After the trauma and chaos of The Batman Who Laughs, the Year of The Villain isn’t letting up with Batman/Superman #1 continuing the horrors of Snyder and Jock’s dimension-shattering vision of the DC Universe. Where The Batman Who Laughs placed Bruce Wayne at the center of a very personal struggle against a massively powerful force, Batman/Superman is all about the connection and conflict between the duo known as the World’s Finest, and Joshua Williamson, David Marquez, Alfredo Sanchez and Jonah J. Hill do a stellar job of bringing their eight-decade dynamic to life.
The duality of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent has long been at the heart of their relationship. Bruce is a young orphan from the urban sprawl who is defined by the loss of his parents. Clark is the farm boy from the country who was molded by his parents’ love and support. They’re polar opposites not only in their upbringing, but often in the way that they choose to fight crime. Yet, time and time again throughout their 80+ year tenure, their fates have been intertwined for the greater good. And though neither would admit it, they’re almost certainly stronger together.
This stark juxtaposition and the strange twists of fate that made them unofficial partners are all things that Bruce is acutely aware of, and much of this issue takes place with Batman as the narrator. It’s an insight into his mind and the way he views this work partnership. It’s one that he can’t get away from and, though he’s loath to promote the fact, Clark is where he turns when things get too hard to handle. That’s how we find Bruce after The Batman Who Laughs, desperate for help when he hears rumors of a Superman Who Laughs harming children. Clark answers the literal and proverbial call, and from that moment on, the story weaves towards the big reveal and the secret at the dark heart of who Batman is.
No matter your feelings about the two heroes, you can’t deny that Batman and Superman are icons. Massively strong to the point of near omnipotence, the pair is near unstoppable, and that’s exactly what makes them so desperately dangerous in the age of the Batman Who Laughs, his Joker venom and the newly discovered Nth metal Batarangs that he’s using to infect people. This is the heart of the horror that permeates Batman/Superman #1. Not the Batman Who Laughs or his infected vessel, Jim Gordon, but the realization that despite all of their differences, similarities, lives and loves, there is only one thing Bruce and Clark would be better at than being heroes and that is being villains.
That’s what the Batman Who Laughs has tapped into, whether or not he realizes it in his chaotic nihilistic haze. But it’s something that the newly recovered Bruce is deathly afraid of. He knows that the superheroes who fill the DC Universe are ticking timebombs—perfect weapons who are only controlled by their own goodness, heart and drive to help others. Without that, they’re danger incarnate. If they’re corrupted, instead of stopping a speeding train, they’re directing it towards innocent people. Rather than saving the children on their school bus, these super-strong mutants would be the ones harming them, dangling the yellow vehicle off the local bridge just for a laugh.
It’s something other comic series like Watchmen and The Boys have explored. What happens when heroes lose control? Or when they stop working for the people they’re meant to protect and start being driven by a much more sinister motivation? It can be fame, riches, secretive government organizations, or something as simple as a man driven mad by achieving his ultimate goal. After all, that’s the story of the Batman Who Laughs. He’s simply a version of Bruce who did what our Earth’s hero never could: he killed the Joker, and in that moment became the very thing he had been trying to stop.
Now, though, Bruce has a bigger fear than the Joker and it’s the heroes who he has spent decades working alongside. The ones he has trusted, betrayed, loved and lost. Suddenly, they are the most fearsome adversary he can imagine, and that fear is the great equalizer as once again Bruce and Clark are flung together to fight. But this time, they’re pitted against the friends they would usually call for help. And as one of the children they both should’ve probably helped to escape from the Caped Crusader life wraps his pale hands around Clark’s neck, it’s hard not to agree with Bruce’s final words: “We’d be better villains than they ever were.”
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. For more from her, check out her issue-by-issue breakdown of The Batman Who Laughs and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.