Warning: spoilers ahead for Batman: Reptilian #3!
Garth Ennis and Liam Sharp’s Batman: Reptilian is putting its own spin on the Dark Knight, and gruff and gritty though this take might be, this Batman actually has a surprisingly sane perspective on his supposedly immortal rivalry with the Joker. Told under the mature-audience Black Label imprint, Batman: Reptilian is a gory, sardonic take on the dreary business of protecting Gotham. But while he’s famously disdainful of costumed heroes, Ennis’ characterization contains a strangely poignant commentary on Batman’s ongoing conflict with his nemesis.
Of core importance to the character of Batman is his need to protect the people of Gotham from the rampant crime of the city, whether perpetrated by costumed maniacs or their fellow citizens. While Joker is often given the title of Batman’s true archenemy – being a philosophical and archetypical opposite to the Caped Crusader – it should be noted that many recent depictions of the classic rivalry, including the popular 2015 videogame Batman: Arkham Knight, have tended to present Joker’s belief that he occupies a special place in Batman’s rogues gallery as nothing more than a self-aggrandizing fantasy.
In Batman: Reptilian #3 (of 6), Ennis and Sharp take this idea a bit further, when, in the midst of searching for a violent monster that has been running around Gotham City eviscerating and mutilating members of his rogues gallery, Batman receives word that Joker has taken several hostages in the Gotham Botanical Gardens. “You’re a distraction, you painted excrescence. You’re a waste of my damn time,” he mutters to himself as he speeds towards the crime scene, forced to put aside his pursuit of the mysterious monster and his efforts to combat more traditional criminal endeavors such as human trafficking.
As recently as ‘Joker War,’ Bruce has been criticized (by Harley Quinn, no less) for placing too much symbolic weight into the idea of saving or reforming Joker. Though it is an ideal hope, many creators, including Alan Moore, have pointed out that, given Joker’s body count and proclivity towards twisted, sadistic violence, it might not actually make sense for a hero to strive so fervently for this seemingly impossible outcome. Ennis and Sharp take this concept one step further, depicting Batman as being openly disdainful and even mocking of Joker, which, given that Batman at the time is trying to save Joker from getting ripped to pieces by a mysterious monster, comes across as entirely justified.
Batman: Reptilian stars a Batman who views his costumed villains as impediments to making real progress in his war on crime, treating Joker not as some ultimate symbolic rival, but as an attention-starved fool getting in the way of more meaningful work. While it’s not a perspective fans are used to seeing, it’s a fascinating look at a Batman who is more vigilante than superhero, and whose hatred for Joker isn’t rooted in awestruck disbelief at his depravity, but frustration at having to lose another night of his crusade to a villainous clown.