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The missed potential of 'Batman/Catwoman'

Comic Books

The missed potential of ‘Batman/Catwoman’

What can we take from this conclusion to Tom King’s Bat-story?

If you love Batman with a passion, you always wish for the best. With the countless new comics that DC publishes, not to mention a perpetually upcoming cinematic incarnation, the anticipation is always there. Sometimes the title/property just might live up to your expectations. But in other cases, the results can break the hearts of certain Bat-fans.

The latter is why we are here today. 

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At the start of DC Rebirth back in 2016, Tom King would write the main Batman title after a phenomenal run by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, which was published over the course of the publisher’s previous relaunch, The New 52. It is always worrisome when a new writer takes over the title, and no doubt King’s approach towards the Caped Crusader, along with the numerous artists involved in the run, is different from what Snyder was doing, which ended up being especially successful.

In the case of King’s run, he has more in common with Grant Morrison’s seven-year Batman run, which was about exploring aspects of the character’s history that most people would tend to ignore. Similar to Morrison’s take, King’s Batman went all over the place, from confronting new super-powered figures to running his own Suicide Squad and even landing in the middle of a civil war between two supervillains — he even fought his father, who was Batman in an alternate reality. Even in other comics that King wrote in which Batman featured — like Heroes in Crisis and Strange Adventures — the character went from investigating a mass murder to exploring the true motives behind an alien invasion. From the variety of stories King was telling, he wasn’t interested in presenting a gritty, grounded approach to Batman, which is the typical direction to go for the character.

The missed potential of 'Batman/Catwoman'

From Batman #82. Art by Mikel Janin. Courtesy of DC Comics.

During King’s time on the main Batman title, the one consistent element that drove the ongoing narrative is Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman), and considering their volatile romance has been on-and-off over the decades, King wanted to push their love to the next level. With story arcs such as “Rooftops” and “Superfriends”, the comic eventually became a love story, and even goes as far as transforming into a full-blown romcom for a couple of issues. The romance became such a big deal that once we reached issue #50, in which the Bat and the Cat were about to be wed, the wedding was called off amid fan outrage, going as far as King traveling with a bodyguard in San Diego Comic-Con 2018 after receiving threats. King’s overall run was divisive, and despite the quibbles that happened along the way, I was a fan and felt extra saddened when the writer’s time on the title was cut short despite the proposed plan of writing 100 issues. 

However, when it was announced that King and his frequent collaborator/artist Clay Mann would create the 12-issue maxiseries Batman/Catwoman, my anticipation went through the roof. Published under DC’s Black Label imprint, the series would serve as the conclusion to King’s narrative from the main title, exploring the past, present, and future of the Bat/Cat relationship, whilst the Joker and the Phantasm herself, Andrea Beaumont, would also become key players in the story. As someone who collects comics through trade publications, my anticipation towards this title even led me to purchase all the single issues when they were released, even when the series didn’t stuck to its monthly schedule. 

Batman

Art from Batman/Catwoman (by Clay Mann). Courtesy of DC Comics.

During the course of reading the single issues, that sense of excitement started to fade away fairly quickly. Over the course of 12 issues, there are three timeframes happening simultaneously. So at first you’re getting the present-day story of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship being tested over the return of Andrea (who goes down another path of vengeance as the Phantasm), which could have served as an interesting dynamic for Bruce to reconcile with his ex. But then there is also the past where the Bat, the Cat, and Joker are trying to understand what entire dynamic. And in the future, a widowed Selina ties up loose ends, causing her to be pursued by her daughter, Helena, the new bat-themed vigilante in Gotham. These are compelling narratives, but trying to tell all three over the course of 12 issues, this is ultimately the true downfall of Batman/Catwoman. This is a comic where the conflicts, no matter how personal, don’t seem that big a deal.

 

On a personal note, reading the series as single issues was a chore to get through, with the time-jumping that was constantly taking place making it truly tough to remember specific story beats. (The inconsistent release schedule was certainly a contributing factor.) The series is better when you read it all in one go, but sadly the ideas don’t come together as the creators intended, which is a shame considering how they are built upon elements that we read from King’s Batman run, such as the flash forwards and the return of Lois and Clark, who shared a double date with Bruce and Selina. 

What is consistent, mostly, is the art by Clay Mann, who can’t seem to escape his butt fetish, but his Gotham feels diverse through the periods of time, whilst the Bat and the Cat have never looked more tactical and sexier. Plus, the deliberate nods to the animated feature Mask of the Phantasm are a visual treat, with the Phantasm herself illustrated to be a figure of horror. However, halfway through the series, Liam Sharp takes over artistic duties for three issues, where he evokes the style of Bill Sienkiewicz and arguably does some of his best work, but the transition from one artist to the next is a weird decision. 

Catwoman

Art from Batman/Catwoman #8 (by Liam Sharp). Courtesy of DC Comics.

Despite its title, Selina acts as the main character, as Bruce doesn’t really have an arc – perhaps because King said everything about him in the main Batman title. The best thing to come out of this series, though, is Batman/Catwoman Special #1, a change of pace that abandons the multiple time frames to explore the life of Selina Kyle during a lifetime of Christmas memories. Whether it is the troubled child, the cat burglar at her prime, or the elderly mother/wife whose still got it, it is a well-constructed journey in understanding Selina and her connection to Bruce Wayne even at an early age, such as a recurring theme of her continually encountering a Wayne family painting.

It’s also worth noting that this one-shot also serves as a tribute to the late, great John Paul Leon, who passed away at age 49, finishing only the first 13 pages, whilst artists Bernard Chang and Mitch Gerads contributed to draw the remaining pages. Ending on a tragic note for the Cat, the Batman/Catwoman Special also adds to the sadness that we lost a great artist. Despite the change in artistry, the issue has a clear through-line and has a better sense of time manipulation without having to overextend the narrative, which is where the main series faltered.

The missed potential of 'Batman/Catwoman'

Art from Batman/Catwoman Special #1. Courtesy of DC Comics.

In its position as a Black Label title, most likely the events of Batman/Catwoman won’t matter. Given what has been going on with the main Batman title, with subsequent writers James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, and Chip Zdarsky are more interested in telling their own stories. In an Elseworlds scenario, maybe if King got the chance to do his proposed 100-issue run, maybe the Bat/Cat relationship would have a greater impact for the main continuity, but instead we got a series that ended up being a huge disappointment to a long-drawn narrative about a great love story.  

However, King is not done with the Dark Knight entirely, as he’s done the recent Batman: Killing Time (with artist David Marquez) and he and artist Mitch Gerads have the One Bad Day project due out August 16. As a writer known for telling robust, 12-issue stories, these titles are shorter, with the possibility that King will more effectively his ideas across. There is always a new Batman story in the near-future, and hopefully for King – one of the best writers currently working at DC – he will always experiment and eventually redeem himself with the Caped Crusader.


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