Spoiler Warning!! Finish Batman: The Red Death #1 before reading any further…
As DC Comics’ Dark Multiverse begins to take form, it’s revealed not as the shadowy place of pure evil that one might imagine of the home to the bat-demon Barbatos, but rather one of hopelessness. Hints of that could be gleaned from the underlying horror of the Batman Who Laughs’ Robins, but it becomes clear this week in Batman: The Red Death #1, which paints a picture of Earths in perpetual crisis, and of an aging, desperate hero driven to madness, and murders, by his inability to save his city, let alone his own family.
The Bruce Wayne in The Red Death, by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico, isn’t all that different from the one of Earth-0. He’s older and more weary, closer to his counterpart in The Dark Knight Returns, the seminal 1986 comic whose echoes ripple through this one-shot, from the tank-like Batmobile to the visor-wearing mutants wandering the streets of Gotham in chaos — but he’s recognizably, discomfortably, “our” Bruce Wayne.
This Batman too is born of loss, not only of his parents but also of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne; he’s without a family, untethered to those elements that might have pulled him back from the brink. Surrounded by death, Bruce is keenly aware of his own mortality, and his own shortcomings. When his training and technology failed him, he began to work his way through not just his rogues gallery but also The Flash’s, presumably killing the supervillains as he absorbed their weapons into his arsenal. The Dark Knight arrives to this new phase of his origin story equipped with guns that once belonged to Captain Cold, Mirror Master and Heat Wave, as well as Mister Freeze’s cryostasis formula, and intent on adding super-speed.
It makes a certain degree of sense, at least to a vigilante who feels impotent to save the people and the city he loves, and so sets his sights higher, to the entire world. Realizing he’s not fast enough to be everywhere he needs to be, he turns to Barry Allen, the key to what he seeks: access to the Speed Force.
How Bruce accomplishes hijacking Flash’s ability to tap into the Speed Force is almost comical, with Barry chained to the front of a souped-up Batmobile like Max Rockatansky mounted to the grill of Nux’s car in Mad Max: Fury Road. The result is predictably, unavoidably tragic, as the Dark Knight’s signature vehicle is transformed into a Cosmic Treadmill, and propels the duo into the Speed Force where, contrary to The Flash’s warning, they aren’t ripped apart but are instead merged. They become the Red Death, with Bruce firmly in control, leaving a trail of bloody, disemboweled rogues in his week, and Barry trapped within, futilely pleading for his other half to stop.
But Bruce Wayne knows futility, too. Momentarily buoyed by a false sense of hope that accompanies his newfound abilities, he quickly realizes he’s still helpless in the face of the crisis sweeping across the Dark Multiverse. “Our worlds aren’t meant to last,” the grinning Batman Who Laughs consoles him from the shadows, playing the role of tempter. “They are destined to die. It’s a cruel law of nature in this place.”
In that regard, this Dark Multiverse feels like a shadowy version of the DC Universe (or any superhero universe, really) where one status quo-altering, reality-destroying cataclysm cascades into the next, seemingly without end. At some point, the heroes who survived would be barely recognizable, stripped of hope and their moral center. They’d resemble something akin to these Dark Knights, these Evil Batmen, left orphaned and homeless, and desperate for another world to call their own, another city to save.
It’s almost enough to make us feel sorry for these seven twisted incarnations of Bruce Wayne, even as they set out to conquer the DC Universe at the behest of Barbatos. Almost.
The next evil Batman to star in a solo one-shot, The Murder Machine, will have his Cyborg-fueled origin revealed in a story written by Frank Tieri and illustrated by Riccardo Federici. Batman: The Murder Machine #1 goes on sale Sept. 27.
(Courtesy of CBR.com)