By Justin McCarty
The latest Dark Knights Metal tie-in is out! Barbatos’ next evil Batman to come through the door is The Murder Machine, the Batman/Cyborg mashup. As the Metal event continues to play out, we get a few more details about the evil Batmen and Barbatos’ plans. This issue, the evil Batman must go through Cyborg to get what he wants. Which isn’t totally made clear to us. It involves Dr. Stone and STAR Labs, maybe Cyborg himself has something the evil Batmen want.
The story opens in the Watchtower with Cyborg discussing the recent events in Gotham with his dad, Dr. Stone, and doing research. Right away we see that the Watchtower will be a very important part of the Metal story. It lets us know there is no safe place from Barbatos. The Murder Machine gives us a distraught Bruce after Alfred is savagely murdered by Batman’s rogue's gallery. Their motivations for killing Alfred aren’t really dealt with. The flashback scenes are rendered in a very monochromatic depressed tone evocative of Bruce's despair. This leads Bruce to implement an Alfred A.I. he was working on. Only the technology follows its protocols to their logical conclusion: kill everyone that has ever wanted to or may ever want to harm Bruce.
The Justice League is understandably concerned with Bruce’s obsession with Alfred’s death. Cyborg, being the tech guy, wants to help, but warns Bruce the whole way. Finally, Batman and the A.I. Alfred merges and is at complete odds with the other heroes, especially Cyborg, who is the last to fall at the hands of The Murder Machine. In the shadows, The Batman Who Laughs is motivating, persuading The Murder Machine, manipulating him.
There’s so much to unpack in this story, and I found this a pretty good read. Only I couldn’t shake the idea that the Dark Knights Metal stories are getting darker and darker. This might be a natural progression for these stories, which I can respect. That’s not how this event was sold to me, however. It is possible that in order for the stories to progress, particularly in these evil Batmen tie-ins, they must get darker and darker in order to explore what sort of alternate Batmen would become such macabre creatures. What would Bruce do if Alfred died in this way is a valid story to tell, but I have been under the impression that Dark Knights would be a mindless adventure in the spirit of sixties Kirby style space epics.
Instead, what we have gotten is a dark exploration of a Bruce Wayne practically at a mental breakdown. At the start of the summer when Snyder talked to CBR he said this would be, “off-the-wall, bonkers fun, where we just want to melt your face off and rock out all summer long with everybody”. I understand too if you listen to metal music it can be dark, but Enter Sandman had dark lyrics and was also fun. For me, this feels more like a story only about despair and the fun has been forgotten. I am only taking this one tie-in into consideration. The entire series could end up being fun. The individual parts aren’t adding up yet for me.
Batman: The Murder Machine