the alt-universe Bat-Men.
While Bruce has been wading through the horror of dead alt-universe reflections of himself, he's been laboring under the impression that at least on his world he's unique—special, one of a kind. It's the ego that lives in all of us and drives much of what we do, but as the Batman Who Laughs enters Wayne Enterprises using nothing but his voice—which is brought to life with terrifying effect by letterer Sal Cipriano—it becomes ever clearer that even though the Bruces all originated from other Earths, they're still the same man. It's a horrifying moment when you realize that with just the slightest change in your backstory you could become a villain instead of a hero, the monster under the bed rather than the savior from the stories. It also shatters Bruce's illusions that he has any kind of upper hand.
One of the scariest possibilities in life is that we have no control of our actions and the end of this issue plays heavily on that. Jock and colorist David Baron take us on a whirlwind through Bruce's mind as he's thrown about by the Batman Who Laughs and eventually taken down by the Grim Knight. It's here that we see Bruce truly broken, as he begs his enemy not to destroy Wayne Enterprises and his private legacy as Batman. At every turn, he's been bested because the monsters he's fighting are none other than himself. Everything that he's done they've done too; every thought, plan or scheme has already crossed their minds. It's a chilling prospect.
Things look bleak for Bruce as he jumps from the flaming inferno of Wayne Enterprises. As he heads back to the Batcave, he's faced with an unthinkable decision: He must rely on the one man who's haunted him throughout his entire life, the person who probably knows him better than himself—the Joker.
What the man who laughs reveals, though, will be a shock for fans and will likely not make Bruce any happier. The shocking final page is a great callback to Jock and Snyder's previous work on BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR and hints that the horror tarnishing Gotham will not only darken Bruce Wayne's door. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures...and as Jim Gordon makes a desperate and dangerous decision, it's clear that things are only going to get worse in Gotham City.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.