|The Man Who Laughs|
|Gallery of Images · Main Discussion|
Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a one-shot comic book written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Doug Mahnke, and published by DC Comics. Initially released in 2005, the book details the first meeting between Post-Crisis Batman and his arch-nemesis Joker.
At four A.M. on a rainy morning, Captain James Gordon and a squadron of policemen investigate a gruesome scene - an abandoned warehouse filled to the brim with grotesquely mutated corpses possessing chalk white skin and mouths brutally warped into "smiles". As Gordon enters the factory, he reflects upon how it had been a hobo seeking shelter from the rain that had found the scene, and how, despite being a war veteran, even he has seen nothing like this.
Gordon continues to contemplate just how much Gotham City, and indeed, the entire DC Universe has changed in the past year - Batman's debut and his one-man war on corruption, the appearances of Superman and The Flash for the first time, and the appearance of a costumed crook known as the Red Hood, who had vanished the first time he clashed with Batman. His thoughts are interrupted by Batman, who reveals himself and gives his analysis of the massacre: some of the victims had been dead for nearly a month, and he believes that the perpetrator had merely been practicing on them. In other words, the corpse-filled warehouse is only the beginning.
As the day continues into evening, Bruce Wayne attends a dinner at Gotham's Gentleman Club with fellow millionaire businessman Henry Claridge. As Claridge attempts to persuade Bruce into entering a joint business venture with his own company, Bruce reviews the details of the warehouse massacre, only pretending to listen to Claridge. As Claridge continues to talk, the evening news comes on, the top story being about a newly-renovated Arkham Asylum opening a mere two weeks later. As the reporter explains Arkham's long and gruesome history, her skin suddenly turns a stark white, her hair green, and her mouth twists into a gruesome smile. With a few chuckles, the reporter drops dead.
A tall, thin man dressed in purple with the same-colored skin and hair walks into the camera's shot, making various threats and taunts toward Gotham. He then decrees that Claridge is to die at midnight, and shoots the cameraman dead (after committing a throwaway gag involving a prop gun). The second that the man's news hijacking ends, Bruce dashes to the parking garage and hops into the Batmobile, heading straight for the place where the man's threat had broadcast from - the empty but enormous Arkham Asylum.
By the time Gordon and his men have arrived at Arkham, Bruce (now in his Batman costume) has already analyzed much of the area. Gordon, seeing the vigilante perched atop the roof, enters the station, asking his men to not follow. Once inside, Batman informs Gordon that he had not found much, but that there is one thing of note - a poem carved into the walls of one of the station's restrooms:
"One by one, they'll hear my call. Then the whole town will follow my fall."
Batman concludes that the man had patiently waited inside Arkham for the TV crew to arrive before springing the trap, and that his target had been their transmitter van - with a few simple adjustments, he will now be able to hijack Gotham's TV airwaves anytime he wants. Afterward, Gordon returns to Gotham Central, only to be greeted by a press conference held in wake of the terror caused from the man's scare campaign. During the press conference, both Commissioner Grogan and the mayor lie that the entire matter is under control, but not before pinning all future responsibilities on Gordon. Gordon refuses to play along with the two corrupt bureaucrats, but does gain one thing from the press conference - a new name for the killer: The Joker.
As midnight approaches, Batman laments the situation - Claridge is too arrogant to either wear a bulletproof vest or go into protective custody, so Gordon and his accompanying SWAT Team must lock down Claridge's entire building to protect him. Even now, Claridge attempts to hide his fear by playing the entire thing off as a joke, but Gordon is deadly serious about the entire matter. A false alarm involving a journalist sneaking into one of the building's ventilation shafts distracts Gordon, and at that very moment, the clock strikes midnight. As if on cue, Claridge's nervous laughter grows more and more hysterical, and the man is barely able to cry out for help before he drops dead - his skin and mouth in the same condition as the reporter's.
Batman crashes through the skylight of Claridge's penthouse at this very moment, much to the shock of the SWAT team. Gordon demands that his men hold their fire, and is informed by Batman that Claridge is dead. One of the men, however, informs Gordon that right now, another incident is occurring in downtown Gotham - a breakout at the Williams Medical Center, where the city's criminally insane are held. The inmates, heavily armed and highly dangerous, create mass chaos in the city, and as Batman beats two of them into submission, he reflects upon how Joker had played all of them for fools - while everybody had been focused on Claridge, he had committed the jailbreak. While Batman is tracking down the various escapees, Gordon investigates the Williams Medical Center, where he learns that Joker had blown the doors apart with C-4, casually gunned down most of the guards, and armed nearly all of the inmates in the "psycho ward dorm". The total amount of escaped inmates totals around sixteen, all of which are in for homicide or worse.
By next morning, Bruce laments that he had only captured six of the escaped inmates, leaving The Joker with ten more mentally disturbed men at his disposal. Bruce spends the morning in the Batcave, analyzing blood samples that he had taken from both the reporter and Claridge in hopes of isolating whatever poison was in their systems. Bruce deduces that Joker has two variants of the poison - fast-acting and slow-acting - and that Claridge had already been exposed to the poison before Joker had made his televised threat. Before he can experiment any more, however, The Joker again hijacks Gotham's television signals, this time using his "time slot" to mock Gordon and deliver his next threat against the life of millionaire Jay W. Wilde. Following this proclamation, the people of Gotham are terrified, and hundreds of families attempt to leave Gotham as quickly as possible.
Gordon is blamed by Commissioner Grogan for the panic, but a small compensation is received in the form of a note from Batman - Claridge had been killed with a time-released poison in his bloodstream. Following the note's instructions, Gordon has the police perform a battery of blood tests on Wilde, but find nothing in his bloodstream. As the night wears on, the same protection measures are applied to Wilde, though somewhat more conveniently, as Wilde lives in a mansion on the outskirts of Gotham that possesses a top-notch security system. Midnight soon arrives, and The Joker once again shatters all expectations - this time, he arrives in person via a helicopter that Gordon had previously thought to be a news-copter.
Though the police outside the mansion shoot the copter down, The Joker successfully makes his way into Wilde's mansion, at the same instant cutting off the power and throwing several gas bombs inside. Although everyone inside - the police, Gordon, Wilde, and Batman - all possess gas masks, Joker is still able to gun a good number of them down. Batman blinds The Joker with a flash-bang, and manages to subdue him, but is distracted by the sounds of a dying Jay Wilde, infected by Joker Venom in all the madness. Joker takes advantage of this opportunity to headbutt Batman, and makes his escape on a second helicopter waiting outside the mansion.
The next day, it is revealed that Wilde had died from The Joker's poison-laced bullets, and much to Batman's displeasure, the tracking device that he had planted on The Joker last night is not transmitting. Bruce's only clue now is the madman's two victims, and the connections between them - the most significant of which is the fact that both men had heavily invested in Ace Chemical Processing - the same plant where Batman had clashed with the Red Hood - twenty years ago. Bruce dons a disguise and goes to the processing plant, now driven out of business due to environmentalist protests.
Bruce fails to acquire a record of people associated with the plant, as the manager and his assistant (the only two people remaining there) inform him that all records had been destroyed in a fire a few months ago. Nevertheless, Bruce gains a valuable clue, as the assistant explains that the white patches present on his skin had been due to splash-back from one of the plant's disposal tanks, and goes on to state that the hairs on another worker's arm had been dyed green by the chemicals in the tanks. Bruce leaves the plant, beginning to suspect that The Joker had once been the Red Hood (though the Red Hood had never been a killer, and different body-language had suggested that a different person had been under the hood during each of his appearances).
Alfred calls Bruce, informing him that the tracking device he had placed on The Joker had just begun to transmit. Bruce dons his costume, and follows the signal to an abandoned Survey-and-Planning office in an old part of Gotham, where he finds the device on the floor near a shattered window. Batman questions what The Joker would have wanted from the office - most of the information in it is hopelessly outdated, save for a few maps on a desk detailing Gotham's reservoir and sewer systems. Batman reasons that Joker had wanted the maps to gain knowledge about Gotham's underground pipe network, thus allowing him near-unlimited access to anywhere in the city without ever going above ground.
In the meantime, Gordon muses that The Joker had not appeared on television all day, though he notes that it is inevitably the calm before a storm. Hoodlums and delinquents of all sorts, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the atmosphere of terror to loot stores - another sign that the city is ready to blow. Batman, meanwhile, has failed to find anything of note by exploring the sewers, and instead settles for taking down the hoodlums and developing an antidote to The Joker's poison. As he develops it, however, he questions if he will even need it - the madman's vengeance may already be complete. Bruce hopelessly ponders The Joker's poem, lamenting that he had not anticipated having to face such a violent, unpredictable man when he became the Batman.
Bruce's attention, however, is diverted by The Joker's latest television hijacking, where the madman announces that he will perform "a two-fer" at midnight - killing both Judge Thomas Lake and Bruce Wayne. As midnight once more approaches, Wayne Manor finds itself occupied by policemen - and much to Bruce's relief, Gordon is protecting Lake instead; he needs to be free to act as Batman, and Gordon's sharpness could prove to be dangerous. He takes a dose of Joker Venom, and begins to laugh hysterically 30 minutes before the appointed time. Barely after Gordon has received news of this development, the Lake house, too, comes under attack by a small gang of automatic-wielding thugs dressed as clowns.
Bruce's personal team of doctors rush to his aid, injecting him with a drug to slow his heartbeat and stop the poison's spread. As the drug takes its course, Bruce's semiconscious mind hurtles through a series of hallucinations concerning his parents' murder, until he finally wakes up in an ambulance, adequately recovered. Alfred informs him that they are miles away from Wayne Manor, but are under siege by another battalion of The Joker's men. Bruce dons his costume, and tells Alfred that the two assassinations are diversions - now that he has had a taste of the madness that infects The Joker's brain, he knows what Joker is really up to.
Batman leaps outside and subdues the gunmen, and rides off toward the city reservoir on a "borrowed" police motorcycle. On his way, he contacts Gordon, and informs him that Bruce Wayne is not dead, and that he needs to call the reservoir and have then cut off the water - The Joker intends to kill the entire city by pumping his Venom into the reservoir. Gordon's call, however, is in vain, as The Joker has already arrived at the reservoir and killed the entire staff. Left with no other option, Batman goes to the reservoir himself, as he knows that Gordon and the police could not possibly get there in time.
As Batman silently subdues each of The Joker's henchmen at the reservoir, he thinks about how he, at last, understands The Joker's motives. Joker's poem described how he would get his vengeance on Claridge and Wilde - the two men that built the processing plant in the first place - and how the whole city would "follow his fall" into the toxins that made him what he is today. Finally, after subduing every one of The Joker's men, Batman confronts the homicidal maniac himself, seconds away from opening the floodgates and releasing the poison into the reservoir's viaduct. The Joker taunts Batman, telling him that there is nothing he can do, to which Batman responds by activating a detonator in his hand, setting off the C-4 that he had attached to the viaduct on his way to the reservoir.
With the viaduct destroyed, all water is cut off to the city, and The Joker's plan is foiled. A furious Joker attacks Batman with a hammer, and the Caped Crusader easily defeats him, and contemplates dropping him into the poisoned water to avenge the dozens of people that he had already killed. He finds himself unable to do so, however (much to Joker's disappointment), and merely beats The Joker into submission with one final punch. In the aftermath of the whole ordeal, The Joker is locked away in the newly-rebuilt Arkham Asylum, though Gotham takes weeks to calm down. Bruce Wayne, putting up a public facade of having been grateful to survive, rebuilds the viaduct at no charge.
One night a few weeks after the entire incident, Batman and Gordon meet atop the police headquarters' roof, and Gordon questions the Dark Knight as to whether he still blames himself for The Joker's victims. Batman voices his fears that he his encounter with the Red Hood had helped The Joker's creation, but Gordon dismisses the idea, stating that it had not been Batman who placed the hood on his head or the gun in his hand. As Batman swings into the night, noting upon the roof's latest addition, Gordon switches it on, and the newly-created Bat-Signal slashes across the night sky.
- This story is a retelling of the story in Batman #1, (and to a lesser extent, the story in Legends of the Dark Knight #50) though with many changes (such as The Joker's plot to poison the reservoir).
- This story was later re-released into a hardback edition with the three-part storyline "Made of Wood" (originally presented in Detective Comics #784-#786 and also written by Brubaker) added.