Let’s get straight to the point: yes, The New York Times–in a headline, no less–spoiled a major twist in Batman (2016) #50 the weekend before its July 4threlease date, as you may have heard given considerable reader outcry and words of regret expressed by the author of the article shortly thereafter. A discussion about the broader implications of this incident, and what we can learn from it, is important and necessary, but you won’t find it here, nor any other spoilers, including the one detailed in The Times. Batman #50 is absolutely worth your time, money, and perhaps even a few tears, and I’m here to tell you why.
This issue has been hotly anticipated, not just because it promises the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, which has been teased for over a year since Bruce Wayne proposed to Selina Kyle on the final page of Batman #24, but because of the murderer’s row of creators involved. It’s all written by Tom King, like every issue of the title since its 2016 relaunch prompted by DC’s Rebirth initiative, and lettered by Clayton Cowles. The bulk of the line art is handled by Mikel Janin, a frequent collaborator of King’s on both this current Batman run and even going back to King’s 2014-2016 Grayson series cowritten by Tim Seeley. Each of these pages are colored by June Chung.
However, an assortment of some of the best and most influential comic book artists alive, especially those associated with Batman, contribute a single splash page each. Frankly, there are too many to name right here, and to DC’s credit, the assortment of contributors does an admirable job driving home the fact that this isn’t just a celebration of an arbitrary milestone, or even the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, but a nearly 80-year-old relationship between two iconic characters.
Besides, as great as it is to see such a rich assortment of artists (Lee Weeks’ starkly minimalist page is a standout for me), the issue is structured in such a way that clearly designates Janin and Chung as the artists. Everything we see set in the present is drawn by them, while monologue from Batman and Catwoman, juxtaposed by pin-up style flashbacks by the guest artists, has the two leads reminiscing about how and why they fell for each other. I run a bit hot and cold on Janin and Chung sometimes when their use of digital illustration tools becomes a bit too stiff or video game-like, but they do excellent work here. Everyone on Bruce and Selina’s big day looks beautiful and pristine, just as they should, and most importantly, the emotion on their faces is believable.
In fact, my only real gripe visually is with the lettering — Cowles is an incredibly talented and reliable letterer, but there were moments during the Catwoman-narrated pages, written in what I can best describe as quasi-cursive, that I had to reread. I’m also not convinced that Selina’s handwriting would look like that, but these are rather minor concerns for a comic that’s such an embarrassment of riches visually.
Anyway, this comic had me fighting tears.
Let me back up a little. Tom King has been saying for some time that he plans for this run to reach over 100 issues. This is essentially the halfway mark for his run, and of course a turning point in Batman’s long and complicated relationship with Catwoman, which has existed in various forms between straightforward hero-villain animosity to flirtation to full-fledged romance since the very first comic to be called Batman #1 in 1940. They’ve spent plenty of time apart over the decades, but King had been making her a focal point of Batman’s story long before he revealed their intentions to tie the knot.
As a lifelong Batman fan, I’ve always liked Catwoman, but I was never particularly invested in the idea that they were destined to be together. I never “shipped” him with anyone, for that matter. I’ve seen variations of the “Batman is married to justice” joke in a few places, but there’s a lot of truth to it. One trait that makes Batman appealing, throughout almost every version of the character, is his commitment to his war on crime. The moment that he commits himself to a loving romantic partner, his mission comes into question, so what changed?
One complaint I’ve had about this series since the proposal is that, up until this issue, I wasn’t sure why Batman and Catwoman loved each other. I believed that they loved each other, and I’ve read enough Batman comics by other creators to fill in those blanks myself, but in the context of King’s story, I wasn’t convinced he knew.
Batman #50 clarifies that. It also clarifies and justifies many other unanswered questions from the run so far, restoring reason to believe that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that even more will be revealed in due time. I was most surprised to see King redeem his recent story drawn by Tony S. Daniel, “The Gift,” which initially read like a mean-spirited joke culminating in a cruel punchline. It now seems that the implications were almost as devastating as I thought they might be, yet less heartless than heartbreaking.
The ultimate question that Batman #50 asks is one that, more than ever, we know King has been asking throughout his run: can Batman be happy? And must one suffer to be a hero like Batman?
There is so much more I’d like to say, but for fear of saying too much, I’ll leave you with this: even if you haven’t had this issue spoiled for you, you might still predict what happens. But if comics could be judged based solely on the events within them, what would be the point? Read this for King’s lyrical dialogue, his emotional honesty, his willingness to show us recognizable humanity through the lens of colorful superheroes even as that sounds like the stupidest endeavor on the planet. Read it for Mikel Janin, Becky Cloonan, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Tim Sale, Neal Adams, and a host of other exceptional artists proving once again that superhero comic book art is still art, goddamn it. Read it because you believe that corporate-owned superhero comics can mean more than an endless sea of profit driven by movies, video games, and toys. If one little spoiler can turn you away from the whole story…well, maybe you didn’t like comics that much the first place.
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