Dark Nights — Batman: The Drowned #1

So What?

Bryce Wayne, the Batman of Earth -11 surfaces from the ocean and uses her powers to flood the coastal town of Amnesty Bay. Aquaman and Mera arrive and challenge her. Aquaman appears to be weaker than Bryce Wayne and Mera finds her aquakinesis, her control over water, doesn’t work.

In a flashback Bryce relates how, following the death of Sylvester Kyle, she hunted down all the rogue metas. Then Aquawoman and the Atlanteans appeared, claiming to be peaceful. Bryce’s instinct told her that the Atlantean couldn’t be trusted so she attacked them and killed Aquawoman. The Atlantean retaliated by drowning Gotham City. Bryce genetically altered herself to gain accelerated healing and control of water. She also created an army called Dead Water. The Earth she is victorious over, Earth -11, became a drowned world. She then relates her meeting with The Batman Who Laughs. He encouraged her to overcome her view of herself as a victim and to turn on the injustice of the Light Multiverse.

In the present, Bryce opens a conduit and releases her army, the Dead Water, who overwhelm Aquaman. She grabs Mera by the throat and transforms Mera into a Dead Water-like creature who turns on Aquaman. Aquaman is rescued by Dr Fate and the issue ends with Bryce insists that she will find Aquaman and kill him. She vows to drown the whole world.

I Never Trust Anything or Anyone

From the start Bryce Wayne characterises herself as a victim and, to a certain extent, the issue plays with our sympathy for a time until we see what lengths she goes to. Although it’s not referred to I get the impression that this version of Bruce Wayne’s response to the death of her parents is one of despair and victimhood. Is it this that causes her to take on the Batman persona? Is this a subtle commentary about the different ways men and women respond to loss like the murder of parents? Of all these Dark Knights, she’s the first to arouse any sense of sympathy from the reader. She’s a character physically and emotionally ruined by her own remorse and rage. She views her actions as responses to injustices against her: the death of her lover, the (supposed) attack of the Atlanteans, the existence of the Light Multiverse. She is the Batman who mistrusts and strikes first, relying far too much on her instincts. By now we’ve learned that these “outcast iterations” Batmen are somehow manifestations of the excessive fears of Batman. Bryce Wayne’s instinctive and all-consuming mistrust causes her to willingly sacrifice her humanity and transform herself into a monster. There are no villains in the comic other than the villains created in Bryce’s head. She sees everyone as a villain (except, of course, the truly villainous Batman Who Laughs who beguiles her).

A Drowned World

Earth -33 is the Dark reflection of the world in which gender roles are reversed. Bryce Wayne learns that her world is part of the Dark Multiverse and is (allegedly) doomed to decay and destruction. Once she realises that there is no chance to save her Earth, she chooses to become a villain: “My world could never be redeemed… I know know that my Earth was a lower-tier world. Malformed and broken. One of the many cursed to rot and sink.” When she becomes The Drowned, Bryce adopts the Bat logo with nautical calipers. This seems to reinforce the idea that she measures and compares her own state — and the state of Earth -11 — with that of the Light Multiverse. She is a character who only sees difference and inequality. Sees also speaks of herself as a pirate, reclaiming what is rightfully hers. Perhaps, once The Batman Who Laughs, revealed the nature of the Dark Multiverse to her, she was able to transform her regret (guilt even) into rage and a desire for ruin. We see that when her Dead Waters are about to kill Aquaman. At first she justifies his death as saving him from the pain of seeing Mera transform into a monster (unlike Bryce who had to live with the sorrow of Sylvester Kyle’s murder) and then, when he escapes, she seems to relish that Aquaman will experience sorrow — until she kills him. For Bryce drowning everyone and everything is her way of making others experience her own emotional pain.

Merge with the Dead Water

Bryce is cursed by her own flaws and transforms herself into the kind of gothic monster that could be found in an old EC supernatural pirate tale. The visual design of The Drowned is incredibly striking. Possibly the best of the Dark Knights designs. At first, after her genetic transformation, she appears wrapped in bandages and then is revealed to look like a hideous corpse-like being dressed in archaic pirates clothing. One of her eyes has been replaced by a large red lens patched over her eye and her skin is bleached white, zombified, as if she has been rotting under the sea. Ghastly. Bryce created her Dead Water army which she first uses against the Atlanteans then against Aquaman. Mera recognises and names it, referring to the Dead Water encountered in a recent Aquaman storyline. Presumably it’s similar. In Aquaman #21 the Dead Water turned out to be sentient and had created a gateway between Earth and its homeworld of Tethys. The Dead Water creatures are humans who are transformed into sea-monsters by their fear and have the ability to move between locations using water. Anguish and guilt seems to fuel Bryce’s Dead Water, in the same way it powered the creatures created by the sentient lifeforms from Tethys. In this issue, however, it’s not made clear and if you haven’t been reading Aquaman you wouldn’t make the connection.

Batty Dialogue

THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS: That world is the perfection you dream of. You are its nightmare.

What Works

  • The Character of Bryce Wayne. She’s the first of the Dark Knights we feel any sense of sympathy for.
  • Her first-person narration of the issue adds to the sense of a well-developed — though flawed — character driven by despair and a sense of retribution on everyone else. Her self-consuming despair causes the destruction of Earth -11.
  • Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham’s art. Throughout there’s a gothic sensibility. The depiction of The Drowned as a hideous pirate monster is incredibly memorable.

What Doesn’t

  • The Conduit. How does Bryce open the conduit and spew forth the Dead Waters? The condensed nature of the one-shot means that it’s not made clear. If you’ve been reading Aquaman you’d recognise it — but it might not be the same thing.

Overall

With a gothic, supernatural feel, Batman: The Drowned, presents a version of Batman who sees herself as a victim transformed into avenging pirate. In her despair and rage she seeks to destroy everything. It’s a character whose memorable impact should enable her to spin out of Metal and provide a powerful foe for Aquaman in the future.

Score

4.5/5


Originally published at lividhedgehog.