As we've ventured into Scott Snyder and Jock's THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS, we've sunken ever deeper into the cesspit of trauma and fear at the heart of Gotham's most eligible bachelor and vigilante. This month, though, we're taking a break from getting wrist-deep in Batman's metaphorical guts—well, at least, the Earth-Prime version of him—as we step into the bleak world and origin of the Grim Knight. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, as this story gets really, really dark.
Not that that’s really all that surprising. Batman is a character who is and always has been defined by darkness. Whether it's the dark night in crime alley which defined his life, the void of the old well that he fell in, the black of the bats that shaped his fears, or the shadows which he chooses to cloak himself in, Batman lives his life in the gloom. Cracks of light do manage get through, though, when Bruce chooses not to kill, when he decides to help rather than hurt, or restore and rehabilitate rather than ravage.
In THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS: THE GRIM KNIGHT #1, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Eduardo Risso, Dave Stewart and Sal Cipriano offer up a full dark no stars version of Batman and his iconic origin. It's one that presents a universe where, when faced with the horror of his parents' murder, Bruce decides to take the life of the man who took theirs. It's a choice that defines the rest of his life and irrevocably shatters the boy who leaves his childhood in Crime Alley on that fateful night.
If The Batman Who Laughs has so far been a cracked mirror showcasing a galaxy of Bruces who lived better lives than the one we know as Batman, then the Grim Knight is the empty space where a shard split from the rest. In trying to protect himself and the city that he loves from the devastating loss that he was afflicted with as a child, the Grim Knight becomes a horrific, homicidal Big Brother-style figure. He's an omnipotent ghost who watches over the city and haunts its citizens, killing everyone who dares to commit a crime. Though it's a critique that is often leveled at him in a moral sense in our world, here Bruce is very literally the judge, jury and executioner.
Risso and Stewart explore the thematic threads of the book in their artistic choices, juxtaposing classical comic book cartooning with a less conventional painted style that leans into Batman’s pulp roots. This duality is a reflection of the two sides of the Grim Knight, as well as the multiple versions of Bruce's life that we're getting to experience. It's an inverted world where nothing is the same and one of the saddest parts of the Grim Knight's existence is his treatment of the people that, in another universe, he might have loved. When we're hurting or in pain, it's easy to push away or lash out at the people around us. Here, rather than obsessing over protecting the ones he loves, Bruce controls them through fear, keeping Alfred in a bomb collar to enforce his orders and attempting to kill Jim Gordon due to their juxtaposing views on justice.
In our world, Bruce has lived a solitary existence, but in the world of the Grim Knight, it's pushed to the extreme with his behavior creating a landscape in which he is utterly alone. Driving the men we've known as his allies away with his violence and brutality, the Grim Knight is an island in the stormy seas of Gotham.
It's not just the people he once called friends, though, as his methods are so efficient and murderous that he is without one of the most necessary parts of Bat-lore: his rogues gallery. In the Grim Knight's Gotham, he kills the criminals who drive him before they even have a chance to take on a moniker; he's a hero bereft of reasons to fight.
Yet as we mentioned earlier, with Bruce, even in his darkest moments, there's a crack where the light gets in, and it seems like that's even true of the Grim Knight. Though his desperation to kill Gordon seems like proof of his broken moral compass, it turns out that despite his methods, he's still trying to find his true north by saving Jim from the torturous intentions of the Batman Who Laughs. It's a reveal which seems to fly in the face of everything we know about the Grim Knight, but it does offer up some small sliver of hope, as if he feels empathy for this universe's version Gordon in his own really twisted way. Perhaps as we move forward, there's hope for Bruce to find an unexpected ally in someone who has quickly become one of his most dangerous enemies.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.