The wedding between Batman and Catwoman is off.
That is, if Catwoman can’t save the day and her groom-to-be from the Clown Prince of Crime’s clutches in Batman #49. The cover to Batman #50 DC’s been advertising for the past few months now has already spilled the likely answer to whether or not that’ll happen, but either way — this issue, Catwoman vs. Joker. Should be fun, right?
If you read my review of Batman #48, you know I was left feeling pretty underwhelmed. The outcome of the story was gripping but the central conflict floundered on account of Batman’s jarring ineptitude and aberrant, near-lethargic subservience in his one-on-one scrape with the Joker — such that my suspension of disbelief was thrown right out the stained-glass window.
Now it’s twenty days later and for the most part I’m over that aspect of the story. Instead of dwelling, let’s focus on what writer Tom King is going for in “The Best Man.” Catwoman is going to have to save the day, just like she did against Bane in Batman #13 and just like she did against Batman’s baby mama Talia al Ghul in Batman #35.
I’ll reiterate: I’m cool with that as the narrative crux. I have no issues with Catwoman coming to Batman’s rescue; Lord knows the converse has been done to death and from a probability standpoint, Batman probably could stand to get saved a bit more, prep-time-game-bordering-on-prescience notwithstanding. I’d just rather it felt more earned, that’s all. No plot-induced stupidity on Batman’s part and getting clubbed over the head with “Look, Catwoman beat Batman’s three most dangerous villains after he couldn’t. She good,” to get there.
Alright, there. Now I’m over it. And with that off my chest, let’s explore how Batman #49 made me nearly salt-free about what transpired in the previous issue; the issue is an in-depth analysis of the effect Batman has had over the years on his rogues gallery, and more extensively, a juxtaposition of Catwoman’s relationship with Batman and the Joker’s relationship with Batman. King mines deep into Joker’s psyche and explores details like the character’s outlook on death, what he views as his indispensable function in Batman’s life (and vice-versa), which of the two villains really knows Batman better (and yes, as much as that sounds like two quarreling girlfriends in a man’s life, the way in which they both love Batman is explored as well), what it takes to make Batman happy and whether or not Batman can truly exist with happiness in his life. King’s acuity as a writer truly shines here — this is where his interest in the Batman saga lies, not in prep-time or Bat-gods or prolonged fight scenes.
“He created me,” the Joker says, conjuring images of Nicholson’s Joker from 1989’s Batman. “Chaos for his order. I killed his Robin. I killed thousands for him. I gave him meaning. I held him as the rain came and we laughed (a reference to Moore’s The Killing Joke). I hurt him,” Joker says, a crazed grin of fulfillment suddenly plastering his face. “I know him.”
In essence, the “Best Man” story arc explores Joker’s bereavement: what will the Joker do without Batman in his life if Catwoman marries him and “takes him” away, so to speak? It’s potent stuff and a theme which instantly brings to mind the scene from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm where Bruce Wayne, who has recently found love in the form of a recently returned former flame, stands at the grave of his parents and says, “I don’t want to let you down, honest, but… but it just doesn’t hurt so bad anymore… You can understand that, can’t you? I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy.”
Maybe Batman’s inefficacy in the last issue was yet another subtle story seed, King telling us that Batman truly is in love — which means the Joker is right: Batman can’t be happy and be Batman at the same time.
Forgive my hyperbole in the opening sentence. As we head into Batman #50, the wedding is (as far as we know) still on. The most fascinating thing is, we’re left as readers to ponder for the first time in a long time, not “is Batman truly happy and in love?” but does the essence of Batman truly prevail if he’s found happiness?