Bat and Cat’s wedding is only two issues away, but first we meet the best man: the Joker!? Batman #48 features a knock-down, drag out battle between Batman and his arch-nemesis in the middle of a church — and contrary to what you might expect with a setup as surefire as that — it goes over about as well as a fart in the middle of prayer.
In my review for Batman #35, I talked about a conversation between Mark Waid and Tom King wherein the former offered some sage wisdom to the current Batman scribe: “More stories have been written about Batman than any other character in the history of anything… You just have to write the next one.”
The “next one” King’s going for will be, when all is said and done, the most enduring Batman/Catwoman love story we’ve ever seen and the benchmark for the Catwoman character for years to come. And I’m cool with all that. I just wish King didn’t have to depreciate Batman every other issue to get us to that point.
Admittedly, Batman #48 is compelling as hell from the jump. A well-crafted ten-panel opening page depicts a close-up of a man whose recitation of Psalm 140 King James Version is punctuated by loud bangs of gunfire. Unseen wedding-goers begging for their lives. As the man prays, he nervously eyes the gruesome carnage taking place off-panel; sweat, more and more, dapples his forehead; the camera zooms in tighter and tighter on his fear-stricken, grimacing face and then sweeps away in the final panel for a wide shot of an infamous white-gloved hand holding a revolver to the back of the man’s head.
It’s an opening they could hire Christopher Nolan to convert into cinematic form as a minute-long teaser trailer with no actual promise for a coinciding full-length feature film and I’d still set up camp outside Regal Cinema starting tomorrow to see it; right up there with Heath Ledger’s bank-heist unveiling in The Dark Knight. Then Batman crashes through the cathedral glass ceiling while Joker sings the 1966 Batman intro and makes sardonic remarks about Batman punching him — which presages how one of the weirdest Batman/Joker fights in recent memory goes down.
Not weird in the sense the fight undergoes some aberrant Lynchian twist or Morrison-esque Zur-en-arhh revival — but weird in the sense that the fight feels nothing like an actual Batman and Joker fight. Batman, early in the fight, after dropkicking Joker in the chest and immediately right hooking him across the jaw in the span of two panels, proceeds to high mount the Clown Prince of Crime — completely ignoring the fact that Joker is still holding his revolver, which he has pressed to his temple in an effortless manner a split second later. It’s the type of combat neglect you’d expect someone to make in their first mixed martial arts lesson at the local YMCA — not someone who has been punching far more coordinated and competent assailants into comas every night for the past fifteen years of his life. As my colleague David Brooke put it: “When the hell did Batman get so sloppy?”
I would have been willing to chalk Batman’s mistake to a veteran fighter letting his guard down for *just* a moment too long in a big fight. Upsets happen in boxing and MMA all the time, right? Only from there, the fight continues on in increasingly puzzling fashion; Joker pulls a ruse a few pages later that any other iteration of Batman would find a way to maneuver around with aplomb — this Batman however, falls for it, hook, line and sinker. At this rate, I expect a crossover featuring Athur from The Tick or the octogenarian version of Aunt May outgrappling Batman so Catwoman can come rescue him.
Which, again, brings us to Catwoman saving Batman instead of vice-versa. I have no problem with this. But do we have to make Batman an absolute dumb-ass to get there? I’m not asking for Bat-God 2.0 but Batman-with-IQ-in-the-50th-percentile isn’t too much to ask, right?
The dialogue isn’t my cup of tea either. The Joker is so busy making metatextual critiques of Batman’s modus operandi and edgelord matricide commentary that any sense of connection or animosity towards Batman during their scrape is just kind of… null. My colleague Dave even brought up the possibility that “maybe that isn’t Bruce Wayne fighting Joker or maybe it’s a dream sequence” — that’s how much the fight doesn’t feel like one between the time-honored arch-nemeses. In fact, you could almost substitute any B-tier street-level character from the DC Universe into Batman #48 and it would’ve felt much the same. Batman says what, all of one word throughout the entire issue? Compare that to the Joker, who speaks roughly the equivalent of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment‘s word count.
I think, as I have in the past with King’s multi-part story arcs (like with Batman #40 for example), I’ll come to enjoy the concluding episode of “The Best Man” narrative more than I did the first. Notwithstanding, Mikel Janin (art) and June Chung (colors) do a fine job of bringing the issue to life. Batman crashing through the church ceiling is a pretty bad-ass spectacle and Janin’s Joker (just like he did in Batman #25) is befittingly tall, gaunt and terrifying — like Bolland’s The Killing Joke version. That being said, I just couldn’t get into this issue, which is too bad — considering how much the introduction drew me in. Guess we’ll have to rely on Rebirth Catwoman to save the day (both literally and figuratively), as is becoming custom in Batman, right?