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"The Man Who Laughs": Roughly one year after Batman's debut, Capt. James Gordon finds himself in a rapidly-changing world: Gotham's organized crime is on the wane (especially with [[Gillian B. Loeb (New Earth)|Co


Quote1 Good evening, Gotham and Gothamites everywhere... Thought I'd take some time out of my oh so busy schedule to say hi and make a few not so veiled threats... so, hello -- goodbye, you're all going to die. Quote2
-- The Joker



Appearing in "The Man Who Laughs"

Featured Characters:

  • Batman (Flashback and main story)

Supporting Characters:

Antagonists:

  • Joker (Flashback and main story)

Other Characters:

Locations:

Items:

Vehicles:

Synopsis for "The Man Who Laughs"

Roughly one year after Batman's debut, Capt. James Gordon finds himself in a rapidly-changing world: Gotham's organized crime is on the wane (especially with Commissioner Loeb's ousting), while costumed crimefighters are emerging across the nation. However, crime itself has grown exponentially more extreme, with some criminals - such as the since-vanished "Red Hood" robber - adopting costumes and aliases of their own.

On one particularly dismal night, Gordon's unit - along with Batman - discover an abandoned factory filled with corpses, all disfigured with chalk-white skin, green hair, and unnaturally large smiles. To Gordon's dread, Batman notes that some of the corpses are significantly aged, and speculates that the perpetrator had only been "practicing" on them.

The following night, Bruce Wayne attends a dinner with fellow millionaire industrialist Henry Claridge. As the two men idly watch a newscast announcing the reopening of Arkham Asylum, they witness the on-site reporter suddenly exploding into uncontrollable laughter, then dying with the same grinning disfigurement as the factory corpses. Seconds later, the newscast is hijacked by a psychotic terrorist with similar disfigurements, who announces Claridge's murder at midnight, then kills the rest of the news-crew and steals their transmitter van.

Responding as quickly as possible, Gordon's unit and Batman convene at the asylum, where they find a poem etched into one of the walls:

One by One
They'll hear my call.
Then this wicked town
Will follow my fall.


Meanwhile, news of the terrorist - dubbed "Joker" by the press - spreads throughout Gotham, as does public panic. Soon, Gordon finds himself assigned to both Claridge's protection and the Joker's capture; to his frustration, Claridge refuses to leave his midtown penthouse, forcing Gordon to station men throughout the entire building. To the relief of all, midnight passes uneventfully - until Claridge abruptly collapses, the latest victim of the Joker's disfiguring poison.

Claridge's murder is soon compounded with even worse news: while the police - and Batman - had kept watch over the penthouse, the Joker had invaded a psychiatric hospital many miles away, killed most of the staff, and armed the most dangerous inmates with heavy weaponry. Batman is forced to spend the rest of the night chasing these rampaging inmates, recapturing only a fraction of them; on exhausting all his leads, he retires to the Batcave to engineer an antidote to the Joker's poison.

These efforts coincide with a new broadcast from the Joker, promising the murder of industrialist Jay Wilde. As fresh panic sweeps Gotham, Gordon and Batman redouble their precautions, especially once Batman deduces that Claridge had been preemptively exposed to a special delayed-action poison. Though no such thing is found in Wilde, a tight cordon is nevertheless thrown around his country estate - a cordon that the Joker promptly crashes with a stolen helicopter at midnight.

While the police are diverted by the crash (and a barrage of of gas grenades), Batman maneuvers through a haze of gunfire and meets the Joker head-on. After a quick scuffle, he overpowers and restrains the Joker, only to hear Wilde laughing. With this moment's distraction, the Joker manages to escape; shortly after, Wilde is found dead, grazed by a poison-coated bullet.

The following day, Batman disguises himself as a reporter to investigate the main connection between Claridge and Wilde: Ace Chemical Processing, which the pair had founded many years ago. From the staff, he learns that the plant's wastewater - a long-condemned source of pollution for nearby rivers - can disfigure human skin to look chalk-white, and hair to look green. As a result, he begins to suspect the Joker is none other than the Red Hood, who had dove into one of the plant's disposal tanks to escape Batman's pursuit several months ago.

Subsequently, Batman finds traces of the Joker's passing in an abandoned surveyor's office, and concludes that the Joker is using the office's sewer maps to traverse the city without being seen. However, investigating the sewers produces no further clues; forced to wait for the Joker's next move, Batman resumes work on the antidote while ruminating on his foe's psyche and true motives.

These ruminations are shaken when the Joker launches his third broadcast, planning a "two-fer" against Judge Thomas Lake and Bruce Wayne. This forces Bruce Wayne under police surveillance; seeing no other escape options, he injects himself with a diluted dose of the Joker's poison after nightfall, simulating a successful attack. Panicked, the police allow Alfred to rush his master to "the hospital" - that is, the privacy of a car, where he immediately applies the just-developed antidote.

While Alfred desperately tries to revive him, Bruce hallucinates the night of his parents' murder, and is struck by a violent hatred - not just toward the murderer, but toward all of Gotham for "allowing" the murder. On reviving, he realizes that he had, for the first time, understood what drives the Joker's mind: a paranoid egotism hating all of Gotham for "allowing" the pollution that disfigured him.

Simultaneously, Gordon and his unit find a band of gunmen attacking Lake's home; after routing the attack, Gordon is contacted by Batman, who has deduced that the Joker's true goal is to poison Gotham's drinking water (another location mapped by the surveyor's office) to ensure the entire city "follow his fall" into chemically-spawned ruin. The double attack had been a complete diversion - indeed, an equally perfunctory band of gunmen had been sent after Wayne Manor - so the Joker could invade the city reservoir.

While Gordon struggles to contact the (long-killed) water officials, Batman rushes to the reservoir and finds the water already poisoned, but still unreleased. Before confronting the Joker, he sets explosive charges on the viaduct controls, leaving the water impossible to release. Enraged, the Joker attacks, but is quickly overpowered; for an instant, Batman nearly throws him into the poisoned water, but curbs the temptation and merely beats him into submission.

Over the next few weeks, a semblance of order finally returns to Gotham. Wayne Enterprises repairs the reservoir for free, while the Joker is incarcerated at the refurbished Arkham Asylum. Most heartening of all - at least for Gordon - is the city's newest public work: a searchlight that projects Batman's symbol into the sky, so Gotham may remember not just its extraordinary crime, but its extraordinary crimefighters as well.



Notes

  • This book was first published on February 9, 2005.
  • A retelling of Batman's first encounter with the Joker for the post-Zero Hour continuity, presumably overwriting "Images" from Legends of the Dark Knight #50.
    • Both stories meld elements from Batman #1 into those of Batman: Year One, though this story does so more heavily (for instance, making the Joker's threat to Gotham's water supply a serious one, where "Images" only briefly referenced it and implied it was a diversion).
    • Both stories also adopt minor elements of Batman: The Killing Joke; this story, specifically, continues the conceit that the Red Hood was an identity passed among multiple criminals.
  • This story also serves as an origin for the Bat-Signal in the post-Zero Hour continuity, presumably overwriting the origin depicted in Legends of the Dark Knight #12.
  • In 2008, this story was repackaged into a trade paperback that also collected Ed Brubaker's "Made of Wood" storyline (Detective Comics #784-#786).

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