Warning: SPOILERS for Batman: The Smile Killer
Arkham Asylum has become an essential part of the Batman mythos, constantly asking readers to consider just how much separates Batman from the criminals he’s sent away to the famous sanitarium. And in Batman: The Smile Killer the Dark Knight is finally becoming a patient himself… for a heartbreaking reason.
Batman: The Smile Killer is an epilogue to a mini-series made by the same creative team titled, Joker: Killer Smile. That comic dealt with an Arkham Asylum doctor named Ben Arnell who attempts to cure the Joker. As that series went on, Dr. Arnell went mad as it became clear that he was only a pawn in the Joker’s attempt to escape Arkham and get revenge on Batman. The new comic from DC Black Label more than doubles down, introducing a Batman who is questioning his sanity, after finding himself in a fight with the Joker on minute, and a patient in Arkham Asylum the next.
Over time, he is confronted by a Jim Gordon who claims to be a child psychologist who has worked with Bruce since a very young age. Though the former Batman doubts everything told to him, his resolve is briefly shattered as Dr. Gordon calls in Martha Wayne.She tells her son that he’s been locked in the asylum ever since he killed his father as a child. Intercut throughout the issue are scenes of a young Bruce Wayne watching a children’s show focussed on a puppet clown named Mr. Smiles who tells children to do dangerous things such as poke out their eyes with scissors. Bruce breaks down in tears as he remembers the show telling him to kill his father.
Despite all of this, Bruce is convinced that his memories are false and the comic ends with Batman breaking out of Arkham and running towards an uncertain future. Dr. Arnell’s presence in The Smile Killer signals to readers that Bruce’s imprisonment in Arkham is all part of Joker’s plan to break Batman’s mind like he broke Ben’s.
Originally stated to be a one-shot, the cliffhanger ending of The Smile Killer seems to hint at this becoming a miniseries of its own. Killer Smile was well received by audiences and critics alike, so expanding the story even further makes sense. The questions posed by the first issue are all engaging and leave readers questioning whether the Joker could really be responsible for everything that happens. While locking Bruce in Arkham and is a feat in itself, Bruce’s memories of Mr. Smiles is the most intriguing mystery.
With evocative artwork and a gripping premise, Batman: The Smile Killer will have readers questioning the Dark Knight’s sanity in a new way.