The Batman/Catwoman Wedding Is Supposed to Upset You
A Once In A Life Time Comics Event
For some, it was the comics event of the year, for others it was a fraud.
Batman and Catwoman, two characters with over seventy-five years of history, were set to be married in Batman #50. Many fans and critics were skeptical that the wedding would happen, given Bruce and Selina’s track record, as well as the general impermanence of relationships in both Batman and Catwoman’s comics. Despite the skepticism, writer Tom King devoted issue after issue to preparing for this event. Even before Bruce’s proposal in Batman #24, Batman and Catwoman’s relationship was a burgeoning part of King’s overarching Batman narrative. Even the gritty The War of Joke and Riddles was framed as a confession from Bruce to Selina, a moment of profound vulnerability followed by a profound moment of acceptance. In short, Tom King’s meticulous and devoted storytelling made many readers believe that these characters could get married in a way that wouldn’t feel like publicity stunt.
In Batman #50, King and company delivered one of the most visually stunning comics in recent memory. Serving as a grand and romantic reflection on the Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, D.C. Comics and Tom King enlisted a horde of incredible artists to contribute art to the issue. The stunning laundry list of artist includes Tom King’s Batman collaborators Joëlle Jones, David Finch, Clay Mann, and Lee Weeks while also including veteran artists like Lee Bermejo, Frank Miller, José Luis García-López, Becky Cloonan, Andy Kubert, Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Mitch Gerads, and Jim Lee. It’s a stunning array of artists, all of whom contribute their own distinct visual styles to the issue. The issue is anchored by Mikel Janin (who is establishing himself as a iconic Batman artist) who serves as the primary artist and does an incredible job amidst the star-studded guests.
Not to be outdone by the army of artists, writer Tom King utilizes some fascinating narrative techniques to depict and examine the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. King uses dueling text boxes (with each character having their own distinct lettering and text boxes) to explore the thoughts and feeling that Bruce and Selina experience as their wedding grows closer. King’s narrative approach feels like an attempt at streams of consciousness, where the reader has access to all the thoughts of both characters as they move towards their wedding. It’s an approach that leads to moments of deep and complex reflection for both characters.
In terms of layouts, narrative techniques and art, Batman #50 is an incredible piece of design and storytelling. It is a comic that looks and feels distinctly different than any Batman story told in recent years.
Upending the Narrative
But they don’t get married.
Selina decides that the love and happiness she shares with Bruce are incompatible with the Batman identity. Catwoman describes the pain that fuels Batman as an “engine” that creates change and ultimately saves lives. Bruce took this terrible childhood event (Selina acknowledges that in some ways Bruce is still that boy in the alley) and somehow uses to it give purpose to his life and to save lives. With this in mind, writer Tom King uses this idea to great effect, asking the question: what happens if Batman is happy? Does that engine turn off? It’s this question that haunts Selina as she nears her wedding. Ultimately, Selina decides that Batman needs to be out in the world, fighting and battling the forces that created him. Selina seems to believe that if she builds a life with Bruce, Batman will suffer, along with the world he protects. This a gut wrenching moment, with the decision playing out on parallel panels as Selina and Bruce drive separately to their wedding, just as Bruce is beginning to believe in the idea of his own happiness.
In the final panels of the comic, it is revealed that Holly Robinson, Catwoman’s friend (essentially her maid of honor), has been working with Bane and a host of other villains, who have been conspiring against the caped crusader. The comic ends with Bane declaring: “the bat is…broken” (Batman #50). In an interview for SYFY Wire, King asserted that “you can’t break Batman by hurting him, he’s been hurt in every way possible. You can’t hurt him by killing a Robin because that happens every Friday” (SYFY Wire). Instead, the only to break Batman is to “break his heart”. This final revelation reinforces that Bane will be the primary villain of Tom King’s arc, pulling strings from the shadows. For King, the question going forward for Batman is: “What happens when Batman finds this out [Bane’s influence] and how does he recover from it?” (SYFY Wire). This is the fundamental question that will define Tom King’s Batman as the narrative progress towards Batman #100, the moment that appears to be King’s ultimate end game.
The ending of Batman #50 was always going to be controversial but it hurt the comic that the ending was revealed by New York Times three days before the comic went on sale. In the age of internet, it feels incredibly shortsighted to spoil a huge comic event ahead of its release, as some spoilers are almost unavoidable depending on your social media interactions. Even readers who stayed away from articles related to the comic, could not escape the fact that they knew that SOMETHING controversial happened in the issue and drew the obvious conclusion from the reaction around them. This spoiled an exciting moment for many comics fans, fans who had followed the build up to this story for months. Perhaps D.C. thought that the reveal would give Batman #50 extra publicity, but it was disingenuous to both King and the fans to release the ending prior to release.
For many fans, the larger issue at stake was the execution and build up to the event. Why did D.C. and King insist on building up this story line issue after issue, only hit the breaks at the last second? The reaction to the comic has not been pretty, and while criticism for any piece of media is perfectly valid, the reaction has not been totally appropriate. Tom King, who has received some backlash from critics and fans, also received death threats. King appeared at San Diego Comic Con with a burly body guard to watch his back due to these threats. It’s incredibly disappointing that a comic book, or any piece of media, should ever result in someone receiving death threats.
What Comes Next?
In the midst of this heated situation, Tom King has been calmly and quietly addressing many of the concerns brought up by critics and fans. In a tweet, King asserted that: “Batman 50 is not the end. This is a 100 issue story documenting and celebrating the love of Batman and Catwoman. Whatever happens, whatever anyone says, nothing’s going to spoil that.” King views Batman #50 not as ending, but instead as a midpoint in his narrative. King has been very adamant that he has a overarching vision of how his story is progressing and this is simply one step in the story.
Additionally, Tom King addressed the reaction to Batman #50 in the same video interview with SYFY Wire (King begins discussing Batman #50 at 3:30 in the video). King asserts that this moment is intended to upset the reader, as well as Bruce himself. King wants the reader to feel like the wedding was going to happen, to feel the way Batman does during the story. King asserts that: “Batman thought he was getting married, he believed when he was going on the rooftop that he was going to find happiness and that was yank away from him” (SYFY Wire). By working to put the reader in Bruce’s mindset, King seeks to help us understand how Bruce would feel in that moment. For Tom King, the frustration that many fans felt is not unlike what Batman would feel as he waits in vain for Selina to arrive.
The honest truth is that at this point readers don’t know where Batman #50 is leading its characters and readers. King has promised that this is a one hundred issue story and there is so much more to come. The final pages of the comic, give the reader hints of where the narrative will go, but much of the story remains unknown as this point. I encourage anyone frustrated with this Batman #50 to continue reading the King’s Batman comic. King is an excellent story teller and he deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. More importantly, the questions that King is asking about Batman and his happiness are powerful and have rarely been examined with such depth and complexity. In the end, only time will tell if Batman #50 will lead to great things, or if it will be remembered as a misstep.
What do you think? Leave a comment.