Tom King and Clay Mann introduce Helena Wayne into their ongoing mystery surrounding the death of Bruce Wayne and the reemergence of his first love, the Phantasm, in Batman/Catwoman #3. The once-sweet story stemming from King and Lee Weeks’ Batman Annual #2 descends into a morally murky investigation in which even our protagonists have questionable intentions at best, and are overtly untrustworthy at worst.
King captures Catwoman…
This issue lays bare Tom King’s fascination with the Catwoman character. Every element of this issue seems to stem from her experiences, her opinions, her secrets and even how she raised her daughter, but King’s fascination does seem to translate to an adept understanding, which is used effectively to draw the reader in.
A lot of the traditional will they/won’t they of the Batman/Catwoman relationship is eschewed for a story in which Selina must honor Bruce’s legacy after he has passed, and the reader is being brought into these moments in the past which complicate that effort. Conversations with Helena, their daughter, read like a tightrope act as Selena teeters between the confines of the new story and the greed which has often defined her character. It’s easy to wonder what her intentions are when questions about the Wayne fortune are raised, and the story is all the better for it.
While this version of Helena Wayne was technically introduced in the aforementioned Batman Annual #2, this is the first time readers get a full sense of her character, and it’s interesting. Helena is juxtaposed to Selena in the same way that Bruce typically would be, but while readers can be confident of Bruce’s intentions because of almost a century of consistent characterization, all readers have for Helena is the spectre of Selina’s parenting to sow doubt. It’s a beautiful little detail that just makes the story that much more unpredictable.
There are some oddities about this story, though. First and foremost, the majority of the rest of the Bat-family is completely neglected. It even goes so far as to imply Helena doesn’t have siblings, even though she has multiple siblings in DC’s main continuity. This is made worse considering that Bruce dies surrounded by this same family in the Batman Annual #2 that this stems from.
Secondly, King slips into some of his typical dialogue issues, writing sentences more staccato than people would naturally speak, and having themselves refer to animals. It’s a little off putting but it’s only a couple times.
The last thing is that the Phantasm is one of the most exciting and enticing parts of this story and we just aren’t seeing her enough, or being given enough context about her involvement. I feel like, particularly in this issue, there could’ve been more movement in that element of the plot.
…Mann lets her go
The real problem with this issue comes out in Clay Mann’s art. It isn’t that it’s bad — it’s actually quite good in many parts. It isn’t necessarily that it’s over-sexualized, because there are areas of this issue where that could be considered called for. It’s the fact that his art is over-sexualized in the wrong places. It’s completely unnecessary to have Selina having the only fight scene in the book in her underwear, and then having her shirt ripped to reveal even more of her underwear. It takes the reader completely out of the story and is detrimental to the very interesting character work that King is trying to do with Selena.
This creates a depiction of Selena Kyle that’s needlessly contradictory. We have a writer and an artist who for most of the book seek to create a poised, morally intricate depiction of an often over-sexualized character, yet at points the artist goes rogue. Mann occasionally slips into a mode in which featuring Selena sexually is clearly a goal of his art, and when she’s fighting in the art in her pink lingerie, it’s ridiculous enough that it can undercut some of the serious character work they’re doing.
There are also other small issues with Mann’s proportions on certain pages, but they’re generally nothing that will take the reader out of the book.
The real standout piece of art that will more than likely stick with readers though, is Helena Wayne’s new design. Presumably acting as the new Batwoman, she sports a costume that Clay Mann calls, “A little bit of Mom&Dad,” on twitter. It features a bulkier charcoal and yellow upper half which resembles a classic Batman look, and a seemingly painted on bottom half, resembling Catwoman’s Batman: The Animated Series look.
There are problems with this costume — namely, the contrast between the armored upper half and featureless bottom half makes the bottom half look out of place. This is accentuated by Mann’s art style, which looks so painted-on that apparently her costume also features a belly button. It’s easy to wonder if this was a different artist’s portrayal, if the costume would mesh better.
In spite of this, Mann makes readers love the costume. The classic colors that evoke the Batman readers fell in love with as children, the wide ears in the style of Batman’s original appearance works completely as a reference to the characters past, and the use of the Batman Beyond style wings makes it so exciting when Helena is doing anything. It’s a costume so full of great ideas that its shortcomings can be forgiven.
She needs boots, though. Why does she just have gray feet?
The rest of the issue is a blast to flip through, though. It’d be stellar if it weren’t for its problems. The way he draws Joker just slightly distorted evokes a feeling of otherworldliness that many artists have played on successfully before, and Mann continues that success. His framing of conversations in the Wayne Manor between Helena and Selina exist in such a heavy, dramatic fog which imbues a grandeur into their every retort. Mann’s work underscores King’s writing so well in those moments.
Specifically, Mann is arguably meant to draw the Phantasm. The hard lines and over-attentiveness to detail which can make some of his work feel inhuman, are used excellently to evoke the cold, haunting persona of this character. The mask, drawn lifelessly hard and stiff, and the cloak, illustrated with a hyperbolic amount of folds, breathes life into the reader’s Angel of Death.
Tom King and Clay Mann stumble a little as their respective styles create a somewhat contradictory portrayal of Selina Kyle, but the introduction of Helena Wayne, and the steady presence of the Phantasm keep the reader steadily involved and excited for the next issue.
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