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‘Batman/Catwoman’ HC (review)

Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann, Liam Sharp, Tomeu Morey,
Mitch Gerards,
John Paul Leon,
Bernard Chang, Mikel Janín, Michael Lark

Published by DC Black Label

 

They met on a boat.

They met on the street.

They met in 1940 in Batman #1. The publication of the Caped Crusader’s headlining comic book marked the debut of his flirtatious femme fatale, Catwoman.

The romantic tension between these on-again/off-again adversaries was laid down in that first story and has been teased out over the decades in comics, television, and film.

Writer Tom King placed the relationship front and center of his nearly 90 issue 2016-2019 run on DC Comics’ flagship Batman title.

In Batman/Catwoman, the recently concluded limited series from DC Black Label, King wraps up that exploration of the romantic dynamic of The Bat and The Cat.

The hardcover collection of Batman/Catwoman, out in December, includes issues 1-12 of the series, the Batman/Catwoman Special, and stories first published in Batman annual #2 (vol.3), Detective Comics #1027, and Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular. DC greenlit the series after the publisher replaced King as writer on Batman with issue 85 of his planned 100 issue run. Though intended for release in 2020, the series’ publication schedule was hampered with delays. Artist Liam Sharp was drafted to fill in for Clay Mann on issues 7-9. The Batman/Catwoman Special, which had been planned as a mid-series interlude, also suffered delays when artist John Paul Leon died before completing his work on the issue.

Unfortunately, these delays and changes adversely impacted the overall tone and consistency of this ambitious, complicated story.

Batman/Catwoman zooms in on three different points in the intertwined lives of its protagonists.

However, it is Catwoman alone, Selina Kyle, who stands at the center of the narrative. The story begins in the future shortly after the death of Bruce Wayne as an elderly Selina sets out to settle an old score. Meanwhile, at a point set shortly after King’s initial Batman run when Batman and Catwoman have solidified their partnership, the pair search for a missing child on a path that leads straight to Batman’s eternal nemesis, The Joker. Earlier still, at a point when Batman and Catwoman’s romance is new and uncertain, The Joker toys with Selina as he unleashes another murderous scheme upon Gotham City. Each of these three threads plays out during the Christmas season, a conceit which King uses for tonal and thematic value.

The Batman/Catwoman Special serves as a coda to the entire piece, set during Christmases throughout Selina’s life from beginning to end.

The stories collected from earlier works– Batman Annual #2, Detective Comics #1027, and The Catwoman 80th Anniversary Special— are not essential ingredients of Batman/Catwoman. However, each of these vignettes provide grace notes to the larger story.

King’s tale of the romance between The Bat and The Cat is concerned more with the motives of its characters than the soap opera of their love story.

As the Eisner Award winning writer of The Vision for Marvel and Mister Miracle for DC, King has built a reputation for grounding his characters in emotional realism. That tendency is on full display in Batman/Catwoman as Selina wrestles with her compulsion for crime and her attraction to the crimefighter who stands in her way, all the while pushing back against the ways others would define her.

As The Joker goads her during a conversation in her early days: “Are you Catwoman? Or are you Batman?”

It is a question that King deftly teases apart in each of the story’s three timeframes as Selina lives her life, as she later explains to her daughter Helena, the future Batwoman, in “the compromises you must make when you have nothing.”

Clay Mann’s clean lines and realistic art style propel the first half of the book forward and bring it to a mostly satisfying conclusion. Supported by Spanish colorist Tomeu Morey, Mann transforms King’s complex script into a seamless story, weaving in and out of timeframe transitions mid-page and sometimes mid-panel without interrupting the overall flow. Mann employs carefully delineated changes of costume and background to indicate changes in scene and timeframe. Batman/Catwoman succeeds as much on the strength of Mann and Morey’s artwork as it does on the richness of King’s characters.

Unfortunately, the book stumbles heading into the second half when Liam Sharp fills in for Mann and Morey. Sharp’s style is a jarring departure from the clarity that precedes it. He employs a gritty, painted look reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz or Dave McKean’s work on Arkham Asylum. The style works for a certain kind of Batman story, but here it creates a dramatic tonal shift from what has preceded it. Complicating matters, Sharp is careless in his renditions of the characters and settings, making it difficult in places to differentiate between the two past timeframes and ultimately pulling the reader out of the flow of the story and muddling the plot.

Mann and Morey return for the last three installments and restore a sense of order as the story winds down.

However, the damage is done, marring this ambitious capstone to Tom King’s long run on Batman and this love letter to The Bat and The Cat.

 

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