In this week’s edition of judging a comic book entirely by its cover, Batman becomes Falkor the Luck Dragon from Neverending Story, exclaims “That’s sooooo good,” after Catwoman scratches behind his ears and proceeds to parade her around neon-lit Gotham on his back.
Is it good?
Batman #15 (DC Comics)
In all seriousness, that’s a nice cover by Mitch Gerads; one that captures well the dramatic, dangerous and spirited approach writer Tom King has taken with Batman and Catwoman’s burgeoning Rebirth relationship. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but “Bat” and “Cat,” as they affectionately refer to each other, make an adorable power couple. I enjoy seeing them together (now I know how my girlfriend feels watching those reality/show soap opera conflations) because they both seem to genuinely adore one another’s company; it’s not often Batman lets his guard down enough to put himself in a place like this, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and I laud King for so resolutely committing to the relationship, no matter how starcrossed it’ll likely prove to be.
For those of you who missed Batman #14, the conclusion saw Batman and Catwoman getting down and dirty on a Gotham rooftop. It could be said, then, that Batman #15 opens with a bang. Well, technically, the aftermath of a bang — as Bruce and Selina cuddle on the title page, bathed in moonlight and after-sex glow, sans clothing, the Bat-Cowl and Cape a makeshift bedsheet draped about their entangled bodies.
It’s not all naughty business though — the two actually drop the “L” word following a striking, page-spanning diptych, one which juxtaposes Batman and Catwoman’s first memories of one another. Batman’s reminiscence consists of a scene from yore: 1940’s Batman #1, Catwoman’s first appearance, where she disguised herself as an old woman and got thwarted by Batman in an attempted diamond-heist. (Unfortunately, the “Quiet or Papa spank” line didn’t make their “fondest moments” list.)
“You were in disguise as an older woman. White hair. Pink-black dress,” Batman remembers, the memory conjured in the art style of the Batman epoch it represents, right down to the coloring, like a panel out of a lost sketchbook from the Bill Finger/Bob Kane era.
“No, no, no. You were in disguise,” Catwoman corrects him in the panel adjacent, her words imposed on an image of Bruce Wayne bathed in the red lights of squalid East End Gotham, disguised in a burglar beanie hat and jacket from his 1987, Mazzuchelli-rendered, Lewis-colored Batman: Year One appearance; an early surveillance mission where yet another, retconned “first encounter” between the two characters took place.
The sequence is a beautiful one, not only because each memory adroitly channels the appropriate Batman zeitgeist; or because it shows, like some of the more acclaimed Batman writers before him, that Tom King has done his homework and paid proper reverence to Batman’s (and Catwoman’s) storied history; or because artist Mitch Gerads infuses every shared glance of Bruce and Selina’s with the perfect amounts of yearning and appreciation; but because it augments the love story in a way that makes it feel believable.
Of course, that’s when King drops the big swerve on us.
Catwoman with the ol’ pump and dump.
Before I get to that, though, I have to point out the art, where Gerads once again carries his weight. Although Batman’s nose is a little too aquiline-looking for my liking at times, his rendering of the characters is consistent, clean and easy to discern throughout. That and the man is something of a coloring virtuoso; look no further than the scene in the image below, with the Gotham skyline banded by prismatic, orange-red flashes of dawn’s light (not to mention the vertiginous camera angles and perspective he chooses as Batman skydives):
Or a later scene, where a turn of events is made all the more horrifying and grisly thanks to an infusion of red lighting that becomes the background.
Back to the swerve — which, yes, we should have seen coming; by issue’s end though, it remains the sort of twist that remains just intriguing enough to make us crave the next. Although it still feels strange to see such a libidinous Batman, one that has in the past reserved his Bat-Bayonet for who, Thalia al Ghul, Catwoman, and more recently in the animated universe, Barbara Gordon (we don’t have to count All-Star Batman & Robin< right?) and maybe a few select others? And part of me wishes the strongest piece of supporting evidence for King’s Batman loving Catwoman in the first place was more than just the love letter from “I Am Suicide,” King’s interweaving of the characters’ storied history is clever to such a degree that their attraction towards one another in Batman #15 is nigh-indisputable. (Although, a scene where Batman relinquished the vengeance of his parents to love, ala Batman: Mask of the Phantasm might’ve been good too.)
The path King takes next will, however, be disputed among Bat-fans, but overall, his overarching narrative with Catwoman has been so well-constructed that even those that are disappointed by the outcome (in that we’re disillusioned to the notion that Batman’s genius is indomitable, myself included), can’t deny the refreshing sense of daring the decision took. Before that, he weaves in a wonderful conversation between Batman and Commissioner Gordon that masterfully captures their rapport (seriously, more King-scripted Batman/Gordon scenes please), where the Dark Knight must ask for a favor concerning information on a mysterious figure from Batman’s past, one that invokes, once more, another crucial callback to Miller’s Year One.
What happens between Batman and this individual, to reiterate, will be divisive — but that’s the point — and the crux of this arc involving Catwoman. Batman may be a preparatory genius, and if this scene were handled by another writer, he probably would have scouted the revealed killer’s apartment months in advance or caught the blade that slashes his neck in the final act of the issue between his pinky fingers after preemptively spitting a potent, Bruce Wayne-saliva-only-activated wad of Juicy Fruit tranquilizer in his assailant’s eyes; King has given Catwoman a considerable power-up in the skills department, however, and apparently the same for her closest cohort. “Rooftops” reminds us of an essential component of Batman’s character — it humanizes him in perhaps the most convincing way possible for a man, oft lauded as “Bat-God,” who is at the end of the day, still just a man, to make; it makes his actions susceptible to the equalizer that is love. Ask any grown man the mistakes he’s made in love and you’re sure to hear some interesting stories.
We’ve asked King to write us an interesting Batman story. And sure enough, he has.