Ranking the Dark Knights of DC Metal
DC’s delightfully dark Metal run is now closing in on its endgame issues. That means it’s the perfect time to take stock and look back at all of the evil Batmen it’s given us.
From gaggles of gimp Robins to a female Bruce Wayne, Scott Snyder and co have outdone themselves – conjuring up a host of wickedly weird Dark Knights for us to get to know over a series of one-shots and staple Metal issues. But who’s the very best of these twisted rogues?
We took on the challenge of finding out – ranking all of the Dark Knights from least best to the very best. To be completely fair in our ordering, we made personal rankings first. We then merged these, to make one, final, well-rounded list.
7. Batman: The Dawnbreaker
Perhaps the “darkest” of the dark multiverse Batmen, The Dawnbreaker explores the idea of a Bruce Wayne with the iron will of a Green Lantern.
Like other members of the Green Lantern corps, the Bruce Wayne who would go on to become The Dawnbreaker attains his power ring through an overwhelming force of willpower and the overcoming of fear.
In Dawnbreaker’s case though, his ability to overcome the great fear that allows his possession of the ring is not wrought of willpower, but of the emptiness he feels inside of himself.
Driven by the emptiness and rage, the young Bruce of Earth -32 corrupts his ring to serve him in extinguishing the light from the world, wielding terrifying Parallax-like constructs that he “made in the dark” to create a blackout on his world.
Mirroring DC’s main continuity in Prime Earth, the young Bruce Wayne of Earth –32 witnesses his parents’ murder at the hands of Joe Chill. Unlike Prime Earth though, this Bruce gives chase to his parents’ killer and eventually corners him.
With Bruce now staring down the barrel of Joe Chill’s gun, a Green Lantern ring senses Bruce’s overwhelming willpower and ability to overcome fear and chooses him to become a Green Lantern. Bruce, still in a rage, corrupts his ring and overrides the power ring’s ban on lethal force – allowing him to incinerate Joe Chill.
The story then shifts to Bruce using his powers to kill the criminals of Gotham instead of rightfully bringing them to justice. Bruce is then confronted by Jim Gordon, who reveals that he knows the missing persons cases popping up around Gotham are people Bruce has killed. Jim then goes on to say that while Bruce is a Green Lantern and possibly one of the strongest people in the world, Jim is not afraid to stand up to him.
Bruce’s exclaims: “They called me hero at first,” showing that he is aware of the effect he is having on the city and its people, and states that he kills without remorse because no one deserved to live if his parents couldn’t live as well.
Bruce kills Jim, as he has with everyone who has gotten in his way or questioned him, but is confronted by the Green Lantern Corps of Earth -32. Bruce calls for a “blackout” from his ring, showing off his unique corrupted powers, shrouding the world in darkness and summoning his demented constructs to devour the entire Corps.
Having dealt with the Green Lantern Corps, Bruce enters his power battery for the last time and emerges with a new name – The Dawnbreaker.
6. Batman: The Murder Machine
The Murder Machine is unique in that he isn’t an amalgam of Batman and another superhero (or villain). First thought to be the mashup of Batman and Cyborg, The Murder Machine is in fact the physical union between Batman and his long-time butler and father figure Alfred Pennyworth. Sort of.
A cold-blooded, callous android, The Murder Machine is created when Bruce is merged into the A.I. of the ‘Alfred Protocol’ – a digital copy of Alfred’s brain of Bruce’s own making.
With an A.I. version of Alfred going to extreme measures to protect Bruce and Bruce himself having now lost two father figures, the pair make for a toxic mix and come together to form the ruthless android.
The one-shot opens after Alfred is brutally murdered at the hands of Bane and other members of the rogues gallery. This world’s Bruce Wayne reveals that he previously created a copy of Alfred’s mind to bring him back as a sentient computer program to help him cope with the inevitable loss of his long time companion.
Seeking Cyborg’s help to finish the ‘Alfred Protocol,’ the pair are able to bring Alfred’s consciousness back into being. Once live though, the Alfred A.I. begins to replicate itself in an effort to care for Bruce’s every need – including murdering his numerous enemies in his quest for Bruce’s protection.
Bruce confronts the rogue program in a bid to end the slaughter, but is himself corrupted and assimilated into the program and rebuilt as the cybernetic Murder Machine, who, once “complete,” turns his eye towards his co-creator Cyborg, and brutally murders the hero.
5. Batman: The Merciless
The one thing that makes The Merciless stand out about all the other Dark Knights is that he still deeply cares about someone.
While all of the other Dark Knights are cold, callous distortions, this Bruce still holds a very clear affection for Diana.
He mentions her several times during his narration, the most important of these being when he walks through the portal.
Upon his first steps he narrates: ‘I kept my eyes on him when we arrived. I could not look at you.’ Meaning he could not lay eyes on the dead and shrivelled Wonder Woman at his feet.
This very sad and rather beautiful statement says a lot about the loss and love that this Batman still holds, when it comes to Diana. At one point he even outright states: ‘I miss you,’ to his lost love. Then later: ‘I love you, Diana. And I am sorry,’ though what he’s sorry for is much darker (see below).
He also still holds a lingering hint of his old urges – at one point he states: ‘I even feel an urge to spare them. Like Diana urging me to stop,’ when he’s fighting with the military.
This one-shot opens with the stunning visual of Bruce Wayne (in shredded Batman attire) holding a dead Wonder Woman and mourning her loss. It’s evolative of the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths covers, which features similar imagery.
The backstory is that Bruce and Diana sought to destroy Ares’ helmet, which held his powers manifested a hundredfold. Diana warned Bruce of the helmet’s corrupting ability, but he chooses to put it on anyway, hoping to make war just and fair for the first time in history.
In the final pages we learn that Bruce (perceives now, at least) that Diana tried to reach for the helmet to take it for herself. So – Ares only having stunned Diana – Bruce decided to deliver her the final blow and kill her.
This doesn’t mean the pain he feels at the loss of her is negated – he still misses Diana – but it adds a very dark and sinister twist to a very strong issue, showing, ultimately, that this Bruce is the cause of his own grief and sorrow.
4. Batman: The Drowned
A female Batman might immediately put some readers off – probably the same readers who didn’t like Thor changing to a woman in the Marvel comics – but those people need to look beyond their gender prejudices. Bryce Wayne is one of the very best Dark Knights.
One of the things that makes her so great is that she’s actually killed an important hero on our Earth – few Dark Knights can boast that. Bryce succeeded in murdering Mera, right in front of Aquaman – breaking him down in the witnessing of it. This makes Bryce one of the most ruthless and capable members of Barbatos’ army.
Before Bryce journeyed to our Earth, she was just as capable in her own dark universe (on Earth -11). She murdered Aquawoman – the gender-flipped Queen of the Atlaneans – while still in her unmodifed body.
Realising that she couldn’t beat all of the Atlaneans in her mortal body, she intentionally modified her own genetic makeup with an auto-surgical process, to enable her to breathe underwater, to heal faster and to use aquakinesis.
She also created her own army, which she called Dead Water. All so she could fight on a level playing field with her enemy. And she won that war.
There’s a softer edge to her too – just like Batman The Merciless, she’s also capable of a strong love. This is only mentioned in passing at the start of her one-shot and it’s for a man who died long ago.
As mentioned above, this one-shot opens with Bryce mentioning someone calls Sylvester Kyle. She refers to this person (probably a man, which means he would be a woman on our Earth – probably Selina Kyle, A.K.A. Catwoman) as the only love she ever knew. She also makes it clear that he died and that she ‘used to think Sylvester had gone up into the light’ before she realised that was naive.
This one-shot features some of DC Metal’s finest moments. Bryce’s universe is one where all genders are flipped, so we get to see the female version of Aquaman – Aquawoman – who is a truly stunning vision of Atlantean beauty and regality. As mentioned above, we also get to witness the death of Mera at Bryce’s hands.
This issue also holds some of the most visually sumptuous art (by Philip Tan, Tyler Kirkham, Dean White and Arif Prianto) in all of DC Metal. When Bryce is drowning Amnesty Bay, the pink beam draped against the monstrously high waves creates a beautiful aesthetic and leaves a lasting impression.
3. The Batman who Laughs
Up until his one-shot, The Batman Who Laughs came across as something like a sinister Jacob from LOST – someone who visits and recruits all of our Dark Knights, bringing them all to one, important location (our Earth). Being Barbatos’ number 2 and having obscured vision, with a large mouth, he’s always had somewhat of a Mouth of Sauron vibe too.
With his horrific appearance, his red-lettered voice (implying that it sounds rather vile) and his gaggle of joker-esque Robins, he’s definitely the creepiest of the multiverse Batmen. It’s easy to see, then, why he might be many people’s favourite. Everyone loves The Joker and everyone loves Batman, so a twisted blend of the two was always bound to excite fans.
We love him too, but for us, there’s a couple of Dark Knights who rank above him. He’s just a creepy guiding hand, after all, and some of the other Dark Knights have made more of an active and brutal impact on our Earth, during the invasion. And frankly, as cool as The Batman Who Laughs looks, he doesn’t really hold any special abilities other than sending a few ravenous Robins at his enemies.
In his one-shot we learned more about his origins and his Earth. He started off as a normal Bruce Wayne, like any other, but The Joker intentionally pushed him too far, driving Bruce to murder him. The Joker’s last ploy was infecting Bruce with a toxin that turned this Batman into something very close to The Joker himself.
The toxin takes effect quicker than Batman’s allies guessed, leading him to get the jump on all of them. He kills Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Superman and more – many of them in horrific ways. He even modifies a strand of black kryptonite to use on our Kryptonians and mentions:
‘When I tested it on Supergirl, she ripped her family apart before it killed her.’
It’s far from the best of the one-shots, as it never answers a few pertinent questions, such as who the bandaged man is (it might be the good side of this Bruce, trapped in his own mind by his Joker side, but it’s not clear) and how this Bruce can see with those metallic spikes over his eyes. But there’s room yet for answers to be delivered.
2. Batman: The Devastator
The Bruce Wayne of Earth -1 faces the greatest threat of the Dark Knights when the Superman of his world turns evil.
Perhaps Bruce Wayne’s greatest fear (and the situation for which he has prepared the most for, should it come about) the Superman of Earth -1 turns on those he once protected, murdering his former brethren in a fit of rage. With no one else left to defend his Earth against Superman, Batman injects himself with a strain of the Doomsday virus to put down his one-time friend.
The Devastator one-shot opens with an already evil Superman attacking the citizens of Metropolis. No explanation is given for the turn and as the book states: ‘Yeah, you’ve heard this one before. Superman goes evil; no explanation is required.’
Batman is last man standing, and like the other heroes, he proves no match for the Kryptonian but, because he’s Batman, he makes sure to have an ace up his sleeve.
Injecting himself with the special strain of the Doomsday virus, Batman transforms into a version of the giant that first felled Superman all those years ago, and makes quick work of him here.
We’re also given the most action in Prime Earth by any of the Dark Knights in their own one-shots, as The Devastator is tasked with bringing the Anti-Monitor’s tower to the moon to act as a ‘cosmic tuning fork’ for the Dark Multiverse and it is these scenes where The Devastator truly shines.
The art is stellar too, and is headed up by Tony S. Daniel who does some of his best work here, particularly in the snowy battle between Lobo and The Devastator just outside the Fortress of Solitude (spoiler: it doesn’t go well for Lobo).
1. Batman: The Red Death
The Batman of Earth -52 is the oldest Batman of the bunch and has suffered tremendous losses. After Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian die, Batman is overcome with the grief of the boys he views as sons, and is determined to use the speed force to bring them back.
To do this though, he needs Flash’s speed force powers, and reverse engineers the cosmic treadmill Barry Allen uses to go back in time to use for his own time travel needs.
Batman manages to knock out Barry and enter the speed force, merging the two physically, though Barry exists as a split personality inside Bruce’s consciousness.
Earth -52’s Batman is a grizzled, tragic figure and is very reminiscent of the Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Surrounded by death on all sides, Batman turns to the speed force to turn back the hands of time and bring back his lost sons.
Appearing untethered from reality, Batman demands Flash to “let someone else have the speed force,” complete with the paraphernalia that he’s gathered from Flash’s rogues.
The Flash declines, and Batman engages The Flash in combat, knocking him unconscious. When Flash comes to, he’s strapped to the front of an armored Batmobile, Mad Max-style, which Batman has used as his version of the cosmic treadmill.
Flash’s warnings about the dangers of the speed force go unheard, as the two race into it anyway, but aren’t ripped to shreds as Flash suggested. Instead the pair are merged into the Red Death.
Red Death perfectly encapsulates what the Dark Knights are all about. A twisted origin based on Batman’s fears of losing loved ones, awesome powers – bat speed trail! – and an engaging story with over the top action beats make this the very best of the Dark Knights one shots.
All in all, the Dark Knights premise may seem like a familiar one for fans of DC, whose heroes often deal with earth-shattering crises from across the many multiverses, but it’s the execution of Scott Snyder and his compatriots that make these twisted incarnations of the Caped Crusader stand out from the pack.
Whether dealing with the death of Alfred his long time father figure, or his distrust of Superman laid bare, the Dark Knights serve as a softening reminder of Bruce’s mortality, a figure who is all too often portrayed as a God-like being.
You can check out the rest of Dark Knights escapades continuing in Dark Nights: Metal #4, which unleashes on December 20th.
Image credits: DC