Batman #14 review

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This issue is essentially Catwoman’s last night of freedom on the town before getting sent off to the big house…being shipped up the river…submitting to the slammer…(insert your own preferred jailhouse terminology here.)  What could the woman who has stolen everything that her heart desires possibly still crave?  Any Batman fan worth their salt knows the answer to that question, but let’s see how it all plays out, shall we…

Right off the bat, I feel like the main narrative of this issue is largely overshadowed by the vast number of cameos it sports.  This issue has 15, that’s right..count them, 15 villain cameos.  Instead of focusing on the story at hand, every time a villain showed up, my mind started drifting off to other stories:  the John Byrne story featuring Superman and Magpie, the Animated Series episodes featuring Clock King and Condiment King, the Len Wein and Neil Adams’ story featuring the Werewolf, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s work on The Last Arkham, the first Robin mini-series by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle, the time the Film Freak tried to make a snuff film starring Batman, and the first time Batman used a Batarang while battling the Monk.  The list goes on and on. (check the “Interesting Facts” for relevant issue numbers)

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Typically I wouldn’t be thinking about these things while reading a Batman/Catwoman story, but in a way, I feel like King integrated undue competition into his own story by including them.  I was no longer judging the story on its own merit, but instead thinking of all these other stories I’d much rather be reading than this one.  That’s not to say that this story was unacceptable, simply that the other stories King was calling to my mind are its superior.

I also found this concept wanting because it’s essentially King retreading his own material.  This is already a story he told us back in Batman #6, which I quite enjoyed.  Granted, that story featured Claire dealing with random baddies, but the concept was the same: “We only show the main story, but every night, he’s fighting three other villains that we’re not showing.”  Not only is it a rehash, but I don’t think it’s done as well this time around as he handled it before.  Last time, actual effort was made to acknowledge the original stories the characters appeared in.  This time, only Clock King among the 15 villains is given any relevant dialogue, and even that only remotely references the characters colorful background.

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What a great callback.

And there is a comedic element to his delivery that is lost in my crop job.

The fact that King keeps referencing all these awesome characters but not actually using any of them makes me feel like he’s just a big tease.  I get that a lot of writers want their stories to be memorable.  So they think that the only way they can do that is by utilizing “A” list villains, but I think there is a fallacy in that line of thinking.  I’d like to think it’s more about the skill of the writer and the story being told than who happens to be featured in it.  Sure, even a crappy Joker story is going to be remembered because it featured the Joker, but imagine if you were the writer that made Kite Man more than just a joke.  What if the story of the year for 2017 was a Kite Man story?  If you could put Kite Man on the map like that, you’d surely be remembered.  Come on King.  Stop with the teasing.  Give us all the Kite Man story we deserve.

Now that I’ve gotten all that villain talk out of the way, we can concentrate on the actual story.

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Hahaha.  Oh Batman.  You’re so awesome.

As we open the book, we are greeted by the ever present sexual tension that follows these two characters wherever they go.  Batman is getting down to brass tacks while Catwoman uses the opportunity to flirt and turn Batman’s innocent dialogue into sexual innuendo.  Things start getting hot and heavy, but as usual, Batman ruins the moment by…being Batman.  It’s a great opening to the story, capitalizing on hallmarks of the characters.  Basically, just letting the characters be themselves.  But then it gets a little cheesy as King tries to set up a plot point that will return at the end of the story.   

We also get some additional dialogue pertaining to the 237 murders, what Batman thinks, and how their interactions often play out.  Much in the way that I felt the villain cameos were King rehashing some of his older material, I felt the same about this exchange.  Most of what is said here is nothing new.  If you go back through the “I am Suicide” arc, you can find pretty much all of it over the course of that arc, just broken up.  I guess the one advantage here is that it’s laid out more plainly for us.

Toward the end, Catwoman and Batman break into a luxury high-rise apartment.  Initially, Batman thinks they are actually breaking into someone’s place, but really, it’s just Catwoman’s stash pad.  In the process of securing one of her treasures, she ends up blowing-up the rest of her place.  I was a little surprised.  When you look around the place, it’s filled with all kinds of art and statues.  Knowing Catwoman, I’d have to believe that almost all that stuff was probably priceless works of art that she’d stolen over her career.  Is she really going to just blow all that stuff up?  Supposedly the one thing she stole from herself was the total accumulation of her wealth, but if she had fenced the rest of her swag, wouldn’t she have even more cash?  Just a thought.

Another thought that crossed my mind was how, in a way, we all do things we have to do.  Not necessarily what we want to do.  I’m sure that many of us have a job that we do, not because we love it, but because without it we wouldn’t be able to survive.  The way Catwoman urges Bruce to seek out something different to replace his need is quite commendable.  That perhaps it’s possible that Bruce might eventually get past having to save Gotham.  While that would mean no more awesome Batman stories for us, I’d like to think it’s an ending we would wish for Bruce.  An end to his obsession and an embrace of a more healthy outlet.  But I digress.

The very end culminates in some Bat on Cat loving.  I found this to be a lot more tasteful than the semi soft-core fan-fiction porn Judd Winick brought us back in 2011 at the start of Catwoman’s New52 series.  That interaction was basically just two sweaty beasts doing the deed and lacked any kind of couth.  At least with Tom King we’re getting some level of emotion involved in the process.  Having said that, I’m not entirely certain that a dingy rooftop is the most sanitary location, nor would rolling around on a field of diamonds be the most comfortable bed for doing the horizontal Batusi.  But practical concerns aside, it’s a fitting location for this particular couple.

Incidentally, did anyone else notice how many times King had the characters repeat each other?  Is this like a thing with him now or something?

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Is this pretty? Sure.

Is it two-page spread worthy? That’s debatable.

Art for this issue is handled by Mitch Gerads, and while I found his rendering skills perfectly apt, his page layouts left something to be desired.  Ok, let’s see, what do we have?  9 box panels of equal size in a Tic-Tac-Toe formation (6 pages in this issue have this exact layout).  Next.  Horizontal panels that go the width of the page, having between 3 and 6 panels depending on the page in question (You’ll find 10 such pages here in).  Rounding things out we have a one-page spread, a two-page spread, and a 6 box panel page (That 6 box panel page he included really stood out to me because it broke with the monotone consistency he had established up to that point).  So, what am I saying?  It’s pretty boring to look at, layout wise.  When you factor in the color pallet it gets even more monotone.  Everything in this issue is blue or greenish blue except for 11 panels that appear in red (10 of these being panels in which villains get clobbered).  It’s just the same panels and same colors over and over.  It’s just visually boring.  Sometimes the elements in the panels are quite pretty, but I’d say 80% of this issue takes place on rooftops with a field of stars as the backdrop.  That gets old.  And really, visuals are just half of the product.  Presentation is just as important as what you are showing us.

While I did find most of the repetition boring, it did occur to me that it was intentional.  That the subtext of the story was being presented through the art.  That because Batman does the same thing over and over again every night, the feeling of monotonousness was deliberately instilled throughout the story.  When you look at it more deeply, and with this in mind, there may be more going on here than the surface might indicate.  It seems to me that this story might actually fair better once it’s had a chance to sink in.  And I think that very rarely.  Usually once I adopt an opinion of something, it sticks with me.  But I can definitely see where this could get better and better upon repeat reading.  Heck, I started at a 5.5 and ended up at a 7 after just 4 readings.  I just kept finding more things to like.

Interesting Facts:

  • Halfway through the book, Catwoman starts telling a story about two cats who fought each other to the death.  Apparently, this is an old Irish limerick.  Initially, I thought its inclusion was rather odd, but once I looked it up, I quickly changed my tune.  The fact that Catwoman knew and could recite this rhyme served to remind me of the days when Catwoman meant so much more than her just being a woman who was also a cat-burglar.  Catwoman was also obsessed with cats, would typically plan her heists around that motif, and would occasionally spout off random cat facts and tidbits.

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  • No you’re not.  Holly Robinson is actually a reoccurring character in the Catwoman mythos, but most of you will probably remember her as the underage prostitute that stabbed a disguised Bruce Wayne in the leg during “Year One”.

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  • As I said above, King’s inclusion of all those villains had me thinking of other stories that had nothing to do with Batman and Catwoman, but the idea of Batman and Catwoman sharing a night out on the town together is nothing new and actually did make me think of one story in particular.  It’s a tale by Doug Moench that took place in Batman #392(1986).  And, oddly enough, it’s actually called “A Night on the Town, A Town of the Night”.  During the story, the two are basically out on patrol, but petty crime keeps getting in the way of their flirtations.  Every time you think something is going to happen between them, a mugger tries to rob someone in a park or somebody attempts to hold-up a liquor store.  This was when Catwoman was carrying around a Cat o’ nine tails.  Every time they stopped someone, she would cut off a tail and use it to bind them.
  1. Magpie: The Man of Steel #3 (1986)
  2. Werewolf: Batman #255 (1974)
  3. Amygdala: Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1-5 (1992)
  4. King Snake: Robin #1-5 (first mini-series from 1991)
  5. Film Freak: Batman #395 (1986)
  6. The Monk: Detective Comics #31+32 (1939)
  7. Kite Man: Batman #133 (1960)
  8. The Cavalier: Detective Comics #81 (1943)
  9. Zebra Man: Detective Comics #275 (1960)
  10. Signalman: Batman #112 (1957)
  11. Gorilla Boss: Batman #75 (1953)
  12. The Ten-Eyed Man: Batman #226 (1970)
  13. Copperhead: Brave and the Bold #78 (1968)
  14. The Clock King: there are various versions of The Clock King, but the one I am referring to is the one from episode 25 of Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
  15. The Condiment King: also from The Animated Series, Episode 7 season 3

Variant Cover:

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  • This is a cropped section of the variant cover by Tim Sale.  Is it just me, or does anyone else see 5 hands?  Batman’s right hand is holding Catwoman’s left hand.  Catwoman’s right and Batman’s left are around the other’s waist.  But Batman’s left hand is also touching Catwoman’s face.  How is a mistake like that even possible.  I mean, he had to draw that.  How do you accidentally add another hand and not realize it?  When he was finished, didn’t he look at it before submitting it? Did the editors approve the cover without even glancing at it?

Recommended if…

  • You like villain cameos.
  • You like the color blue…with a dash of red.
  • You want two characters simply interacting with one another the way they should.

Overall:

While this wasn’t my favorite Tom King story, I enjoyed it much more than I’ve enjoyed this book in months.  It just feels more inline with the work he was putting out at the beginning of Rebirth: fun and less of a chore.  It features some pretty, albeit repetitive, art and characters who simply feel like themselves again.  Here’s hoping that King can recapture my interest in his Batman.  With this story, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

SCORE: 7 / 10

 

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