Relationships Shine in Batman 34

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Batman may have just gotten engaged, but can you really imagine he and Catwoman going through life as a “normal” married couple, living a mundane domestic life? Of course you can’t, and not just because they have Alfred — it’s because they’re superheroes, wrapped up in grandiose, larger-than-life concerns. While one of those typically superheroic goals — tracking down Holly Robinson — is technically motivating our heroes in Batman 34, Tom King and Joelle Jones make the smart choice to ground the issue in relationships and emotions, making this an issue driven by the spark between characters. For the first time, maybe I can imagine Bruce and Selina as an everyday married couple — albeit one whose “dates” consist of confronting murderous exes in the desert.

King seems to relish digging into that dichotomy, filling Batman and Catwoman’s speech balloons with the type of snarky banter that would be at home in a sitcom — in fact, it’d almost feel tired if it wasn’t coming out of the mouths of two superheroes fighting Avox Ninjas in the desert. A husband biting his tongue, trying to backpedal an unintentional insult against his perhaps-overly-sensitive wife? I groan when it comes from Kevin James, but when it comes from Batman I just grin ear-to-ear like a big doofus.

This is a new type of banter for Batman and Catwoman — they’re still flirting, but not in their typical, sexually-charged way. Their new dynamic is one that already feels lived-in and more emotionally honest than ever. King has ushered these two characters into an unprecedented period in their lives and histories, and he’s found a new vocabulary for them to match. It’s fantastic stuff.

The focus on the personal extends to the subplot as well. Damian’s plan to kill Superman is a comedic masterpiece — the clerk at my LCS was showing off that page to every customer he could — but comes from a very personal place, from Damian’s conflicted feelings about his parents, his new “step-mother,” and his hurt at being left out of their decisions. I feel for Damian, even as I laugh at his bratty audaciousness. King and Jones resolve the conflict in equally personal ways, with Clark appealing to Damian’s friendship with Jon, and Dick comforting Damian with his mere presence.

Again, these moments are all rooted deeply in these characters’ feelings, relationships, and histories, and they shine all the brighter for it. King is a talented writer known for his powerful and clever use of structure, symbolism, and wordplay, but for my money, the best issues of his Batman run have been the ones that have looked past all that and just focused on their cast and their feelings, and Batman 34 may just be my favorite issue yet.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

5 comments on “Relationships Shine in Batman 34

  1. My one problem with this issue is that it has a weird sense of place. Where are Bruce and Selina? They entered that cave to confront Talia, but are then fighting her goons in the desert. Is there a vast underground society in the cave? Is the cave just a passage to a different part of the desert? If so, how far away from the entrance can they actually be? I feel like Damian and Dick would be able to see them fighting off in the distance if this was the case, though.

    It doesn’t detract from the excellent relationships throughout the issue, but its space is very very undefined.

  2. Holy cow, does Jones knock this issue out of the park. Selina’s expressions on that first page are priceless — that “I know what you were trying to say” panel would be high on my list of favorite panel of the year. Spencer’s probably right about the backgrounds lacking enough detail to fully communicate where everything is, but the quality of acting in this issue is some of the best I’ve seen in a very long time.

  3. So we’ve replaced the sexist trope of Manic Pixie Dream Girl with the sexist trope of Sitcom Wife. So glad this book has taken a character defined by her independence and reduced her so that she has meaning only in what she means to Bruce. Objectified her so that this book falls into all those same old, boring toxic masculinity traps that serve only to degrade and ruin. Seems like every two weeks you guys talk about how finally the relationship is working, because ultimately it is just more crass garbage. Quite simply, this is never going to work until it accepts that women are people.

    Has King set a date for his redemption tour yet? When he finally starts writing good shit again and returns to the promise he started with? Where he makes up for every single word he has written lately? Will it be Sheriff of Babylon 2, or has Mister Miracle killed the chance of that ever being released? How long are we going to have to wait?

    • I think it takes some (biased) leaps in logic to turn “Bruce and Selina bicker” into “this book is sexist.” Like, of course Bruce isn’t going to be a particularly enlightened romantic partner — dude is the definition of privilege. Selina calls him on his shit, and he apologizes. This issue gives her that agency, it just also happens to honest about where Bruce is coming from. Pretty much every guy I know has to be checked like this every once in a while, and some of them are lucky enough to have significant others that do it as assertively as Selina does here. It’s hard to imagine a less sexist story than one that frankly depicts and debunks the kind of everyday sexism that exists in most heterosexual relationships.

      • The problem is that Selina is always depicted in sexist tropes. Spencer describes her depiction as the perhaps-overly-sensitive wife while comparing her to sitcom dynamics. And those sitcom dynamics are a sexist trope, because regardless of how ‘right’ Selina/the sitcom wife character is, we are supposed to roll our eyes. The whole point is how annoying it is that the wife has these feelings. The message is never ‘I realise that microaggressions are awful’. The message is always ‘I’m going through the motions because YOU are too sensitive to realise it was unintentional’. THe wife ultimately is the butt of the joke, because the joke is how frustrating it is that Ray Romano or whoever is playing the husband has to do this meaningless emotional labour because the wife is too sensitive and not fun enough.
        It plays into bigger sexist concerns where women’s emotional needs are seen as frustrating. Of how unfun they are, how emotionally needy they are and how annoying that is. How they need to loosen up (as I am writing this, my other computer screen has people discuss how Clinton’s presidential campaign is now being criticised for being too serious, not fun and without enough sex behind the scenes).
        To use this trope, all about the frustrations of women’s emotional needs, after writing Selina as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, another sexist trope defined by the way the woman exists solely for a man’s emotional needs (to the point where their interior life and emotional needs are meaningless), just make things worse.

        I mean, here is the big problem. Why did Selina accept the marriage proposal? Because it is an important question. What does this mean for Selina?
        Because, Selina is a supervillain… It is kind of important. What does it mean for her that she is going to marry a superhero? She loves him, but that’s not the only consideration. What will it mean, for her to marry a superhero? Will she be able to still be a thief? What is she going to have to give up? Because I doubt Alfred is going to be happy if Selina asks him to put the Jade Cat on display in Wayne Manor. Is she going to turn good? Join the Batfamily? But even at her most heroic, she’s always had a very different approach to crimefighting.
        Is she going to have to give up her career for her husband? What will it mean for her to marry Bruce, and why is marrying Bruce a choice worth making, considering what she’ll have to give up? Any discussion of what it means for Selina is much more important to Selina’s decision than the secret that there is one more example of a classic Batman trope masquerading as a big secret.

        The marriages to Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson made sure to spend time on these topics, by having them actually confront the fact that the person they love is secretly a superhero. Actually have them confront that fact so they make a decision. And yet when it comes to the fact that marriage to a superhero is going to require a hell of a lot of discussion for a supervillain, it is ignored.

        Because to care about what this means for Selina would be to care about her interior life. To treat her as a person. To see her something more than a plot device to push your Batman story along. To see her as a sexy lamp to give to Bruce for realising he is allowed to be happy.

        Which is a tragedy, as thebest part of the Bruce/Selina relationship was always the fact that both of them had issues they needed to sort out. That no matter what one progress one of them made, it was meaningless without the other person. Neither of them were the reward at the end of the tunnel, because both of them had their own rich stories that were centred around them that had to be told first

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