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.
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as with most of this run,i thought i would have mixed feelings with this issue,and i ended up having them… just erring much more to the side it was simply not good.As you said,the images were as spectacular as they were unnecesary,making a sweet,gorgeous homage to their history,it distracted me from the main story,which felt rushed and messy on the catwoman side,neither letting us see grow Holly´s influence on her nor see how the betrayal sinks in Bruce. Oh and that cliffanger? fun to think of what exactly Bane has done and planned to do,but either way the idea he had to mess with the wedding was bizarre,i mean,what happens if Selina goes anyway?(it feels like she having that doubt for the rest of the run and how she reacts to it after married is a way more interesting story than what we are gonna get,but that´s not here nor there)
Anyway,awesome post as always guys,enlightening as usual
It is a good thing that they didn’t get married, simply because such a major status quo change should be done competently. I love Bruce/Selina in the hands of any other writer than this garbage, and would love to see them married. But only done properly.
But this comic jsut acts as proof for why them getting married now would be so wrong. Selina stops being a prop for Bruce and becomes a prop for Bane, because that’s what women are in this run. Fitting the final panel is Holly bowing to Bane. There is a long, long list of characters that have been screwed up by this run, but none more than Holly Robinson, who may be broken beyond repair. So her total submission to Bane is the perfect representation of this book. Female characters broken for the sake of being props for male characters.
One big thing I’ve always centred in my criticismmis that feminist writing isn’t merely just morally right, but better writing. Feminism is ultimately about having empathy for a larger segment of humanity than patriarchy, and art is nothing if it isn’t about feminism. And while it is no surprise that King has fucked up yet another payoff (what the hell is Riddler doing there. That is awful writing. Riddler is the one villain from King’s run whose events took place before Bane’s plan. He is the one character you can’t reveal here as part of a “all the events from before were part of a greater story”. If you want Riddler in this team, you introduce him later because he makes no story sense at this moment), as has been the case in every fucking story he’s done, it is unsurprising that a big part of the failed payoff comes down to Selina Kyle and the spectacularly dehumanizing writing of women in this book.
Though of course it is just as much because of the awful vision of Batman. King’s vision of heroism where heroic traits don’t matter, just suffering and sadness. The whole sad child stuff is just such bullshit. I can’t remember who, but I remember someone saying that the reason that Superman traditionally had Lois Lane while Batman traditionally had no love interest is that the reader is supposed to see Superman as themselves and Batman as their father (and see themselves in Robin). While the changing audiences from kids to adults have of course shifted this dynamic, it is important to remember. He’s not a child.
Nor is the idea that his happiness is a necessary sacrifice for his existence in any way a dependable reason. It actually makes no sense. The whole points that he needs to be Batman. The whole point of stories like Zero Year is that he can’t function without being Batman. The idea of him sacrificing his happiness is awful because it is completely inconsistent with every idea of the character. It isn’t just that he has so many other sources of love and happiness in his life like his children. Or that the whole point of Batman is that he rises above the pain, and is not lost in it. The only way Batman’s obsession makes sense is if it isn’t sacrifice. It is self care. That the way he deals with his pain, his PTSD, is to be Batman. The guy who sacrifices his happiness is called Spiderman. The difference is really important.
And of course there is the ugly heart of Rebirth. Rebirth never pretended to be sincere in its refutation of Didio’s words. Rebirth was really clear on what it thought about love and respect, and it had nothing but contempt for it. This just makes it clear.
And of course there is X-Men Gold. X-Men Gold is not a good comic. But the difference between the two failed marriages is striking. In X-Men, it is rooted in the relationship itself. Kitty realising that she’s deluding herself and that history has shown that the relationship is toxic and doesn’t work.
This one doesn’t care about the relationship at all, because for there to be a relationship, Selina would have to be a person. The relationship doesn’t matter, just painful philosophising about sadness. Love never had anything to do with it.
With DC’s entire line being essentially garbage, it is impressive that King consistently makes his books the ugliest
But does x-men gold also featured a marriage that you didn’t like?
The Kitty/Piotr relationship is one I didn’t care for, because it felt like by now, the idea of the characters actually getting together instead of moving on like people do in real life existed only out of an idea of iconography than actual character motivation, so I didn’t like the idea of their marriage. Unlike the Batman/Catwoman relationship that I think could work in the hands of good writing, I can’t really see a way for that relationship to work these days that doesn’t feel forced. So the fact that both marriages failed at the altar is ultimately right, I think, for different reasons.
Rogue and Gambit on the other hand? The two of them getting married is the right move, because it feels fitting for their relationship. But only if the relationship spectacularly self destructs, because to me Rogue and Gambit have always felt like people who can’t fully internalise how toxic their relationship to each other is
I 100% agree
Still don’t understand why you’re reading Batman if you hate it so much.
Honestly? Know thy enemy.
Rian Johnson recently said how amazed he is that so few people know about GamerGate, because of how much it explains about so much of today’s culture. And not just toxic fandom, and how that explains things like the Last Jedi backlash, though it does. If you want to truly understand how Trump came to be, GamerGate is the start. GamerGate, by total chance, was the first front of the culture war that eventually morphed into Trumpism, and many of the key players, especially Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous, were there from the very beginning, perfecting many of the very tools that were so horrifically used years later for the US election. As much as I wish it never happened, I am glad I was there day one, because seeing it morph into the horrific monster it become gave me an understanding that was essential to processing what has happened.
And it is important to track it. And that’s the thing. DC’s content is awful, but it isn’t just awful. In every meaningful way, DC is hostile territory, lost in the culture war. Today, we have ComicsGate. A minor front, but who would have thought that gaming culture would be among the most important stories of 2014? But we can’t ignore ComicsGate, nor the fact that their targets appear to be largely Marvel or Image. Or that one of the ringleaders of ComicsGate was a fucking artist working for DC and DC have never publicly done anything to address this fact. Instead, their goal seemed to be hiring more alt right creators by having Chuck Dixon, who publicly supported neo-fascist Vox Day’s alt-right comics. Or how they are trying to redeem and clean up sexual harassers taken down in MeToo. Or just the simple fact of all the alt right that cheered at Rebirth.
I love DC. I still have hope that the Aquaman movie, with James Wan as a director, is going to be great. Many great comics runs are on my ‘must read every year’ list. But I can’t be blind about what DC is.
It is very clear these days that you have to pay attention to awful things. Because it is too important not to. And this is an intersection I have developed an expertise in.
I hate hating DC. I hate hating Batman. I hate hating Tom King, who used to be my favourite writer But King’s Batman is such a spectacular intersection of everything awful about DC at the moment. Everything hateful. And it does so in one of DC’s most important books.
Video Games refusal to properly address GamerGate has led to a truly horrific resurgence in recent days, due to the firing of two employees from AreaNet because they were harassed by games. This has launched a whole new wave of harassement, which will cause a whole new amount of damage to the entire medium. Not confronting these things will hurt the medium as a whole
The sad fact is that King’s Batman is too important to look away from
You and I have VERY differing opinions. You praise the series and are planning to read more of it while I am completely and totally done with this series lol. Whatever floats your boats tho.