Batman/Catwoman #5 marks a moment in the series where a lack of coherent narrative thrust hinders otherwise solid sequences. Clay Mann’s art remains solid as ever, though his work with the older Selina shows some strain, but Tom King’s script finds itself wavering due to the self-imposed three-headed narrative structure.
Of the three storylines here, an elderly Selina fighting an elderly Harley Quinn comes across the most ham-fisted. The fight itself is fine, though Mann struggles with Selina’s face here in a manner I haven’t seen before. The depth in certain panels is striking, particularly in a moment where Selina kicks Harley toward the reader with a nice “POW”. Even more striking is a splash page where Selina slams Harley’s face into the ground as she bemoans the fact that Selina got to kill Joker before she did. What kneecaps this entire sequence is the fact that Harley hasn’t played a role in the series until now, so her sudden appearance feels random rather than impactful. King manages a few good exchanges between the two, but again the final synthesis of their encounter is too easily summed up as Harley being “too good to be bad” and Selina being “too bad to be good”. Simply put, it’s a lot of telling and not showing, relying too heavily on the reader’s ability to fill in the gaps with these legacy characters. The pieces are there for the elderly Selina to truly be put under the gun for her actions, but this sequence does little with previously established narrative beats. Selina’s relationship with Helena is far more ripe for intense exploration and the issue’s final page hopefully marks a return to that dynamic.
The earliest set scenes deal with a drunk Selina as she attempts to drink, fight, and steal her way out of facing her true self and her relationship with Batman. King’s script is strongest here as it takes its time to live with a character instead of shoehorning them into conflicts. Yes, Selina (in a fit of self pity) fights her bartender but there’s more nuanced character work within Selina’s drunken ramblings than in most other scenes. Selina’s rant about the cyclical nature of her “profession”, stealing items from the Gotham museum which will soon be replaced and stolen again, is particularly revealing. King does tap into the unromantic side of superhero comics, which highlights both the absurdity and humanity of these characters. This is where King’s scripts usually find their strongest moments and the same applies here. It doesn’t hurt that Mann’s work serves less distractions than in the Harley Quinn fight, and Tomeu Morey’s colors capture the sickly greens and blues of your average Gotham alleyway. Clayton Cowles’ drunken style lettering is also a sight to behold, easily treading the line between legible and dynamic. It’s an altogether much more palatable segment, aesthetically and in the character work as both the reader and the character come to realizations together, rather than keeping the reader at arm’s distance.
The middle segment timeline wise is more of a mixed bag. Phantasm is a great character and her core dilemma is possibly the most gripping at the current moment. It may be easy to forget Phantasm’s motivations given the series’ drip fed narrative, but it’s easy to latch onto her quest for revenge over the death of her son. In fact, Phantasm dominates this entire sequence, taking up the vast majority of the dialogue in her highly detailed breakdown of the Joker goon she’s about to kill. Phantasm tells Selina that “this is the moment where you’re supposed to stop me”, but Selina’s side of the story doesn’t advance much further beyond that of “Is killing evil doers morally right or wrong?” Is this character work or is this King reflecting a mirror upon the reader? Nonetheless, the segment ends without much of a resolution, beyond a somewhat curt ending to their dynamic. A team up between Phantasm and Catwoman could be a lot more thrilling than what’s on the page here. There’s a great splash page showing the duo suited up, but without a dynamic plot bringing them together, it comes off as posturing. Without enough pages for Phantasm to truly grow, King’s script is stuck with her executing yet another Joker goon. We’ve seen this already, but maybe that’s the point as it goes hand in hand with Harley Quinn’s inability to truly separate herself from Joker. These characters are stuck in cycles of trauma, but hopefully an angle on this theme emerges beyond mere depiction.
Speaking of curt endings, the final page also comes off as flippant. At this point in the series it’s difficult to grasp what King’s story is going for. An elderly Selina summarizing her fight with Harley, (and the entire issue on a meta level) as “The world is full of crazy [expletive]” is funny, but at five issues in, King would be wise to put some pieces together and fast. What are the stakes if we already know the ending and what is the series revealing about Selina (or Batman) that we don’t already know? Without an edge of your seat plot line building momentum, the book feels stuck in a holding pattern.
- Seeing Phantasm and Selina together as more than just enemies appeals to you.
- Batman being in only two pages of the book isn’t a dealbreaker.
- You’re a Harley Quinn fan and you’ve been wanting to know what she thinks of Joker’s death.
Batman/Catwoman #5 is the first time in the series where fans may wonder where this is all heading. King seems more interested in exploring Selina’s morality, given her previous partnerships with Joker, but it’s hard to remain engaged when we know she spends her life with Bruce ’til his death. The elderly Selina sequences tend to be the most compelling as its ending truly is an unknown, but a sudden appearance from Harley Quinn keeps this storyline treading water instead of advancing in a significant way. The three headed monster of a narrative actively hurts the book at this point, keeping themes simplistic and the narrative stale. However, on an aesthetic level, the series is strong as ever, even if it does lack the usual amount of truly impressive compositions.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.