Batman/Catwoman #1 is yet another intriguing puzzle courtesy of Tom King, which is sure to satisfy his fans and frustrate his detractors. However, despite its chilly atmosphere and non-linear structure, the real mystery is exactly how this book will work its way through DC Comics’ sticky continuity. For those unaware, Batman/Catwoman is a continuation of King’s Batman run, which feels like it’s been “unofficially” splintered away from mainline continuity. Not only that, but King also brings in Andrea Beaumont from the animated feature film Mask of the Phantasm, which complicates things even further. However, does any of this really matter? I personally don’t care if something is in the official canon, but I do wonder what will make an impact on the story. As for the comic itself, well, it’s gorgeously drawn by Clay Mann and sharply scripted by King, even if its structure seems hellbent on keeping the reader at a distance.
I think it’s important to note that I’m generally a fan of King’s work, even his polarizing Batman run. There’s an audience he’s writing for here and many aspects of the book may come off as impenetrable for anyone not in the know. While I’ve seen Mask of the Phantasm, I wouldn’t consider it necessary viewing before reading this issue. Much more important is being familiar with King’s Batman Annual #2, which plays an important role here. Batman/Catwoman appears to be set in Annual #2’s timeline where Bruce grows old and dies of cancer, surrounded by loved ones including Selina and their daughter, Helena.
Those familiar with King’s style will note his usual trappings immediately. The opening page, beautifully rendered by Mann, features “Silent Night” playing over the scene as an older Selina, from Annual #2, drives during a sunny afternoon toward an unknown destination. King often uses poems and songs as a sort of narration/montage technique, but it’s of particular note because he used another song, “Some of These Days”, back in Annual #2. These parallels are usually not coincidences. Whereas Annual #2 used its music to create a melancholic, yet romantic tone, here the mission seems to establish a sense of dread immediately. There’s a stark juxtaposition with this holiday theme and the bright sunshine of Selina’s drive, but the song also serves as a transition to the “present” day panel at the bottom of the page. This panel features Andrea Beaumont, seated in front of a Christmas tree as she visits Bruce in his manor. The song lyrics stop appearing once Andrea arrives, even though the famous tune fits the holiday setting. It’s almost as if the song represents how this encounter with Andrea will have ramifications and spill into Selina’s future. Only one page in and there’s much to think about.
From here the comic bounces between three different time periods. The “present” storyline deals with Batman and Catwoman teaming up to help Andrea find her son who she thinks has come to Gotham. The two other timelines depict either the early stages of the “Bat/Cat” romance or the widowed Selina of the future. The constant jumping between timelines is the most notable technique for the entire book. King’s script never spends more than a couple pages in any scene before leaping backward or forward in time, often between panels, which ultimately results in a purposefully fragmented narrative. This style results in a couple of great juxtaposed transitions. One of the more effective pages depicts Bruce and Selina at the height of their courtship, only for the bottom panel to cut to the older Selina looking over pictures of a friend’s grandchildren.
The way the issue unfolds can be frustrating for those wanting a more straightforward narrative and the structure of the script makes it feel like a recollection of events rather than a truly immersive experience. On the other hand, it lends itself to aptly explore the various eras of Bruce and Selina’s relationship, from Selina’s early days working with Joker to impulsive rooftop make out sessions with Bruce. If there’s a weak link in the script, Selina’s scenes with the Joker come off the least graceful. I’ve never fully bought into King’s usage of Selina and Joker together, and these scenes result in the more blunt thematic musings. The book loses some of its mystery when Joker tells Selina “This isn’t who you are” in reference to her relationship with Bruce.
There’s no getting around praising Clay Mann’s art. It’s stunning work throughout even if the occasional panel feels more like a pin-up piece. The elephant in the room is that Mann draws extremely attractive people and often his compositions are no stranger to exploitation. While Mann’s tendencies can be troubling depending on the book, it largely works here. King doesn’t deny that his Batman work often veers into being a romance series and that remains true. Mann, aided by Tomeu Morey’s fantastic colors, creates a sense of romantic spark that infuses passion into any type of scene. The opening with Andrea and Bruce by the fireplace carries a sense of palpable romantic tension between the former lovers, even as they sit stoically across from one another. Mann’s understanding of body language, the way they each hold their teacups as a sort of shield, the dramatic shadows and the fiery colors make a simple scene a visual treat. Even the compositions subtly look up at Andrea, as if admiring her appearance, but keep Bruce’s face downward and stern as a response. It’s extremely delicate work and it’s on display throughout the entire book. That’s not to say there aren’t a few compositions that fall into “cheesecake” territory with Selina, but King’s script puts all aspects of her character on display so it never feels outright exploitative.
Beyond just the technical appreciation of King and Mann working so in sync together, there’s enough of a straightforward narrative to latch onto for most readers. The non-linear vignettes don’t result in an intricately plotted narrative, but the core mystery of Andrea’s missing son is given enough simplistic beats to create forward momentum. Bruce and Selina track down a lead, fight Sewer King, track another lead and so on. It’s fairly routine and the cliffhanger with Andrea is obvious, but the script and art make it consistently engaging. King even keeps his signature clipped “Bat/Cat” dialogue to a minimum for those who hold little affection for it. However, those unwilling to engage with King’s sensibilities may find it difficult to remain engaged. The issue really is a bunch of short scenes, out of order, that build to a couple of key, but somewhat predictable reveals. The scenes with an older Selina in the future hold perhaps the most promise, but it’s also the most oblique at the moment. Nevertheless, the book establishes a solid foundation for its future and does so with style.
- You’re an unashamed Bat/Cat fan…like myself.
- Non-linear narratives appeal to you.
- Andrea Beaumont’s appearance and the potential for the Phantasm hooks you if the romance doesn’t.
Batman/Catwoman #1 is a great opening issue that plays with memory and non-linear storytelling, but also manages to establish an intriguing mystery with a dash of romance. For those who aren’t fans of the Bat/Cat relationship, there’s enough tension and intrigue with the looming threat of Phantasm and a murder mystery to override any reluctance. In fact, while many of King’s usual techniques are on display here, his scripting feels fresh even though the series is essentially an epilogue to an eighty-five issue run. Reacquainting oneself with some of King’s Batman run can help parse through some of the book’s more vague hints, but Batman/Catwoman #1 will satisfy readers willing to give themselves over to King and Mann’s sensibilities.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.