December 1, 2022

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #397: The Dark Knights

The Dark Multiverse may have worn out its welcome for me, but the central concept behind the Dark Knights was actually not a terrible idea.

Writer Scott Snyder got a lot of use out of the character the Batman Who Laughs.  This was a Batman from the Dark Multiverse who was infected by Joker toxin, giving him the Joker’s morality and Batman’s strategic mind.  Quite frankly, I got pretty sick of that guy after a while.

But the basic idea behind the Dark Multiverse and the Batman Who Laughs’s team the Dark Knights, that was actually pretty cool.

Snyder’s plan was to reshape the DC lore as a whole with a new wrinkle.  There was the regular DC Multiverse that readers were familiar with, but those were worlds where everything more or less worked out.  The 52 Earths were from stable universes that weren’t going to go anywhere.  The central concept behind the Dark Multiverse was that cosmic beings like the World Forger was supposed to create universes while his brother the Monitor oversaw the whole thing and the Anti-Monitor would eventually destroy the broken ones.  The whole thing was knocked out of balance in part by the World Forger’s pet demon thing Barbatos going rogue.

Yes, Barbatos may have been some sort of influence on the very existence of Batman.

Anyway, the Dark Multiverse was made up of broken universes that were supposed to be destroyed and reused to try and make stable universes, but Barbatos essentially stopped the whole “destroying the broken universes” thing, and was in fact collecting Batman copies from different doomed Earths to form his Dark Knights.  Led by the Batman Who Laughs, the most ruthless and dangerous of the lot of them, the Dark Knights were essentially their own Justice League.

Oh, that’s the other thing about the Dark Multiverse:  it was largely made up of the nightmares of people from the regular universe, so each of the Dark Knights represented a fear that Batman had on some subconscious level.

Now, the whole thing played out in Dark Nights: Metal and Dark Nights: Death Metal, but quite frankly, I am not 100% sure what happened in those with special metals and the like, so instead, there were the Dark Knights, and it looks like each one suggested that Batman was afraid he couldn’t control the powers and skills of his Justice League teammates, creating each of the Dark Knights in the Dark Multiverse.  And the idea that Batman’s fears created these beings, and that each represented a secret fear of his, that I could get behind.

By the by, other heroes inspired Dark Multiverse threats too, but villain fears fortunately did not for reasons due to the fact that what they feared were the forces of good, and those things tend not to last long in the Dark Multiverse.

Anyway, Barbatos brought his Dark Knights to Earth-Prime, and they were consistently beating the Justice League because each one not only had a similar powerset to each member of the League, but they also had Batman’s strategic mind and fighting skills, making them a lot more dangerous.

Setting aside the (frankly, overused) Batman Who Laughs and his Robins, the others were their own breed of dangerous, each one seemingly unstoppable in their own right.  They were:

  • The Red Death, a Batman from an Earth who wanted to use Barry Allen’s time travel skills to save his parents.  When Barry told him that it doesn’t work that way, Batman knocked him out and used the Batmobile and the Cosmic Treadmill to merge the two into one body.  More than a match for the Flash, the Red Death had the most obvious weakness in that the still-good Barry Allen was trapped in Red Death’s mind, fighting to overcome Bruce’s will and take over the body.  He may have also represented Batman’s fear of losing his loved ones and maybe old age.
  • The Murder Machine, a Batman who ignored Cyborg’s advice on a world where Alfred had been killed and built an AI of Alfred that did all the things Alfred used to do.  However, the Alfred AI became some sort of virus, infecting Batman and changing him into a cyborg killing machine with countless Alfred drones at his disposal.  He may also represent Batman’s fear of technological dependency.
  • The Dawnbreaker, a Batman who got a Green Lantern ring within minutes if not seconds of the death of his parents.  His grief and will overpowered the ring, breaking the ring’s defaults against killing and made a ring that absorbed dark energies of all kinds, often blacking out all light in the region when he was using it.  When he wasn’t shooting anyone who opposed him into orbit, he finally ended up taking out the entire Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of his universe.  He may represent Batman’s fear that he would have misused power at a young age if he’d had it before he had the maturity to deal with his feelings.
  • The Drowned, a gender-flipped Bryce Wayne, angry at the death of her beloved Sylvester Kyle at the hands of a metahuman, started a one woman war against all superhumans, finally surgically altering herself into a waterbreather when Aquawoman happened to reveal her presence to the world, gaining power over water in a way that turned people she hit with her water into some sort of zombie servants.  She may represent Batman’s fears that he would go too far and not trust in others.
  • The Merciless, a Batman who with his lover Wonder Woman was involved in a battle against Ares.  He managed to get his hands on Ares’s helmet, giving him the powers of the war god, but as soon as he and Diana defeated Ares for good, his first action was to murder Diana as he believed she was trying to take the power from him.  He may represent Batman’s fear that if he ever killed someone, he would never stop.
  • The Devastator, a Batman from a world where Superman went bad, so Bruce infected himself with the Doomsday virus to make himself into a Doomsday-like monster to kill his onetime friend.  Since then, he has no trust at all in any Superman on any Earth.    He may represent Batman’s fear that he can never truly trust Superman.

Each of the Dark Knights got a one-shot origin story or their own, each to varying levels of quality, and for most of Dark Nights: Metal, they were running around and handing anyone who tried to oppose them their heads.  Ultimately, Red Death did have Barry regain control of the body, but that was part of the Batman Who Laughs’s plan, further proof why I am kinda sick of that guy.  Finally, the League rallied, used the Tenth Metal or Element X or whatever, to beat back the Dark Multiverse and utterly destroy most of the Dark Knights save the Batman Who Laughs.

He just came back later with more Batman characters with other people’s superpowers in Death Metal that weren’t quite so fun.  Basically, it looks like for every DC character there is, there’s a Batman copy of him or her somewhere that happens to be evil, and that’s not getting into Baby Batmen, Batmanasaurus Rex, and one Batman that was Batman’s mind imprinted on a monster truck version of the Batmobile.  They were more disposable.  And while the original Dark Knights team was rather frustrating in that they always seemed to win and had no weaknesses and forced the heroes to keep running over multiple issues, at the very least, I will admit they were if nothing else, some cool concepts.

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