Subway Shorts – The Multidimensional Menace of Batman

This week, DC Comics continues its quest to turn Batman into an antihero on the level of The Punisher or Wolverine in not one, but two, major releases. First, the Dark Nights: Metal tie-ins continue with BATMAN: THE DAWNBREAKER. Then, Sean Murphy’s take on a world where the Caped Crusader went to far continues with BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT.

Batman: White Knight 1
Written by Sean Murphy
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth

Let’s face it, Batman has never been a paragon of perfect mental health – his parents were murdered in front of him and he deals with the trauma by exacting vengeance on random villains while dressed as a giant bat. Batman, though, usually isn’t the one locked up in Arkham Asylum. But things are a bit different with Sean Murphy’s latest miniseries.

The first issue of White Knight gives us a glimpse of Batman locked up in a cell, getting a visit from Jack Napier – the former Joker – who has become a hero to the city. The rest of the issue begins the process of catching readers up on what’s going on. Batman has been pushed to the limit. His trusty servant and father figure, Alfred, is dying and The Joker is leading him on a chase around Gotham City, where Batman is causing much more damage than The Joker.

The chase culminates in a pill warehouse, as The Joker challenges Batman’s place in the City, saying he would be a much better boon to Gotham. It doesn’t end well for the Clown Prince of Crime.

Or maybe it does, as the pills Batman shoves down The Joker’s throat – its contents a mystery to everyone but the guy who swallowed them – seem to counteract his mental instability.

The recording of the event also leads to debates over which one of the costumed combatants is the true villain.

The Gotham City comics fans are used to begins to break down. Commissioner Gordon is called incompetent for relying so much on Batman. The hero’s closest confidants – Nightwing and Batgirl – begin to question his methods and whether he should be out fighting crime. And The Joker plans to sue the City, using the new mental acuity those pills provided him, if they don’t lock Batman up.

Murphy’s first issue sets up an intriguing premise for the world he plans to follow in the miniseries, and his artwork is a perfect compliment to the moody story. If the quality of the story holds up – and I think there’s a good chance it will – Batman: White Knight should become a modern classic.

Batman: The Dawnbreaker 1
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Ethan Van Sciver and Jason Wright

Meanwhile, in the Dark Multiverse, we get another corrupted and damaged version of Bruce Wayne, where his ability to overcome fear after his parents were killed nets him the most powerful weapon in the universe – a Green Lantern ring.

This young, and now super-powerful, Bruce Wayne does not have the training or the restraint he learned on his quest for vengeance. No, he’s just a boy, taking out his grief on those he labels a menace. And using the considerable willpower that drew the ring to him, he overwrites the ring’s ban on killing. And without any restraints, no one is safe. We see Bruce taking out his parents’ killer, the members of his rogues gallery, the rest of the Green Lantern Corps and even Commissioner Gordon. If they stood in Bruce Wayne’s way, they didn’t stand a chance.

But then, he’s brought to the main DC Universe, where he begins to wreck havoc on Coast City, until Green Lantern Hal Jordan arrives to put a stop to it. But even he is no match, and he succumbs to The Dawnbreaker’s ring void… until Doctor Fate saves him – I’m sure we’ll get more on that soon…

I’m still waiting for one of these issues to really make a case for the need for all of the specials. Nothing so far as been all that extraordinary and I feel like it would have made more sense to put all these ancillary stories into an extra-sized edition with 2-3 pages of origin devoted to each evil Batman.

We still have a few more of these tales of the evil Batmen to go. They take a break for a week, though, as we return to the main narrative with the third issue of Dark Nights: Metal, due out on Wednesday.