I bought this on a whim. The idea sounded bonkers, so what the hell. Batman meets a supervillain who's half-Batman, half-Joker. That's the Batman Who Laughs, obviously. (For the sake of a more concise name, here I'll call him Laughing Boy.)
"He unleashed the Dark Multiverse in the epic series DARK KNIGHTS: METAL," said the graphic novel's back cover. Should I buy that too, I wondered? I then read this and... no. I'd forgotten my Scott Snyder rule, which is to avoid his comics. (Some of them are good, though, admittedly.) As I've thought before with Synder's Batman books, this contains interesting ideas that I'd never seen before and were worth trying once, but are also inferior to the status quo. For starters, this one's built on alternate universes. I enjoy What-Ifs and Elseworlds, but this goes beyond that. It features lots of different Bruce Waynes, one for every obscure possibility. He's happy! He's sad! He's good! He's bad! I don't care! There's Laughing Boy (who resembles Judge Death) and the Grim Knight (a billionaire Punisher).
Laughing Boy himself is oddly underused. He's the Joker, but tougher. That's it. The Joker could easily have been this book's villain, although then we'd have lost the highlight of the real Joker's scenes. There's a new toxin, you see, that turns people into Jokers and... yeah, right. I reacted to this much as I did to Batman: Three Jokers. A conveyor belt generating copies of a unique supervillain will, by definition, make him less unique.
The most dramatic thing about this book isn't any scene with the evil Bat-counterparts, but instead "our" Batman getting infected by the Joker toxin and slowly, apparently inevitably turning into another Laughing Boy. This is new and tense. I liked it. I disliked, though, the hard-to-read red lettering for Laughing Boy's speech bubbles. The real-but-infected Batman's speech becoming a mix of ordinary and red letters is a great idea, especially when red starts taking over. It's less effective when you have to stop and squint to read what he's actually saying.
Jock's art is great, though. I love Jock. He's like a next-generation Mike Mignola, with those bold shadows and his willingness to go free and almost abstract with his compositions. His character work is top-notch, his action scenes are just as good and he can be as sinister as hell when he wants.
I don't really like this book, but it's doing things I'd never seen before with Batman. It's memorable and highly dramatic. It's got great art. My issues with it are largely due to its use of alt.universes, which happens to be a hobby horse for me personally. (Other readers will be lucky enough not to have read all the McGann BBC Books.) I'm not keen on all of its choices re. returning continuity elements. The Court of Owls return, for instance. Sigh. I also learned that Jim Gordon's son is a psychopath, which may or may not be another Snyder invention. (Synder wrote The Black Mirror, but I don't know if that was the first reference to a psychopathic Gordon Jr.) Surely that's absurd, though? Gordon had two children. One's Batgirl and the other's a serial killer. What are the odds, eh?
I'm also not a fan of the swearing. It's Asterix-censored swearing (&£$%!), but still.
This is a strong book. It stands out from the pack. It's thrilling. It ends on a cliffhanger ("the horror continues in Batman/Superman"), but never mind that. It's completely mental... but I'm not a fan of it.