The DC Universe is currently taking a nap, and it isn’t a pleasant one. “Knight Terrors” is the latest DC Universe crossover, which follows our favorite heroes and villains as they face their worst nightmares.
“What are you talking about Josh? Heroes like Batman face nightmares every day,” you might ask. You have to realize that this is different because of the person behind it. Meet Insomnia, one of the most terrifying villains in the DC Universe.
Do you remember when the Lazarus volcano exploded during “Lazarus Planet”? It turns out that the eruption had more ramifications than we originally thought. The explosion infected an unnamed man, turning him into a truly unnerving metahuman with the ability to manipulate dreams. Think of him like a homicidal version of The Sandman’s Morpheus. Using his powers, Insomnia puts the DC Universe into an eternal slumber, trapping the heroes and villains in their darkest nightmares.
Some of you might be wondering how Insomnia is different than Scarecrow. It’s a fair question, since there is a fine line between fear and nightmares. In essence, fear is what fuels our nightmares. Scarecrow attacks people by exploiting their fear with his toxins, while Insomnia traps people in nightmares. These strategies might seem similar, but Insomnia’s powers take things to a new level.
We all have fears, and we face them on a regular basis. We can fight to overcome them, whether it’s fear of heights, fear of commitment, or in some cases, facing our childhood traumas. Most Batman vs. Scarecrow stories depict the Dark Knight using his willpower to fight through Dr. Crane’s fear toxins. It can almost be seen as a metaphor for the battles we face every day.
Nightmares are different. We don’t escape nightmares by powering through them. We can only escape nightmares by waking up, and Insomnia is not giving anybody that option. Fear is something we face, while a nightmare is something we’re trapped in. This is what makes “Knight Terrors” such a horrifying tale. It’s about a deathtrap built by our own subconscious.
Because of this, “Knight Terrors” works as a great character study on each of the DC heroes and villains it spotlights. You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their nightmares. When someone is faced with their worst fear, everything else about them unravels, and their deepest self is revealed.
So, what is the Dark Knight’s worst nightmare? Discovering the answer to that is exactly why “Knight Terrors” is so fascinating. Knight Terrors: Batman #1 explores that and shows us how the Caped Crusader is out of his depth. Bruce thinks he’s ready for Insomnia and compares it to battling Scarecrow.
“You’re making a mistake, Batman,” Insomnia says in response. “You keep bringing up fears. But I’m not Jonathan Crane. I told you before, you are the one building this nightmare, not me.”
Some of you have probably guessed that Bruce’s nightmare involves the night his parents died, and you’re correct. However, Knight Terrors: Batman #1 has a twist. I won’t spoil it, but the final pages of the comic go to some dark places and will make you hungry for Knight Terrors: Batman #2.
What about the Joker? The Clown Prince of Crime is already a living nightmare, so what kind of fears drive his bad dreams? The answer can be found in Knight Terrors: The Joker #1, and it’s hilarious. The cover says it all—Joker finds himself living as a dull office drone sitting in a cubicle. The Joker’s worst nightmare is to become boring.
This goes back to what I said about how our nightmares define who we really are. Without Batman, the Joker’s life has no meaning. If the Dark Knight ceased to exist, the Joker would become another dull office worker. To him, that’s a fate worse than death.
In Knight Terrors: Poison Ivy #1, Ivy has a nightmare about living in a suburban Stepford fantasy with Harley Quinn. What does this say about her? Is Ivy afraid that her relationship with Harley will make her lose herself and become a normal suburban woman? Or does her nightmare speak to her fear of giving up on her mission to make the Earth green? Or maybe it’s simpler than that, and Ivy fears a world of manufactured plastic. Either way, these “Knight Terrors” comics raise some interesting questions about the DC Universe’s most iconic heroes and villains.
We eventually wake up from our nightmares, but they leave us shaken. We’re left with lingering questions and fears, as we wonder if our dreams can ever become a chilling reality. In many ways, we never truly escape from our nightmares, even after we are awake. “Knight Terrors” might be a two-month event, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over once the storyline ends. The heroes might prevail, and Insomnia might be defeated (IF that’s how the storyline ends), but you can never escape your nightmares.
Consider your last nightmare and imagine what it would have been like if you had never woken up. This is the horror that the DC Universe is facing now. The threat our heroes are facing has never been more powerful because it comes from deep within them. Let’s hope they’re all able to overcome it.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.