Wolverine has got his work cut out for him right now dealing with an auction house selling valuable superhero memorabilia like Cap’s original mask and his own severed hand, but it’s nothing compared to the one Batman had to shut down a few years ago. While superhero mantle changes are fairly common and usually temporary, Dick Grayson’s tenure with the cape and the cowl spanned a longer time-period than most. It also established some incredibly disturbing villains against an admittedly much more light-hearted Batman.
Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Mirror story-arc debuted in the days leading up to DC’s New 52 relaunch. It features Grayson in the role of detective as a series of vicious killings and attacks emerge in Gotham. Among them are multiple cases involving ordinary Gothamites having some gruesome interactions with the weapons and abilities of several members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery.
A bullied young boy mutates into something resembling Killer Croc. His mother flings herself out a window with one of Mad Hatter’s mind-control patches stitched into her neck. A corrupt cop is ripped apart internally by some of Poison Ivy’s vines. The attacks are traced back to a clandestine auction called the Mirror House that sells off the signature weapons and abilities of Gotham’s villains to the highest bidder. In Snyder and Jock’s Detective Comics #872 Batman finds himself going undercover to the establishment in the midst of dozens of Gotham’s ultra-wealthy, all of them wearing gasmasks for anonymity (and also to protect them from the fear toxin being flooded into the room). Mirror House is ran by a depraved and skeletal old man who calls himself the Dealer who delights in the notion that evil is humanity’s greatest virtue. Among the top items for sale of the night are the crowbar Joker used to kill Jason Todd, and Batman himself.
Our hero is then attacked by the mob of ultra-wealthy psychopaths, but narrowly manages to escape. Though he does have some disturbing nightmares rendered by all of the Scarecrow gas pumping through the room. The story takes an action-packed turn as the wounded Grayson straps on some heavy armor and a set of wings to catch up with the Dealer as he flees Gotham on his cargo plane. Rather then go down without a fight, the villain injects himself with a combination of Man-Bat serum and the Venom steroid and morphs into a hideous monster. After the Dealer gets a few good hits in, Batman proceeds to beat his mutated foe into a mass of shattered bones on the floor. Before he can capture the villain, Dick is knocked out of the plane by a falling cargo crate and the vessel explodes with its sadistic owner on board.
While he’s now known for writing bombastic mega-events, Scott Snyder rose to prominence as a horror writer. And he’s a damn good one too. The idea of a bunch of rich people haggling for the powers of supervillains is an intriguing one that absolutely wreaks havoc in Gotham. From the skin-crawling philosophy of the members of Mirror House to the outright body-horror that goes down in throughout the story, The Black Mirror stands as the scariest Batman story ever told. It’s also one of the best Batman stories period.