Warning: Spoilers ahead for I Am Batman #10!
Like Batman New York, Jace Fox may be busy with a serial killer, but he has not yet faced such a deadly threat as The Joker–though not for lack of effort. Although this new villain, Manray, has tried to match the Joker’s sense of entertainment and style, all he has managed so far is to emphasize what exactly makes the Joker such a real threat. In its current form, Manray is simply not a plausible nemesis for the new Batman.
In this Future State spin-off, Timothy “Jace” Fox set up operations as Batman in New York. His current target, a serial killer named Murray, outwardly meets all the requirements to be compared to the Joker: his brutal murders make other Batman villains look G-rated, his mask creates a striking visual motif, and he treats death and chaos as his “art”. As Manray progresses through more and more famous victims, it’s hard for Batman to stop him.
I Am Batman #10 by John Ridley, Christian Deuce and Rex Locus sets the stage for their biggest confrontation. Having made it clear that his next target is the mayor, Manray fulfills his threat and attacks the mayor’s office, tearing apart assistants and bodyguards. Despite an armed group of guards waiting in the lobby, the mayor arrives and finds that they have all been killed, and Manray is waiting for him. Batman arrives at the very last moment, and after a tense battle, Manray is subdued.
Unfortunately, there is little to justify Manray’s apparent rampage, exposing him as yet another Joker copycat. With no strength or combat training, only spikes on the chain, there is no explanation why a team of armed guards cannot shoot at Murray or how he can fight face-to-face with Batman. The Joker, on the other hand, has proven himself well in his ability to plan and set traps in advance; the teams that set out to kill him inevitably realize too late that they have fallen into a death trap. The completely unpredictable nature of the Joker makes his opponents doubt themselves at critical moments, never knowing what exactly he has planned and whether they are being deceived. In the face of all this, Manray just feels implausible—there is very little in him that allows the suspension of distrust necessary for the supervillain not to be shot directly.
Villains without power, like Victor Zsas (who killed a lot of people), are still terrible. However, Zsas’ style of stalking his victims is much better suited to his skill set; he’s not the kind of villain who can walk into a room of armed security forces and expect them to leave. Treating Manray as a Joker-level threat without first establishing his skills or abilities makes it very difficult for the reader to take him seriously. Batman will happily defeat him no matter what, but so far all Murray has managed to prove is that in order to become the next As a joker, something much more special is required than a large number of dead.