'Batman Who Laughs' Reveals Dark Knight's Worst Fears (Exclusive Preview)

Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock talk about the new psychological horror comic book.
Jock/DC Entertainment
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock talk about the new psychological horror comic book.

Bruce Wayne is about to have to deal with his worst nightmares — and so is Gotham City.

In the upcoming DC Entertainment comic book series The Batman Who Laughs, Batman’s stomping grounds becomes home to more than one version of the Dark Knight when the eponymous villain from Dark Nights: Metal — a parallel world with a Bruce Wayne who’s been exposed to the Joker toxin — comes calling for the original.

The Hollywood Reporter has a preview of the first issue below, which introduces a second twisted version of Batman: The Grim Knight, which answers the question, “What if Bruce Wayne didn’t have a code against killing?” Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock, the creators of the series, answered some questions about what to expect from the look into Bruce Wayne’s cracked mirror.

Scott, can you talk about the intent of The Batman Who Laughs as a comic book? This really is the worst case scenario for Batman; it’s turning the character on his head.

Scott Snyder: For me, The Batman Who Laughs is all about that, both the series and the character. He’s basically Batman’s worst nightmare come to life: Batman, if he was infected by the Joker toxin and lost all sense of ethics. What he wants to do in Gotham is bring Bruce’s worst nightmares to life. So even bringing the Grim Knight with him — who’s like a lethal version of Batman because of his history — bringing these versions of Bruce Wayne, he has a very big and overarching chess plan, but each part of it is going to involve exposing Bruce to something that’s more terrifying than anything any other character could bring. Because he’s meant to be the scariest character in the pantheon.

There’s a tendency to think of the Joker as chaotic, but what makes the Batman Who Laughs so scary is that he’s not chaotic. There’s a rhyme and reason to what he does. It becomes more of a psychological horror story.

Snyder: Very much. We wanted to drive home the idea that he isn’t the Joker; he’s not the Joker wearing a Batman suit. He’s the strategic, level-headed, clear-eyed Bruce Wayne, devoid of any kind of moral compass. His only concern is to survive. He’s an apex predator, and in that way, he’s the most terrifying character — he has all of Batman’s experience, training, his mind, but he applies all that to taking down anything that he sees as a threat. It’s just that he sees any living creature that can’t be easily subdued as a threat, so he has a hundred different plans for every enemy.

The first time anyone saw the character it was as a villain in last year’s Dark Nights: Metal, where he was introduced as an alternate Bruce Wayne from a nightmarish parallel Earth. Where did the idea to spin this character off into his own series come from, and how did Jock get involved?

Snyder: The genesis of it really came from Metal, in that I knew as we were planning it that I knew I wouldn’t have enough space to really explore the character, so I always wanted to do a miniseries where he kept the character around and we could explore him in Gotham. My hope was that he would be popular enough in Metal that we’d have the chance to do that. The idea in the series was that it’d be something that would allow me to get back to my horror roots, but also something that would allow me to revisit some of the earliest material I did in Gotham, like “The Black Mirror” or “Gates of Gotham.”

It was a matter of wanting to do something deeply scary, something in the vein of Arkham Asylum, in the vein of Batman: Gothic, something that really shakes the character to his core. I knew that Jock would be the perfect person for it. We’ve done very dark Batman stories before, but also [Snyder and Jock’s Image Comics series] Wytches, too. I knew that nobody brings the scariest parts of my imagination to life like him; he was the only person I asked.

Jock, your work that’s been seen in the promotional art for this is amazing. Your version of The Batman Who Laughs and the Grim Knight are appropriately creepy and unsettling. How did you approach these different versions of this iconic character?

Jock: The Batman Who Laughs, the character, he’s very popular already, and Greg [Capullo, artist on Dark Nights: Metal] did such an amazing job bringing him to life. But I knew as soon as Scott asked me to do it, that I could hopefully bring something to it as well. Greg’s a very different kind of artist than me. My first approach was to bring something unique about myself; I use a lot of blacks, which suits the story Scott is telling. The Grim Knight is very harsh and dark, but he’s the one that I have the most fun with; he’s such an extreme character. Even with all the guns, the whole loaded for bear aspect, it’s so extreme that there’s something [funny]. I have a lot of fun drawing that guy.

We’re talking a lot about the idea of alternate, nightmare versions of Batman and how central they are to the story. Is this something that could only be told with Batman, who has such a strong iconography and presence in popular culture that you can write about these variations and they’re so immediately understandable to readers?

Snyder: Yeah, I think so. I think that Batman is a character who’s all about conquering your worst fears, or even going beyond that; using them as fuel to stop other people from being afraid, to turn yourself into a beacon of determination and hope. So, for someone to come along and say, "No, I’m going to make you feel like you make criminals feel, that the ground isn’t solid beneath your feet — I know you better than you know you." For me, those are the most fun Batman stories to read and to write. When you destabilize the character who’s so deeply confident — if you can scare him and get him through it, it’s additive, it makes him overcome something he hasn’t faced before. That’s the most exciting thing for me, to put him up against something that — in his 80 years of stories — he’s never come up against.

Jock, you’re playing with 80 years of visual iconography, as well. When you see the silhouette of the Grim Knight, with all the weaponary, there is something new there.

Jock: Batman is so recognizable, that simple shape — what you find is, when you have something that is so iconic, when you add elements to it you push it in different directions. I have so much fun with the Grim Knight. There’s a lot of guns, but I love drawing that guy. Even doing the first character design, it isn’t often you know that something is a hit right away, but doing that first character design, it was just like, "Oh my God, this guy is great." I’m not a confident artist, but I knew straight away, this guy had legs. It’s a look you haven’t seen before, but at the same time, it’s so recognizable because we know that character so, so well. You add that extra stuff to that, and it’s "Who’s this guy? Why does he look like that?"

Snyder: He’s a character I’ve been waiting to do for awhile. We almost used him in Metal. One of the things I want to impress is, this is really intended to be a stand-alone book. You can read it without having read anything I’ve done before. But, if you do read it alongside what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing in Justice League, it is part of a bigger plan and brings in pieces from Metal, and it’ll build to things we’re doing later in 2019, as well. So, a character like the Grim Knight, we thought of using him in Metal, but I thought, "No, there’s a better place to use him, there’s a much more nightmare-ish story coming up later."

Writing Batman, you always get someone saying, "Why doesn’t Batman use lethal force, times have changed, he should use a gun," whatever. I believe deeply that it would fundamentally break the character to go down that road, and the fun of the Batman Who Laughs is that he brings all of these worst versions of himself. The Grim Knight is the second worst version of Batman, next to the Batman Who Laughs. We joke about him being Punisher Batman, but the Punisher is pretty broke all the time, you know? He drives around in a van with some taped-up guns, but Bruce Wayne is a millionaire. He doesn’t need guns to kill you; he can use the GPS in your car. He can use drones. He’s not just a lethal Batman who uses guns. He could be the most lethal person on the planet.

Looking at the preview pages, there’s so much being done with so little; the two of you are clearly working in sync really well. Was there a lot of conversation before you started work on the series to nail down the tone?

Jock: Obviously, Scott and I have done an awful lot together, and there’s hopefully a synergy there. I certainly feel that; I find it very easy to draw Scott’s stories. But, actually, although we talked through the story like we always do, I’d say no, actually; I find it instinctual and very easy. It’s a very natural thing working with a writer that you’re close to — Scott and I are such good friends now — that I always feel that it helps.

Snyder: I’m only writing this for Jock. When I’m writing this script, it’s in a different style and a different tone; I’m writing it to appeal to the things that I think he and I are both excited by. It’s one of those things where, he’s one of my oldest friends in comics, it’s one of the most exciting things to go back and work in Gotham with him. One of the things is to make it challenging to us and to fans. It’d be easy to go in and do a small detective story or something ominous in Gotham, but one of the things I love about this story and my pitch to Jock about it is, it synthesizes some of the work I’ve been doing recently with Metal and Justice League with the roots of my Gotham trajectory, my work with him, which was very horror-driven. I wanted to make something that combines those things, that synthesizes those things into something that’s very new and different.

Yes, it’s a dark detective case, but spoiler: One of the things that incites that case and the story is that Bruce uncovers smugglers taking bodies out of Gotham, and one of those bodies is of Bruce Wayne, but this Bruce Wayne is older than him by a few years, and seems to have married Selina Kyle and had a child — he discovers all this while performing an autopsy on himself. [Laughs] We want the story to be both grounded and gritty, but also incorporating elements that are new and grand and scary in a way that extends beyond the physical world of Gotham. I’m very excited about it for it, not only because of its familiarity, but also its strangeness.

The Batman Who Laughs No. 1 will be released Dec. 12.