This Batman lives by the gun.
In the wrong hands, characters like The Batman Who Laughs and his fellow Dark Knights could have been a disaster for DC. “What if Batman, but evil?” is a question that has lead to disappointingly superficial stories in the past. But with Dark Nights: Metal and now The Batman Who Laughs spinoff, Scott Snyder and company have made the most of their evil Batmen characters. That trend continues in a spinoff issue that shines a brighter light on the newest Dark Knight, the Grim Knight.
As introduced in The Batman Who Laughs #2, the Grim Knight is basically a mash-up of Batman and the Punisher. He has all of Bruce Wayne’s ambition and skills, but none of his compassion. Instead he’s happy to use guns, bombs and any other means at his disposal to end the scourge of crime in Gotham City. The goal of this spinoff issue is to explore the Grim Knight’s origin and what led this particular incarnation of Bruce Wayne so far astray.
Snyder and co-writer James Tynion IV don’t present this as an entirely standalone story. It instead unfolds between the events of The Batman Who Laughs #3 and #4, with The Grim Knight escorting a captive Commissioner Gordon through the bowels of Gotham even as he reflects on the events that led him to this point. This approach winds up working in the book’s favor. For one thing, it allows Snyder and Tynion to highlight the uneasy dynamic between the Grim Knight and the Batman Who Laughs. Where the latter lost his humanity once he transformed into the spitting image of his worst foe, there’s still a shred of morality lurking within the Grim Knight. Where the other Dark Knights were blindly obedient to their master, this version bristles at being made to commit evil, even if he sees it as part of a greater good. This issue adds an extra layer of nuance to the character, which is enough in itself to justify a purchase.
The other benefit to tying this issue so closely to the events of the core miniseries is that it allows for a stronger emphasis on the Batman/Gordon dynamic. In many ways, Snyder’s entire Batman run has been as much the story of the Gordon family as that of Batman himself. That’s certainly been the case with The Batman Who Laughs. Much of what makes the Grim Knight’s origin stand out involves his relationship with Gordon. The actual creation of the Grim Knight is pretty straightforward (and even recycles one of the main beats from Batman: The Dawnbreaker #1). But Snyder and Tynion use that world’s Gordon as a critical foil to the Grim Knight, one that illustrates how far Bruce Wayne falls in his war on crime. That in turn feeds into the grim Knight’s obsession with the regular DCU Gordon. He sees a second chance to “save” a man who so violently opposed him on another world.
Artist Eduardo Risso has a strong history with the Batman franchise in general and alternate universe Batmen in particular (see Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance for proof). Risso truly makes the most of this darker, bleaker version of Batman. Risso’s noir-infused style is a perfect match for the source material. It’s not quite as surreal as the work of Jock on the core miniseries, but every bit as striking and moody.
The real joy comes from seeing the pairing of Risso and master colorist Dave Stewart. The two artists make for a killer combination in the lengthy flashback scenes. Stewart’s colors bring a painterly, wistful feel to those scenes, one that brings to mind the work of Batman: The Long Halloween artist Tim Sale. It’s a shame we’re only getting one issue out of this creative team.