by Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Drew: Bruce Wayne understands that his responsibilities as Batman demands sacrifice. He devotes his time, body, and earthly resources to his mission to fight crime, and generally takes that mission very seriously. All of which can look like he’s sacrificed his own happiness in order to be Batman. Or, more precisely, that his happiness is a necessary sacrifice for his existence. Batman’s drive, the argument goes, comes from his grief, anger, and sadness, so anything that blunts or dilutes those feelings weaken his mission. It’s a position DC Editorial staked out back in 2013, when Dan DiDio explained why Batwoman’s marriage could never happen, but it’s not necessarily a philosophy writer Tom King ascribes to. Indeed, King has argued that Batman’s happiness is a valuable source of drama, stating “There’s no conflict in having Batman be sad. There’s conflict in having Batman be happy.” That may mean King sees Batman’s happiness as only a temporary condition, but it’s obviously not out of the question. The point is, it’s a hotly debated topic, and one that King cleverly allows to play out in the pages of Batman 50.
On the eve of their (impromptu) wedding, Bruce and Selina each write each other a letter. At first, it seems like a sweet gesture, as each declares their love for one another, reminisces about their first meetings, and wax poetic about each other’s eyes. But as the issue wears on, it becomes clearer and clearer that Selina has actually written a Dear John letter, where she resolves to sacrifice her love so that Batman can continue to fight. It’s exactly Dan DiDio’s argument, but rather than being some unbreakable rule of Batman’s universe, handed down by the arbiters of his fate, it’s a conscious choice Selina is making out of love for Batman. It’s no longer an unseen editorial force, but an opinion held within the DC Universe by one of the few people to whom that opinion makes a difference.
And it may well be an opinion she comes to within this very issue. I mean, she did agree to marry Bruce, steal a wedding dress, and even go through the motions of preparing for their rooftop wedding, so I’m inclined to believe that she really did plan on marrying him. Moreover, the narrative component of the issue suggests that Selina was straight-up caught off guard by the thought that sadness is essential to Batman’s being.
This seems to be the turning point for Selina, the moment where she switches from fully intending on marrying Bruce to planning her escape. And apparently the point where she starts writing that letter.
But maybe we’re all too focused on that ending? I mean, really, the point of a big anniversary issue is to just stand as a love letter to the character, and this certainly does that. Moreover, it doubles as a love letter to Catwoman and the various important creators that are featured (or name-checked) in the issue. Virtually every location is named after some important creator, but the most spectacular element of the issue is how Tom King incorporated all of the various pinups into the story itself. King’s own collaborators like Joëlle Jones and Mitch Gerads share space with legendary Batman artists like Tim Sale and Frank Miller. And the effect is both a celebration of those creators and a kaleidoscopic journey through Batman and Catwoman’s shared history. This issue isn’t just a celebration of their relationship as envisioned by King and Mikel Janín, but of basically every manifestation of that relationship through the years.
Which is to say, it’s exactly what I want from an anniversary comic. That it also doubles as an excuse to reframe a classic fan argument about Batman and happiness as a disagreement between characters is icing on the wedding cake (spoiled as it may be). For my money, Selina made the right choice for the wrong reasons. Batman doesn’t think he needs to be miserable, so who is she to say otherwise? That she thinks she needs to make this decision on Bruce’s behalf (or for Bruce’s benefit) suggests a lack of faith in his own decision-making. That is, the reason she shouldn’t marry him is because she doesn’t respect his decisions, not because she actually needs to make his decisions for him. But maybe I’m just feeling the sting of Batman getting that letter after writing such a loving one to Catwoman. He was more in love with her than ever, but was left at the alter all the same.
Michael, I’m sure you have thoughts on that debate, but I’m also hoping you can pick up some of my slack in talking about all of the art in this issue. I mentioned those pin-ups, but do you have a favorite. Also, what do you make of Janín’s symmetrical layouts for the narrative portion of the issue. Is that just fun design work, or do you read any deeper meaning in the parallels between Batman and Catwoman’s journeys in this issue?
Michael: Drew, I have a feeling that my response to Batman 50 is going to be vastly different from yours, or the knee-jerk reaction to Selina leaving Bruce “at the alter.” First off, I find the pomp and circumstance surrounding this issue to be a little bizarre, if not exorbitant. While I know that DC loves their milestone books, Batman hitting 50 issues since Rebirth doesn’t seem to be as impressive of a feat when compared to something like Action Comics 1000.
Objectively I like the pinups that are simpler, like those of Becky Cloonan, Greg Capullo, or Lee Weeks. The appeal of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship is its taboo nature, which is better served in the shadows where the dark is enveloping them.
Anniversary issues love to pile on the variant covers featuring artwork from notable artists old and new. To my knowledge, this is one of the first times that those variants have instead been incorporated into the issue itself. While I applaud the originality in that idea, I question its function in the issue itself.
Part of the allure of the comic book medium is the combination of the written word with sequential art to form a story. The writers and artists work in tangent to link words and images to elicit a particular feeling or emotion — something done with intention. What strikes me about the pinups of Batman 50 is that there is little to no intention behind them. Batman and Catwoman’s respective letters are juxtaposed across the 20-some pinups at random. To be fair, the pages from Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann, Joelle Jones, David Finch and Jordie Bellaire have more relevance than the others, as they are recalling specific events in the Catwoman/Batman relationship that we have seen in Tom King’s 50 issues of Batman.
If you asked me who Batman’s soulmate is, the answer would likely be Catwoman. For whatever reason however, I really haven’t tapped into King’s interpretation of their romance. That’s not necessarily a criticism, just an opinion. Reading Catwoman and Batman’s letters to one another is bit like reading anyone’s love letters: they don’t involve you, so maybe they’re not easy to understand. Enough about each other’s eyes already! For me, this version of the Catwoman/Batman relationship is like that couple you know who makes you go “How the hell does that work?” It’s a personal connection that only the people in the relationship — or King — can understand.
To answer Drew’s question about Mikel Janin’s artwork, I’m not sure there is any deeper meaning in the symmetry — at least any that I can find. There is something appealing about that kind of visual storytelling though, isn’t there? Something as simple as seeing the his/hers of the wedding day is an engaging form of compare and contrast. It’s not just a comparison of how the bride and groom approach things but also how their “witnesses” advise them. Whereas Alfred is doing all he can to encourage and assure Bruce, Holly is the tempting serpent sowing seeds of doubt in Selina. The A/B compare/contrast pages culminate in a unique double-page spread that warps the reader’s perspective so we are at the bend of the hallway where the happy couple meets.
As he is wont to do, Janin paces the motion beat by beat with multiple figures of Bruces and Selinas approaching one another.
If you know your comic book internets, then by the time you read this issue you likely heard that the ending of Batman 50 was spoiled: Catwoman becomes a runaway bride. Without context, the internet goes mad — “how could you do this Tom King? What a waste!” I am kind of ambivalent about Catwoman leaving Bruce as she does. While she is doing it to protect Bruce and keep Batman alive, she is also very easily manipulated into the philosophy of “Happy Bruce = No Batman.” She had to have considered this before, right?
Nevertheless I am 100% ok with her leaving Bruce “at the alter” because of that final page reveal:
As hot/cold as I can be with King’s Batman I have gone on the record on how much I love his take on Bane. Presumably Bane has been manipulating other events from behind the scenes, but orchestrating the destruction of Batman’s wedding day is a whole new “Break the Bat.”
And with the cast of characters Bane is surrounding himself with: Riddler, Joker, Psycho Pirate, Gotham Girl, The Ventriloquist, Hugo Strange and Skeets (!?) King and Janin are letting us know that everything we’ve seen in these 50 issues is very much connected. It also looks like Flashpoint Batman is there…? Despite the much ado about nothing-ness of this “milestone comic” I am still on board to see what my boy Bane has in store for the Caped Crusader.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?