While The CW’s Batwoman takes place in Gotham City, neither Batman nor his traditional rogues gallery have played a major role in the show’s first season. In fact, it was only fairly recently that viewers learned about the fates of major DC characters like Joker, Penguin and Lucius Fox. Now the series’ latest episode, “A Narrow Escape,” reveals even more about the current whereabouts of the Clown Prince of Crime, and the truth is not at all what we were expecting.
Beware of spoilers for Batwoman: Season 1, Episode 17 ahead!
Batman and Joker in the Arrowverse – What We Know
For years the various Arrowverse shows were vague as to whether Batman even existed, even after Oliver Queen finally name-dropped Bruce Wayne in Arrow: Season 6. It was only with 2018’s Elseworlds crossover that fans finally learned the truth. There is a Batman in the Arrowverse, and he’s been around for far longer than heroes like Flash and Green Arrow. The catch is that, outside of Gotham’s citizens, few even believe he exists.
The Batwoman series has since established that both Batman and his alter ego suddenly and mysteriously disappeared three years ago, leaving Gotham unprotected until Kate Kane finally came along to take up the mantle. As for Joker, he and most of his supervillain peers also seem to have dropped off the map. Most of them appear to have been rounded up by Batman and locked away for good. Even Joker himself (who, like the Jack Nicholson version, is also known by Jack Napier) was suggested to be safely locked away in the episode “I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury,” having been convicted by A.D.A. Stu Donnelly. But “A Narrow Escape” paints a far darker picture of Joker’s fate.
Batman’s Terrible Secret Revealed
This new episode deals with the fallout of Kate Kane killing August Cartwright, the man who murdered her mother and turned her sister Beth into a costumed psychopath. Kate tries to prevent her partner Luke from committing a similar crime, as Luke seeks to punish a corrupt Crows agent who murdered his father Lucius. Only by admitting her own crime is she able to stop Luke from crossing a line. Later, Luke thanks Kate for saving him and reveals to her that she isn’t the only member of the Bat-family to kill an enemy in cold blood. Luke heavily implies Batman once broke his moral code and killed the Joker.
Luke tells Kate, “Ever wonder why the Joker hasn’t reared his head in five years? He’s not in Arkham, Kate. Both you and Bruce stared into the abyss. The question is, how long are you going to let it stare back at you?”
There’s some room for interpretation here. It’s possible Batman himself wasn’t the one who did the deed, but may be covering for one of his sidekicks (Jason Todd, perhaps). But regardless of whether he personally killed Joker or just helped cover up the murder, Batman seems to have some serious blood on his hands. It’s probably safe to assume that act played a big part in Batman’s decision to disappear. Maybe he no longer felt worthy of being Gotham’s protector. After all, killing Joker is a line Batman has rarely crossed in any universe, and doing so usually sends him down an even darker path.
What Does This Mean for Batman and Batwoman?
The current whereabouts of Bruce Wayne are still a mystery, and may stay that way for multiple seasons. But we have to imagine sooner or later Kate will be reunited with her cousin and Bruce will be forced to account for his actions. Kate already met one alternate version of Bruce during Crisis on Infinite Earths. That version was a bitter, vengeful old man, driven half mad by the death of his Kate and his resulting decision to kill all his enemies. Sadly, it seems as though Earth-Prime’s Bruce Wayne isn’t as far removed from Earth-96’s Bruce as we would have thought.
Once Bruce does resurface, we’ll probably get the full story on what happened during his final confrontation with Joker. With any luck, Kevin Conroy will even return to reprise the Bruce Wayne role in live-action again. And depending how far down the rabbit hole Bruce has gone, he could wind up being an enemy to Kate rather than an ally.
At this point, we can’t help but be reminded of The Batman Who Laughs, a relatively recent addition to Batman’s comic book rogues gallery. The Batman Who Laughs is a version of Bruce Wayne from the Dark Multiverse, a realm where nightmares literally become reality. This Bruce gave in to temptation and killed Joker. But he didn’t anticipate Joker booby-trapping his own body with Joker toxin. Bruce became infected and eventually transformed into a new Joker. As The Batman Who Laughs, he has all of Batman’s skills and resources and all of Joker’s love of mayhem and destruction. That’s a pretty nasty combination.
Is it possible Batwoman is laying the seeds for an Arrowverse version of The Batman Who Laughs? It’s certainly possible that the Arrowverse Batman experienced a similar fate and slowly transformed into a new Joker after killing the original. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds in store for the Batwoman/Batman dynamic.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.