The Batman Who Laughs #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and David Baron
Lettered by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The combination of Scott Snyder and Jock on a Batman book was enough to ensure this limited series got some attention when it debuted last month. Its cliffhanger ending of Batman infected with the Joker Virus got us to stick around for another month, threatening to turn Batman into the very thing he’s been fighting. So while the book is called The Batman Who Laughs, it’s not just because of the dark multiversal villain behind the recent attacks.
The all-star creative time wastes no time in barrelling forward, opening with Alfred trying to keep the Joker alive on the operating table. Despite the obvious tempo of a modern thriller, it’s also a wonderful character-based moment as Alfred desperately looks for a loophole in their heroic code that allows him to let Joker die. As a jacked-up Bruce lashes out - due to the chemicals he’s using to battle Joker’s venom - Snyder effectively showcases the darker sides of their respective natures. In other words, it’s the Batman Who Laughs’ playground.
If there’s two things that marked Snyder’s historic Batman run, it’s the writer’s understanding of Batman’s power as a detective and the necessity of the Joker to the Dark Knight’s career. Snyder plays to both of these strengths here, structuring the remainder of the issue around Batman tactically dismantling the plans of the Batman Who Laughs and the sharpshooter Grim Knight. Yet for once this doesn’t seem to be enough, and a ticking clock dictates the pace as he heads towards an explosive finale.
The fluid style of artist Jock adapts at every turn. From the first page, a graphic shot of the Joker’s open heart surgery, Jock shows pinpoint accuracy in a series of inserts that operate on a cellular level. Batman, who is rarely out of the cowl in this issue, gets a similar full-page introduction, heavily inked within an inch of his life and plugged into “whatever the hell it takes” to keep him alive. In Jock’s hands, the Batman becomes like a nightmarish Cenobite from Hellraiser, complete with pincushions.
Jock has a symbiotic relationship with color artist David Baron, who keeps the color palette cool and muted until the script calls for a splash of violent red. There’s a moment where Bruce, disguised as Detective Harvey Bullock, chaotically reacts to a passing comment. Jock and Baron visually indicate this disintegration of a hero at every turn. Rarely out a mask of some kind, the increasingly sick Bruce gets subtly paler as the issue progresses. A rapid series of panels at the book’s apex focus on the Joker and Bruce’s eyes to the point that they are almost indistinguishable.
Putting the Dark into the Dark Knight, Snyder and Jock leave us at a point that is nothing short of bleak. Snyder holds back some of his deepest cuts until the very end, with another cliffhanger that reintroduces a character who has some importance in Snyder’s earlier works. As both a Dark Knights: Metal spin-off and as a standalone limited series, The Batman Who Laughs continues to impress. You might just need to take a shower when you’re done to feel clean again.