Although he is defined by tragedy during childhood and uses that pain to justify his purpose to fight crime like a creature of the night, who’s to say that Batman can’t show off his funny side? After the major influence of Frank Miller, most fans and creators would lean towards the darker aspects of the character, even though from what we’ve learned from The Lego Batman Movie and the late Bright Knight himself, Adam West, Batman can be funny — something that writer Tom King has placed great value in during his terrific run on the main Batman title.
Following the conclusion of the last volume, where Bruce Wayne told his darkest secret during The War of Jokes and Riddles to now-fiancée Selina Kyle, the Bat and the Cat journey to Khadym to take care of some unfinished business, including the most dangerous woman alive (as well as Bruce’s ex), Talia al Ghul. There is a plot within this arc and it’s a rather contrived one, given that the unfinished business does tie into a previous storyline from King’s run.
However, what King is interested in is not so much in plot — which may upset some fans who would prefer a more plot-driven arc for the Dark Knight — but really how characters are reacting to the surprising news that Batman is getting married, whether it’s the multiple Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Damian Wayne) or the Demon’s Daughter, who sees herself as Bruce’s equal and has an epic sword fight with Selina to order to prove that the latter is worthy of "The Detective." Despite the aforementioned sword fight, of which Batman doesn’t really participate, it’s really a series of conversations about Batman being happy; the standout of which reminds you that Damian and Dick have this brotherly relationship, despite their differences in age and upbringing.
Being the first female artist to draw covers and interior pages on more than two consecutive Batman-centric issues in the character’s entire publishing history, Joëlle Jones’ art looks distinct from King’s previous issues. Along with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, there is a brightness that appropriately sets up where the Bat-Cat romance can go, especially with Jones writing and drawing an ongoing Catwoman series in the near future.
Tom King may know how to write Batman, but he also knows how to Superman as we’ve seen in Action Comics #1000. In the second arc of this volume, "Super Friends" not only continues the exploration of characters reacting to the big engagement, but really examines the friendship between Batman and Superman, who may have their own differences in terms of how they see the world, but they are much more alike than they think. Under the insistence of their better halves Selina and Lois Lane, Bats and Supes decide to rekindle and it all culminates in a double-date at a theme park where, appropriately, it’s Superhero Night.
One of the things that King is very good at is taking a simple idea and stretching it to its very limit. These two issues (drawn by Clay Mann), featuring no conflict and is just talking heads, are the closest thing we’ll get to a romantic comedy in the Bat-verse as the heroes and their partners switch costumes, leading to some hilarious and heartfelt results, especially the cutesy moments between Selina and Lois.
Saving the best for last, there is Batman Annual #2, in which we get a story from the past: Wayne Manor is frequently getting burgled by Catwoman, who leaves a little mouse for Bruce following every theft. The metaphor is a bit on the nose, but it is literally a cat-and-mouse chase in how Catwoman is challenging Batman so that he can face his own fears, including perhaps his affection towards her. Having drawn the Batman/Elmer Fudd Special, it’s great to see the return of Lee Weeks, whose artwork evokes the grittiness of Year One, even if this is a more playful tale with some stunning splash pages that mixes heavy rain and shadows while showing the fun side of Catwoman.
Without going into spoilers, the final pages (drawn by Michael Lark) of the annual do raise some interesting questions, in terms of how far King will push the Bat-Cat romance throughout his run — a run that he proposes will be 100 issues long. However, what we saw in those pages was a sense of finality towards the titular character and yet most likely a new creative team following this run will plan their own journey for Batman. On the basis of this volume alone, I don’t want to see this romance bite the dust, in the style of One More Day.
Following the more plot-driven arcs from his run, it’s wonderful to see Tom King putting a strong focus on character in regards to this new status quo in the Bat-mythos, with moments of levity and emotion.