Whether they’re Batmen or Batmans, there are a lot of them. Over an eight-decade career, we’ve met more than a cave full of alternate Dark Knights.
Comic book superheroes often fight mirror images of themselves — where creators can find the greatest risk and dramatic beats to put their hero to the test. In Batman’s incredible rogues’ gallery, some villains shine a light on his alter-egos (Two-Face) and his existence (Man-Bat) and prove to be the immovable force to his unstoppable object (Joker).
So, it’s no surprise that the Dark Knight has encountered facets and variants of himself, twisting one of comic books’ most enduringly tragic creations to the light and dark.
Batman himself has even embraced the idea of different Batmen. The Batmen of All Nations arrived in the comics during the Golden Age, while in 2012, Bruce Wayne became the public benefactor of a global franchise called Batman Incorporated.
You will find the most effective alternate Batman in parallel universes and the room next door at Wayne Manor across media and different continuities. Here we take a hint from Batmite to take a trip through the greatest alternate versions of the Caped Crusader,
The Dark Nights: Metal event unleashed a spectrum of dark multiverse Batmen on the heroes of Earth Prime. The Batman Who Laughs soon returned for a limited series of his own, with some even darker backup to help him infect the heroes of the DC Universe. The brilliantly named Grim Knight was simple: Batman as Punisher, although inspiration came from early Golden Age depictions of Batman carrying a gun. We’re used to a Batman who shuns firearms, but this impressively tooled version of Bruce Wayne pivoted on a straightforward act of retribution.
As the Batman Who Laughs put it, he’s “the deadliest man alive. He’s us if Joe Chill dropped the gun in the alley, and we picked it up.” Guns were such an essential part of his arsenal that when he was inspired by a bat flying through the window of Wayne manor, he shot it dead. His weakness? An over-reliance on gunfire.
It’s a short hop from Batman to vampires. The two fictional creations have a lot in common, and Batman would be unrecognizable if it weren’t for the gothic influence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Two notable comic stories did more than push him in that direction, they turned Batman into a fully-fledged bloodsucker.
Red Rain was an Elseworlds story where Batman became a vampire to gain the power necessary to defeat Dracula. It was a compelling take, inspiring two sequels and subsequent cameos.
God and Monsters was a DC Universe Animated Original Movie that inspired one-shot comics focussing on alternative Justice League members. This Batman was Dr. Kirk Langstrom, whose cure for cancer mutated his DNA and transformed him into a blood-drinking pseudo-vampire.
The first Elseworlds story depicted a young Batman emerging onto the streets of Gotham in the 19th century just as Jack the Ripper arrived from London. It’s regarded as one of the greatest alternate-Batman stories, carefully scripted by Brian Augustyn with stunning art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell.
It’s a skilled transference of the Batman myth to an earlier time — where a highwayman murders the Bruce Wayne parents — and an enduring exploration of a Batman existing at the same time as Sherlock Holmes, studying psychology with Sigmund Freud and being trained in escapology by Harry Houdini.
Flashpoint was a hugely significant event that reset the whole DC universe as the New 52 and has been subsequently used as an entertaining (or painful, if you’re Barry Allen) reset adventure on screens small and large. It’s no wonder the Batman that Flash encountered in the Flashpoint timeline won’t go away. This variant is a devastated father who became a mass murderer — the ruthless Thomas Wayne who became Batman after the tragic loss of his son Bruce many years before.
Wayne Sr’s brutal obsession drives his wife Martha away with a hideous twist. Unlike other dystopian Batmen, this traumatized Dark Knight was handed a chance for redemption by Earth Prime’s Flash. Still, that wasn’t the end, and Thomas Wayne has demonstrated his survival skills to show up in Infinite Frontier and 2022’s Flashpoint Beyond.
Grayson would inevitably take on the mantle of the Bat one day, but he could never have expected his Robin would be Damian Wayne. The former Robin’s time came after Batman RIP and Final Crisis when Bruce Wayne was unwittingly thrown back in time. Still, an antagonistic sidekick didn’t help this protégé’s imposter syndrome.
Already a successful vigilante in his own right, the dichotomy of Batman and Nightwing in one character was fascinating. He’d been Batman before, temporarily after the Knightfall saga, but with more room to breathe, he became a charismatic guardian of Gotham and arguably the mentor Damian needed (especially given one possible future).
Dick Grayson was Bruce Wayne’s ward, but Damian was the son he shared with Talia al Ghul — heir to the world’s greatest supervillain and its greatest detective. Writer Grant Morrison couldn’t resist the chance to jump into Gotham’s dystopian future when scripting Batman #666. Morrison had only recently introduced Bruce Wayne’s cantankerous son, and his success as the newest Robin and member of the Bat Family was massively enhanced by this glimpse into a difficult future.
With his father dead, the future Damian took on the mantle and a brilliant costume in a collapsing society where he’s pursued by GCPD, old villains, and a reality-ending Bat-demon. Damian had lost his impetuousness and hair but showed an incredible aptitude for the role, with unexpected warmth and necessary ruthlessness part of his lonely role of keeping his father’s crusade alive.
This is the Batman that could inspire a whole list of alternate Batmen as he opened the gateway to the corrupted Bruce Waynes of the Dark multiverse. Recent years have established this ghoulish vision of evil as the ultimate bad Batman. It’s easy to see some roots of this goth Batman in British Dystopian sci-fi, like a twist on Judge Dredd’s Judge Death, but this laughing Batman is the ultimate answer to the question that is Batman vs. Joker.
On Earth-22, Batman broke his code to kill Joker, only to fall prey to the Joker’s last laugh: concentrated Joker venom. The fall was swift and devastating, leaving a figure that fuses the best and worst of the two enemies: the detection, martial arts, and intelligence of Batman combined with the abstract thinking and twisted planning of Joker. It wasn’t long before Earth-22, and even the Dark Multiverse wasn’t enough.
Few strands of Batman’s crusade predict a happy ending. In 1986, the Modern Age of Comics arrived with a hard-edged bump. On Earth-31, Miller’s Bruce Wayne has long retired following Joker’s murder of Jason Todd, collapsing into depression and powerlessness.
It’s America’s fall to authoritarianism and the Gotham crime spree of the mutants gang that inspires him to don the costume once again and become the most influential alternate version of vigilante put to page. The Dark Knight Returns is the ultimate breakdown of the character in a hostile future.
After Miller’s destructive takedown of Batman, there had to be a glimmer of light. The 1960s TV Batman is enshrined in pop culture, proving Batman is one of the most adaptable and multi-faceted characters in comics. Decades after his astonishing 120 episodes of TV, the distinctive Batman with drawn-on eyebrows earned a comic series — Batman 1966 ran for 30 issues.
Earnest, sensible, moral, and one of the most successful Batmen, it’s hard to imagine this incarnation ever going away. Batman had taken darker dives before Miller’s Dark Knight, many intended to extinguish memories of this version, but Adam West runs in eternity, trying to get rid of that bomb.
There is always hope. Terry McGinnis emerged as the Batman of the future, the promising destiny of Batman’s extended battle against crime. Batman Beyond extended from Batman: The Animated Series, where the unexpected intervention of the untrustworthy Amanda Waller ensured a lasting dynasty for Batman.
Mentored by Wayne in a compelling odd-couple relationship and amassing his own gallery of villains, including twists on classic foes, McGinnis carved an enduring place in the Dark Knight’s legend. He may be one of the sleekest and darkest-looking Batmen, but he was an impressive fighter and athlete with access to an advanced Batsuit, incredible gadgets, and a stunning Batmobile. Seeing this brash young Batman molded by the original is the epitome of the Dark Knight’s ongoing mission. As this list shows, Batman works in many settings, but cyberpunk is one of the best fits.