Over the past nine months, Scott Snyder, Jock, David Baron and Sal Cipriano have delved into the deepest and darkest parts of Bruce Wayne in the 7-issue The Batman Who Laughs. On the surface, their frighteningly effective miniseries might be a bombastic horror comic filled with dynamic action and classic characters taking on new and surprising roles, but it's also showcased some of the most powerful elements of comic book storytelling.
Despite its core story about Batman’s newest adversary, the team has crafted The Batman Who Laughs into an allegory in which every aspect of Bruce and his career as Batman have been explored. (Go on and take a breeze through my past columns if you doubt me. It’s what we’ve been discussing week after week.) Last week’s final issue acts as a damning indictment on Bruce's legacy as the protector of Gotham and hints at the devastating impact he's made.
Though his original drive for crimefighting was the death of young Bruce’s beloved parents many years ago, it has over the years evolved into a moral compass of its own. Bruce truly believes that what he's doing is good for Gotham, but the impact that his actions have on those around him often contradict that.
The Batman Who Laughs #7 offers up a commentary on that in the bleakest possible way. Here once again is a Bruce willing to offer up whatever it takes to save the world, which inadvertently means saving himself. Batman's big plan is revealed as Alfred saves a young multiverse version of Bruce and uses a blood transfusion to eradicate the Joker-virus from our Bruce’s veins. It's a moment that should mean everything is back to normal in Gotham, but as is usually the case, the victims of Bruce and his obsession with justice are still suffering. And this time the ramifications are universe-shatteringly large.
The Batman Who Laughs has shined a light on the Dark Heart of the Dark Knight, from his penchant for adopting and harming/killing children to his inability to connect due to his trauma to the depth of that very trauma and how it has affected his role as a crimefighter. In this final chapter, we get a literal representation of those issues as the last page reveals the truly horrifying impact of Bruce and his battle with the Batman Who Laughs. Commissioner Gordon, the man who has often been a beacon of honesty, integrity and truth in Gotham, has been infected by the virus that turned Bruce into the Batman Who Laughs.
It was, after all, Batman who dragged Gordon into his scheme. Batman who insisted that Jim drag his son out of recovery from his sociopathic tendencies and back into a life of violence and murder. Bruce was sure that all of this was necessary to stop the Batman Who Laughs and, in the end, he did manage that. The Batman Who Laughs is trapped and apparently subdued in the jail beneath the Hall of Justice, but once again, it's those around Batman who pay the price for his victory.
Jim and his son James Jr. have played a large part in this series, with the pair putting themselves in the line of fire over and over again. One of the most tragic moments comes in the final pages as the infected Gordon tells his son that he's cancelled his treatment and he wants the pair to continue working together. Of course, we don’t yet realize this at that time, which makes that final page so much bleaker—and so much like the Batman Who Laughs himself. It doesn’t just bring darkness to its own four panels, it darkly twists everything in its vicinity.
What should be a heartfelt moment is actually a gambit by a new villain to break the resilience of Jim Gordon’s son and turn him back into a merciless serial killer. It's not just the interpersonal impact of Batman's actions this time, though, because with Jim infected that means that the virus is still alive and we know it will soon be infecting the rest of the DC Universe and some of its most famous heroes.
It's a bittersweet end to the series which has dissected just who Batman really is. As one of his closest allies now faces the same struggle that readers have just seen him beat, it looks like the trouble is only just beginning for Batman. Hopefully the Dark Knight has learned enough from his experience to be able to help Gordon rather than having to defeat him. But with the fate of the DC Universe at stake, whether or not Bruce has truly grown from his bleak and brutal journey is still yet to be seen.