The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Eduardo Risso and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
If you’ve been reading Scott Snyder and Jock’s The Batman Who Laughs, buckle your seatbelts, because The Grim Knight is essential reading for those who want to know the whys and wherefores behind this gun-toting man in black. But beyond those deeply invested in this series’ overarching plot, Snyder and co-writer James Tynion IV’s pacing of this debut issue takes a bit to fully kick in, making the Grim Knight’s central metaphor feel a little unwieldy until the final third of the story. Combine that with some uneven work from artist Eduardo Risso and colorist Dave Stewart, The Grim Knight is a solid story for completionists, but doesn’t pack quite as much punch as its central storyline.
The crux of The Grim Knight is a powerful one - namely, in a world where Batman has murdered all of his supervillains before they could stand to be a threat, who else would logically go after him besides the ultimate good cop, Jim Gordon? It’s these scenes that prove to be some of the best in The Grim Knight, showing Earth-Prime’s captive Jim Gordon as a counterpoint to the increasingly desperate and aggressive Gordon from the Grim Knight’s universe. In a world where Batman has eyes everywhere, and has turned every asset of Gotham City into a weapon to mete out justice, Snyder and Tynion deliver some fun twists and turns showing what could possibly stand in this relentless vigilante’s way.
But that said, it does take a little while to get there. We essentially are jumping between three different time frames in The Grim Knight, and two of them feel superfluous. Having seen the Grim Knight capture Jim Gordon in the main Batman Who Laughs title, we don’t really learn much more than we’ve already seen, which makes this book’s framing sequence drag the overall momentum down a bit. But it’s the actual origin story of the Grim Knight that might be the most acquired taste of the story - while I think there’s something really interesting about seeing a Batman who quickly has learned to break his defining no-kill rule, the execution is a little hit or miss. Some beats, like the iconic “None of you are safe” scene from "Year One," feel like a straight-up retelling with a more murderous bent; other moments, however, like Bruce shooting a bat out of the air in the “I shall become a bat” scene, can’t help but feel a little goofy.
What will likely make or break this book with readers, however, is artist Eduardo Risso and colorist Dave Stewart’s contributions. First and foremost, they each deserve a lot of credit for experimenting with Risso’s iconic art style - that said, I’m not certain Risso’s style necessarily translates into the water color effect that Stewart is going for. Gone are most of Risso’s signature heavy inks, and Stewart’s color rendering occasionally makes the artwork feel puckered up, such as a scene where young Bruce Wayne has an almost Skrull-like chin.
Some moments, however, the two come together to deliver something that feels half like Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove’s work in 1602 and half like something out of a nightmare - the splash page of Batman leaving a building full of victims in a fire is certainly memorable, as is a moment where we see Jim Gordon creating his master plan in a remote sewer headquarters. That said, without Risso’s ink style to ground the piece, you can’t help but notice his characters getting more exaggerated as the series goes on, with later scenes of Batman leaning heavily into that bulky Frank Miller aesthetic.
While it doesn’t quite hit the bullseye it was aiming for, there’s potential to The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight that I hope is paid off in the main series moving forward. Given how much Batman’s non-lethal code has shaped the character over the years, there’s a lot that can be said about what happens when you strive for justice versus the emptiness that comes from extracting revenge. Right now, we’re scratching the surface of that metaphor here, with the Grim Knight’s war with Jim Gordon being the most engaging inversion of the typical Batman mythos, beyond the incongruity of the character’s distinctly non-Bat-themed firearms. Even though there are some speed bumps getting there, The Grim Knight does provide some much-needed backstory to the character, which I do believe will pay off for readers of the main Batman Who Laughs storyline down the line.