DC has published some wild and strange iterations of Batman over the decades, but maybe no single story has ever jam-packed as many into its pages as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Dark Nights: Death Metal, the first collection of which hit shelves April 6.
From a monster truck, to a whole damn city, to one of the most disturbing alternative takes on a known superhero ever, Death Metal contains some of the strangest versions of the Dark Knight Detective.
After all, Death Metal is an event that takes just about every DC hero (and villain) and turns them into some version of Batman. But the series is also just the tip of the Bat-iceberg.
Here's a look at 10 of DC's kookiest and weirdest Caped Crusaders ever.
What would the Batman of a Mad Max-esque universe look like? Well, maybe something like a Batmobile monster truck.
In this Batman's world, a version of his consciousness has been uploaded into all digital technology, allowing Bruce to keep the entire world in a constant surveillance state. As one can imagine, the people of this world didn't take too kindly to being ruled by a global dictatorship so they destroyed all of the technology that bore Batman's consciousness and killed Bruce Wayne.
Unfortunately, they forgot this one monster truck, so it decided to call itself Batmobeast and team up with the Batman Who Laughs before falling to Swamp Thing. Turns out Bruce Wayne is a little less resourceful when he only has the body of a monster truck to work with.
A frequent theme in Batman comics is that Batman and Gotham City are two entities that are intrinsically tied together by fate or duty, or some combination of the two. The Castle Bat concept takes that a step further.
As Bruce Wayne gets older and watches his peers fall and his son Damian unable to take up the mantle of Batman, he takes drastic action. Sacrificing Damian in an occult ritual, Bruce is able to imbue the entire city with his being - literally becoming Gotham City itself. Castle Bat is the personification of Bruce's fear of failure - that if something were ever to happen to him then there would be no one to protect Gotham the way he has.
But that fear has made him delusional and dangerous. He teams up with the Batman Who Laughs and quickly takes over the Gotham of Earth-0 to allow Laughs and his Dark Knights to enact their reign of terror.
Dark Claw (Wolverine/Batman Amalgam)
Here's one way to print money: combine Batman with arguably the biggest hero in Marvel's stable in the '90s, Wolverine. Of course, the Amalgam Comics team-up between Marvel and DC would only last 24 issues total, with only two of those starring Dark Claw, but the concept could have had legs.
After his parents are murdered, Logan Wayne is sent to Canada to live with his uncle. Then when his uncle is murdered, the Canadian government sends Logan to live in a foster home run by nuns. Once he's old enough, he joins the Air Force and eventually gets enlisted in the Canadian Super Soldier program, Weapon X.
That program is shut down after Logan and the only other subject are deemed ineffective. Logan is not a killing machine and his counterpart, Creed H. Quinn, has gone mad from the process. But the experiments awaken Logan's latent abilities of super senses and a healing factor. His bones were bonded with adamantium and he travels the world to further train his body and mind. When he returns to New Gotham City, a great threat has emerged, the Hyena (aka Creed Quinn), and Logan must take everything he's learned to take him down.
Dark Claw is essentially an action figure come to life, and he utilizes a variety of claw-themed gadgets including the claw-radar, claw-arangs, claw-scanner, and of course, the Claw-Copter.
B. Rex (Batman/T. Rex)
He's evil. He's Batman. And he's uploaded his consciousness into a giant mechanical T. Rex. 'Nuff said, right?
There's a little bit more to Batmanasaurus Rex than that. Following the destruction of the Batcave, Bruce Wayne wonders if his fight against crime has been as futile as a T.Rex's tiny arms since he keeps allowing supervillains to live. So after his last ditch effort to save himself by uploading himself into a robotic T.Rex body, he does what anyone would do: he goes to Arkham Asylum to kill the staff and inmates. Later, he's recruited by the Batman Who Laughs.
His current whereabouts are unknown but if he hasn't been erased from existence, it seems unlikely that an evil, robot dinosaur will stay hidden for long.
If you've missed the integration of the Watchmen into the DCU over the last few years, then the existence of Batmanhattan is a helluva way to find out about it. (Be warned there are some mild spoilers for Death Metal coming.)
Spinning out of trying to reproduce the energy he notices coming off of the Comedian's Button, Bruce Wayne ends up recreating the intrinsic field generator that would give Jon Osterman his powers in Watchmen. The Batman Who Laughs traps Bruce inside the machine and, just like Osterman, it disintegrates his body until he regenerates it sometime later but is now imbued with god-like powers.
Unfortunately for Batmanhattan, the Batman Who Laughs has more than a few tricks up his sleeve and manages to lobotomize the omniscient avenger during a moment of weakness. But even still, not exactly the direction you'd imagine for the Caped Crusader.
The Robin King
This is another instance of the concept on its face not seeming like anything too strange until you dig into how these creators decided to execute it. The basic premise here is that in a world where an angry and violent Bruce Wayne kills his own parents as a child, he takes inspiration from robins' own invasive tendencies, to overthrow the current establishment of superheroes.
Unfortunately for the heroes of this world, even a young, deranged version of Bruce Wayne is as dangerous and resourceful as his adult counterpart. He modifies the Anti-Life Equation to create the zombie-adjacent, death-spreading Anti-Living. He melts Flash's muscles with an anti-Speed Force poison and stuffs his mom's body into Barry's Flash Ring. He arranges for Ted Kord to be eaten by a giant beetle.
The Robin King is by far one of the more intense, out-there iterations of the Dark Knight.
Sir William (Batman of Earth-9/Tangent Comics)
The Tangent Comics line of the late-90s sought to give readers a universe that was more influenced by the presence of superbeings than the DCU that readers had been used to. Dan Jurgens spearheaded the line with input from creators like Peter David, Karl Kesel, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, John Ostrander and more.
But their vision for Batman struck closer to something out of a Marvel UK Captain Britain comic than Bob Kane and Bill Finger's original. Sir William was one of the Knights of the Round Table. After being seduced by Morgana Le Fay and tricked into fighting King Arthur, he was cursed to never leave his castle (the aptly named Castle Bat) until he had atoned for his sins. To add insult to injury, he was also written out of every Arthurian legend.
He spent centuries alone until he realized he would project his spirit into inanimate objects. This led to the creation of his Batman persona, a red-armored hero who protected London. Batman by way of Deadman, sort of? Needless to say, the Tangent Comics line didn't last long but Sir William has popped up as recently as 2015's Convergence.
Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
One of Grant Morrison's goals with his run on Batman was to figure out a way to make everything that had happened in the character's history to that point count in some real way. Considering the character's long history and the generally bonkers nature of the Silver Age, this would seem to be a tall task.
Originally, Zurr-En-Arrh existed as a planet where an alien scientist creates his own red and purple Batman suit as he's inspired by Bruce Wayne's adventures. The two Batmen team up to defeat some robots and Bruce goes on his merry way. But in bringing that concept into post-Crisis continuity, Morrison had his work cut out for him.
During the run, Batman's mind is erased by Simon Hurt and we find out that he has a backup personality stored in his subconscious, presumably exactly for situations like this. Triggered by the phrase "Zurr-En-Arrh," a phrase that is rooted in Bruce misremembering his father saying the words "Zorro in Arkham," Bruce takes on this psychotic personality and the last shreds of his sanity are represented by Bat-Mite, a imp from the Fifth Dimension.
Batman takes on Simon Hurt and the Black Glove. But he is actually defeated by the Joker and buried alive. The Zur-En-Arrh personality goes away over time but this remains a strange but inventive way to make the Silver Age relevant to more recent continuity.
There are two Elseworlds stories that share this name and in this entry we are specifically talking about Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #4 by Brian Augustyn, Mark Waid and Joe Staton. Mashing up Batman with other heroes and villains is one thing and even taking inspiration from famous works of film and literature is a pretty common practice but Augstyn and Waid's execution of this story is what really stands out.
After the death of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, a dark-haired man goes around Gotham interviewing those close to them to uncover the truth behind Batman and Bruce Wayne. This story puts Harvey and Bruce's rivalry at its center and changes the path for both characters by sparing Martha Wayne's life in the attack that would take Thomas Wayne's. As a result, Harvey and Bruce see their roles reversed - Harvey becomes a bat-themed vigilante while Bruce becomes a newspaper publisher looking to reform the city. Ultimately, a run-in with some acid leads to Harvey still taking on his scarred appearance beneath his mask and coming more violent. But Bruce still armors up to fight him in the issue's finale but this is a strange one all around.
Stan Lee's Batman
In 2001, Stan Lee would produce his only work for DC - a short-lived imprint called "Just Imagine..." that would see The Man reinventing classic DC heroes in his trademark style. This meant an alliterative name, some twist on their origin and a new costume.
So Stan's Batman was Wayne Williams, an African-American man with no powers and a great fortune who is framed for the murder of his father. While in prison, he befriends a scientist named Frederick Grant who helps him develop his mind and body. Wayne receives a full pardon when he saves the warden during a prison riot and uses his newfound freedom to become.... a wrestling superstar that goes by the name Batman. Once he gets revenge on the man who framed him, he dedicates his life to fighting crime with Grant as his friend and confidante.
That might seem pretty standard for a Stan Lee story but Stan and artist Joe Kubert's plan for his costume left a bit to be desired. The two creators may have taken "I will become the bat!" a bit too literally and Wayne Williams ends up looking like an unfortunate cross between gargoyle and Robin Williams' character in Ferngully.