'Batman Who Laughs' #1 Spoilers: How It Sets Up the DCU Through 2020
Scott Snyder has come home. The famed comic book writer whose epic run on DC’s Batman created a New York Times best-seller is back in Gotham City, and this time, he’s weaponizing fear and horror against the Dark Knight in his newest Batman mini-series, The Batman Who Laughs, a key piece in the puzzle of DC’s future up through 2020.
“To me, horror is a perfectly distilled form of conflict,” Snyder tells Inverse. “When it’s done well, those works are about a protagonist facing their greatest fear about himself or herself or the world around them, brought to life in the most terrifying way possible.”
The Batman Who Laughs, which launches a six-issue series this week, does indeed force Batman to face his greatest fear: himself, corrupted. In a reunion with British artist Jock (their biggest collab since Batman: The Black Mirror), the new book stars the Batman Who Laughs — an evil, conscience-free Batman from a dark dimension who emerged last year to terrorize the DC Universe in the summer crossover event Dark Knights: Metal.
Following a brief period of captivity under the Legion of Doom (read Snyder’s other series, Justice League, to see that story), the Batman Who Laughs is let loose in Gotham City where he relentlessly pursues the true Batman.
“Batman Who Laughs is the scariest character I’ve ever created,” Snyder says. “The Batman Who Laughs is not the Joker in a Batman suit, he’s Batman with his conscience ripped out of him.”
Snyder explains that despite the Joker toxin in his blood, consequently turning an alternate universe Bruce Wayne into a gaunt, grinning monster, Batman Who Laughs is evil in a way even Joker isn’t capable of.
“The Joker still has a theatricality and antagonism for Batman that’s so singular,” explains Snyder. “All Batman’s villains do things to prove a point. Batman Who Laughs is not like them. He’s, I’m just a shark. All I do is swim. He wins when there’s nobody left except him — literally the living embodiment of the tenement that Batman always wins. He’s a terrifying foe and he brings a level of horror I wouldn’t be able to achieve even with Joker.”
With such a monster at the center, The Batman Who Laughs is allowing Snyder to explore horror in an otherwise bombastic superhero sandbox. Even before he came to love superheroes, Snyder was a horror nut, raised on a steady diet of Stephen King and George Romero.
“My first exposure to horror, I was like 10,” Snyder says. “There was a video store in our neighborhood that wouldn’t rent R-rated movies to kids, but they would deliver to your house if you called. We watched all the slashers like Sleepaway Camp, Pumpkinhead — I’ve seen everything too young. One day, I rented Night of the Living Dead.”
George Romero’s enduring 1968 zombie classic traumatized the young Snyder for weeks. It quickly became his favorite movie. Decades later, it’s hard not to see the DNA of Night of the Living Dead in The Batman Who Laughs.
“It’s about protagonists realizing that the monsters, these zombies, are less threatening than their own dark nature,” he says. “It’s a pressure cooker play that’s about this slow march of death. How are you going to act? It was so horrifying seeing all the heroes die, everybody you put faith in, because of their impulsive nature or their failings. It gave me a template of what great horror can do even though it completely disturbed me.”
Snyder and Jock promise Batman Who Laughs will also have its explosive moments, dishing out all of Batman’s tricks in the book — the gadgets! the action! — in a horror package. It isn’t another straightforward horror, like Arkham Asylum, or the recent, controversial Batman: Damned. It’s the best of two worlds.
“My work naturally lends itself to quieter, darker moments. But starting in 2000 A.D. and on The Losers, I got a chance to flex doing action sequences,” says series illustrator Jock. “Batman Who Laughs is the perfect combination of horror and sequences that have been a total blast.”
Although readers are free to enjoy Batman Who Laughs on its own, Snyder and Jock have crafted the story to play a significant part in future stories from DC.
“What I pitched to DC was a plan that would stretch all the way into 2020,” Snyder says. “At the end of Batman Who Laughs, something catastrophic happens that winds up being the focus of a new series we’re going to announce. All of that culminates in summer, fall, where five, maybe books come together to crescendo in one big über story.”
But that’s then. Batman Who Laughs is now. It’s a series “that is meant to be a really nightmarish exploration of what terrifies Bruce, the things he doesn’t want to admit beneath the cowl.”
“The ambitions of the series are twofold,” the writer adds. “On one hand, [we’re] doing the scariest, darkest Batman we can possibly do to get something really personal, and on the other hand, make sure it has every fun element in the Batman mythology we can get our hands on.”
Batman Who Laughs #1 is in stores now. Issue #2 will be released on January 16 2019.
Related video: Watch the Joker in Telltale’s Batman.