DC scored a major victor with the release of Joker last year. The film's modest budget and immense critical acclaim allowed it to become the most profitable comic book movie ever, with some major awards to go with it (two Oscars, two Golden Globes). More importantly, Joker opened up the playing field for what kind of DC Comics movies that Warner Bros. is willing to make; arthouse character pieces and standalone "Elseworlds" tales of alternate versions of popular characters are suddenly viable possibilities for movies. And there's one character who needs his own Joker-style movie: The Batman Who Laughs.
Who Is The Batman Who Laughs?
The Batman Who Laughs is a recent creation of DC Comics, who made his debut in the 2018 "Dark Nights: Metal" event. The Batman Who Laughs is Bruce Wayne/Batman of Earth -22, a region of the Dark Multiverse. In that timeline, Batman suffers a horrific loss to his nemesis The Joker, in which the psycho clown abducts Batman and forces him to witness horrific events, like murdering the parents of a group of hostage children and infecting all the kids with a new experimental Joker Toxin. The "experiment" works: Batman snaps and finally crosses the line, murdering Joker - but that dark act comes at a terrible cost.
Joker's new toxin is one that slowly infects Bruce with Joker's twisted psyche. The Batman/Joker hybrid is discovered too late and ends up murdering most of the Batman Family, his Justice League allies, and transforming his son Damian into a Mini-Joker, while the infected kids become a pack of "Rabid Robins." With no heroes to oppose him, The Batman Who Laughs conquers his world - and now is running rampant, threatening the entire DC Multiverse (in the current Dark Nights: Death Metal event series).
The Batman vs. Joker Rivalry is Deep Enough For a Movie
It's no secret that the Batman vs. Joker rivalry has informed every single era of live-action Batman movies. It's nothing new. However, the Batman Who Laughs character and origin really opens the door for a more intimate and artful look at the two characters and what their rivalry represents. The villain's origin story creates a framework for an interesting psychological horror film version of Batman vs. Joker - an internal battle of Bruce Wayne battling a Joker that exists entirely in his mind. Not only is that an entirely new version of Batman vs. Joker to explore, it offers some pretty fun performance opportunities.
Why A Batman Who Laughs Movie Could Be A Major Success
The Batman Who Laughs movie done right could strip away a lot of the larger comic book noise of Batman's world with its focused character story while offering the darkest and most horror-tinged version of a Batman movie we've ever seen. It's also a remarkably easy (and affordable) framework:
- First Act - An intimate and thrilling Batman vs. Joker face-off, with lots of great dialogue between the foes, and a final left-turn into horror movie territory with the murder of parents, infection of kids, and Batman's brutal murder of Joker.
- Second Act - A psychological sci-fi/horror drama, as Bruce Wayne spends days in Wayne Manor/Batcave trying to figure out Joker's toxin, as his Joker psyche emerges, causing a fierce internal battle with the man (or clown) in the mirror. A thorough examination of who Bruce Wayne/Batman is, and final twist when things go full slasher film, as Batman commits his first Joker-style murder on a close friend or ally.
- Third Act - A full-on comic book horror action flick, as "The Batman Who Laughs" persona is born, and kills his family and friends, consuming the world.
One Actor Can Play Batman & Joker
The Joker and Batman characters would be two different actors for the first act; however, the "Mental Joker" Bruce Wayne battles internally (and ultimately loses to) could actually be the same actor playing Bruce Wayne, in Joker makeup. It would keep the film on the same kind of character piece level (and budget) as Joker, and give any number of big-name actors that fans have nominated for both roles (Tom Hiddleston?) get their own Joaquin Phoenix shot at glory. And that dual casting would definitely stir mainstream interest from moviegoers.
Why A Batman Who Laughs Movie is Worth Doing NOW
The origin story of The Batman Who Laughs is basically a prolonged conversation from creator Scott Snyder about how terrifying it would be if Batman took on Joker's mindset. As Snyder himself said to THR:5comments
"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... 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..."
While Batman Who Laughs was created as part of a far-out comic book storyline, a film about him can be something very different. Part of the Batman vs. Joker rivalry's appeal is the different symbols the two foes represent, with "Law and Order vs. Anarchy" being a common one. Given the events of 2020s global protests and new social discourse about law, order, and the corruption of those institutions, The Batman Who Laughs story is now a timely and fertile ground for some good cinema. Seeing Batman corrupted into something dark, fascist, and evil would be a bold warning and deconstruction of the superhero archetype.
In short: It's a Batman spinoff movie that could be DC's next Joker, in the right hands.
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