It’s a fairly controversial opinion these days, but I loved Tom King’s Batman run. So obviously, in the literal year between his final issue of Batman and this first issue of Batman/Catwoman, I hung onto every interview and press release, watched for every teaser and preview, and did my best to prepare for the real conclusion to this run. And if you’ve paid any attention at all, you’ll know that the biggest teaser and promoted part of this book was the introduction of the Phantasm to the comics.
So to prepare, I watched Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm for the first time. I expected something really compelling and stylish and special, based on how I’d seen so many people (including the creators of this comic) talk about it, but came out sorely disappointed. The film had so many scenes that would have benefited greatly from a gloomy, dark atmosphere, but instead opted for something that felt like it didn’t want to be more than a Saturday morning cartoon.
There are plenty of cartoons that manage to be legitimately impressive even for adults, but The Mask of the Phantasm never seemed to have that ambition. Andrea Beaumont was a character that got less and less interesting as the movie progressed, and by the end the only thing I really liked about her was the design for the Phantasm. It’s only been a few days since I watched the movie, but I can’t recall anything but the basic plot because it ultimately didn’t do anything particularly interesting. That was the first impression I got of this comic — that the character and media it was explicitly drawing from wasn’t very good.
Then I read the comic. It was right before I had to leave to run some errands, so I rushed through it to get a rough idea of what was going on. I didn’t linger on any page, and once I felt like I knew what was happening I moved onto the next one. I read the comic as I would read Suicide Squad or The Amazing Spider-Man, expecting a straightforward experience I didn’t need to dig into. And because of this, the book left me disoriented and underwhelmed. On the surface, Batman/Catwoman #1 is a comic that haphazardly jumps between time periods without any strong indication that it’s occurring, introduces a character that previously had not existed at all in the comics, and self-indulgently draws from King’s own personal ending to Batman in Batman Annual #2. Mann’s artwork is good at what it’s doing, but ultimately this issue spends so long jumping between time frames and settings that it’s unable to create any sense of momentum or drive to continue reading, as the reader spends longer trying to fit together the order of what’s happening than actually learning any new information. This was the second impression I got of this comic — it felt more like a teaser trailer you’d watch before the feature than the first chapter of the story you came for. Okay, not ideal, I admit.
Then, a couple days later, I read the book again. Knowing the general gist of what happened, I slowed down my reading and hung onto every page, every panel, every word. I paid attention to how each scene transitioned into the next, and saw how shifts in time periods became more clearly skillful. There’s a clear intent to everything in the issue, as Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles work in beautiful harmony to create this story. Whenever the issue switches to a different time, there’s a stark change in colors that works really well — it keeps the transition a bit more subtle than constantly putting the setting in captions and allows them to put these transitions between panels rather than between pages. This trick is improved by Mann having scenes bleed into each other, as characters will overlap panels and encroach into places they’re not supposed to be.
So far, the story isn’t anything to write home about, which is why I haven’t written home about it. Not to say King’s stories haven’t been good, but this isn’t a big deal for me. The biggest draw of Tom King’s Batman stories for me is how the stories are told, not the stories themselves. And obviously, a major part of the effectiveness of the storytelling rests with the artists on the book. Mann and Morey’s work on this book shines in these subtleties of the flashing between scenes. The way every scene bleeds into and informs one another makes the whole book feel like a hazy memory — and while this might not sound like a good thing, it’s clearly the intent of the issue and it works really well.
Will you like this issue? Ultimately it’s more of the same for King’s Batman, at least in terms of people’s opinions on it. If the strengths of King’s original run on Batman stood out to you more than the weaknesses, the gap will be wider here. If the weaknesses of the run were far more noticeable than any strengths, that gap will also be wider here. This series very much feels like it will be the ultimate coda to King’s Batman run, for good or for ill (in my case for good). You’re getting exactly what that sounds like.
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