Overview: As Batman and Catwoman prepare to elope, darker plots rear their heads.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): At Finger Tower, Batman suggests to Catwoman that they get married tonight, on this roof, with a judge and two witnesses. Catwoman agrees, and even Kite Man offers his trademark “Hell yeah.”
At Porky’s Bar (famous from the Batman/Elmer Fudd special and the Batman Annual #2), Batman picks up a judge, while Selina bribes a guard at Arkham to release Holly Robinson for a night. Bat and Cat find the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum waiting for them separately, and do battle.
At Wayne Manor, Selina and Bruce get ready for their rooftop elopement, with Holly and Alfred serving as attendants. The bride and groom see each other in the library and embrace. Holly mentions that she’s never seen Batman look happy, and muses that he’s always seemed to need his misery.
Alfred asks Bruce who his witness will be, and Bruce asks if Alfred himself could be the witness. Deeply moved, Alfred sits beside Bruce, then embraces him fiercely.
Driving away from the manor, Selina tells Holly she wrote Bruce a letter, then asks if she is a hero, to which Holly responds, “Don’t you have to be?”
Driving separately, Bruce tells Alfred he wrote Selina a letter, and asks if he can be happy, to which Alfred responds, “Don’t you have to be?”
On the roof at Kane Plaza, Selina sits in her wedding dress, dejected. She stands, throws away her veil, and jumps.
At Finger Tower, Bruce looks at the empty horizon. Alfred asks if they should wait. Bruce says no, then jumps.
In the basement of Arkham Asylum, Holly descends. She tells an unseen person that Catwoman brought her back, locked her up, and that she was devastated. The person responds: “Do not worry. I know. He is what I have made him. The Bat is broken.”
We see Bane, sitting on a throne of skulls, Holly kneeling before him, and surrounded by the Riddler, Joker, Psycho Pirate, Gotham Girl, Skeets, the Ventriloquist, Flashpoint Batman, and Hugo Strange.
Analysis: It’s incredibly hard to formulate an analysis and rating for this book. The controversy over DC and the New York Times revealing the crucial spoiler (and not the good, Stephanie Brown kind) that Selina and Bruce do not get married in the overhyped Batman #50, the Wedding Issue, has swamped nearly all comic book conversation on social media since it dropped on Sunday. I usually try to avoid being too personal in my reviews of comics, because of my academic training and stylistic inclination. However, I’m going to drop the facade of the third person and talk a little bit about the factors tearing my review in half.
For a year, twenty-six issues (not to mention the five wedding preludes), Tom King and DC have been building to this moment. King promised us that what happened after this issue would be something we haven’t seen. One the one hand, both a married Batman and an unmarried Batman are both things we have seen before (married in Earth 2, or in several alternate universes, unmarried everywhere else). On the other hand, King could be referring to Batman being “broken” in a different way. Which is a pretty tall promise, since we’ve already seen King’s Batman describe his mission, his war on crime, as a kind of suicide. It’s hard to imagine Batman more broken than he is. That being said, it’s hard not to feel that King’s taken the easy artistic way out of the “problem” of an engaged Batman. Instead of choosing to write the difficulty, thorny, and dangerous emotional territory of a married Batman, we’re getting Batman who’s not married, just like he was before.
What I’m afraid of is that King’s going to write for the next several months is just a slightly crankier Batman, one who just goes through the motions of being Batman as usual. To win me over, King will need to do two things: 1) Show me a Batman who is qualitatively different from the Batman we’ve seen for the past fifty issues; 2) address the revelation of the final page IMMEDIATELY. Not three months from now. Not three issues from now. In the very next issue, something, even if it’s just one page or panel, to show us that both Batman and Bane aren’t sitting on their status quo, but their plans are continuing to develop. Otherwise, there’s a sense that King did indeed take the easy route.
That’s the first force tearing this review in half. The second is this: Tom King is a truly excellent writer. This issue is a structural frustration. Only eighteen pages are sequential art narrative content, drawn by Mikel Janin with precision and detail, and colored by June Chung with delicacy. The other twenty pages of art are pinups by twenty different artists, overlaid with parallel letters from Bat and Cat to each other. To get the less successful structural experiment out of the way, the pinups and letter are deployed in the same way that the letters in issues #10 and #12 from the second arc in King’s run, “I Am Suicide”, were arranged. They’re tender, intensely painful, and tie in important repeated elements from the last forty-nine issues, such as the different stories of how Batman and Catwoman met, and the strong emphasis on Batman and Catwoman’s eyes throughout the book. Both Batman and Catwoman’s letters indicate that in marrying, Batman would transform. Batman’s letter shows that his priorities would change, he would mature, heal from some of the damage that drives him to fight his war every night. Catwoman’s letter says that to become the hero that Batman loves, she must give him up, so that the world will benefit from Batman continuing to fight, instead of her clinging to her own selfish happiness with Bruce, destroying his will to continue turning pain into salvation for others.
It’s a deeply ambiguous emotional effect, not helped by the fact that while each page of the letters is overlaid on quite appealing pinup art from many of the best and brightest Batman artists from the past thirty years, but art that has a tangential connection to the text at best. Instead of the text and images providing complicated feedback and context for each other, it’s more like a slideshow of the greatest Batman and Catwoman snapshots. A key exception is the penultimate image by Lee Weeks – in this nearly completely black picture, the emotions tearing Selina and Bruce apart are fully realized, and we are extremely fortunate that Weeks will be providing the artwork for the next arc of this series.
The final revelation and the fact that both of the voices which have pushed Selina to this point are villains (Holly and Joker) indicates that perhaps we should reject the argument that Batman cannot exist as a married man, cannot be happy, because pain drives him. Alternately, the fact that both Bruce and Selina articulate the idea that Bruce would, indeed, change as a result of marriage and happiness indicates that whether articulated by villains or not, there is merit in the idea. Lastly, though, Alfred’s simple, beautiful joy in seeing the man who is son in every way but blood about to embrace love acts as a powerful counterargument. Who do we trust? Among all these unreliable narrators, which can we cling to as most normative?
Tom King’s been pretty quiet on Twitter since Sunday’s bombshell spoilers, but he’s said two direct things to fans: “[I’m] pissed about things and excited about other things. I have no idea how to comment on anything without spoiling everything. Batman 50 is still out Wednesday. I’m incredibly proud of the issue; I hope you pick it up. You have questions; the answers are there.” Also: “Batman 50 is not the end. This is a 100 issue story documenting and celebrating the love of Batman and Catwoman. Whatever happens, whatever anyone says, nothing’s going to spoil that.”
This latter tweet, in particular, gives me hope that King doesn’t plan to write the easy, Batman fighting supervillains, going through the motions stories.
With the less successful letter/pinup combination out of the way, and the problems of the specific dramatic choice to split Batman and Catwoman up at this point laid out, I want to stress the strength of the issue. When I first read this comic, I wanted to give it a 2.5, exactly in the middle, because while I recognized the craft at work, I was so disappointed with what still seems to me an artistic cop-out, that I thought the failures balanced the successes out without either winning. On rereading it, however, there are so many moments of such intense power that I have pushed it up past the middle. I believe this is a worthwhile comic, though the publicity issues and the way DC has stirred hype still cling to its heels. The love King shows for Batman (the street and building details are little glints of golden history) and Catwoman, and their relationships, gleams through every panel. The parallels are breathtaking, from the easy humor of Batman and Catwoman fighting twin villains to the stomach-churning beauty of both lovers, torn apart, jumping from the roof. The poetry of these final images, underlining the kind of suicide that a hero’s life is, sacrificing one’s own good for the good of others, laying down your life for strangers, demonstrates that King is still in control.
Coda: The revelation that all of the major figures in the past fifty issues have been working with or for Bane presents some room for speculation. Taking them from left to right in the final panel:
The Riddler seems the most puzzling (pun intentional) of the group in terms of how he plays into Bane’s plan. So far, the Riddler’s only been a major player in The War of Jokes and Riddles, long before Bane came to Gotham, or was theoretically even aware of Batman. The Joker’s part is much clearer – he acted as the major push on Selina’s psyche, fanning the flame of thought that Bruce cannot be Batman if he’s happy into a bonfire. Though he is unlikely to work directly for Bane (despite his current appearance in Justice League working for Lex Luthor).
Psycho Pirate’s employment by Bane already featured heavily in the first three arcs, though one wonders if his attack on Gotham and Gotham Girl wasn’t also part of the plan now. Holly, of course, acted as the final spark the set off the explosion destroying the marriage – and it’s very plausible that both the terrorist attack on the orphanage and the assistance in murdering those terrorists, came from Bane. Gotham Girl, until now a figure of heroism, presents many questions, though Bane can easily have provided her powers either directly in Santa Prisca, or indirectly through funding and shell companies. Ventriloquist, as the key component in Batman’s plan to capture Psycho Pirate, appears as a double bluff – an agent who appears to help Batman achieve his goals against Bane, but in fact, was furthering the ultimate betrayal in Selina’s manipulation. Skeets, by showing Bruce and Selina the devastating consequences of a world without Batman, played a strong part.
Also playing a strong part is Flashpoint Batman telling his alternate universe son not to be Batman just before the proposal. How Bane managed to contact Thomas Wayne in another universe, and convince him to work against his own son, remains the biggest mystery, unlike Hugo Strange, whose manipulations in the first arc “I Am Gotham” and the crossover “Night of the Monster Men” probed into the nature of Batman’s mission, and the fundamental immaturity inherent in that mission transparently undergird the manipulations of Batman and Catwoman.
While many, many questions remain, such as Riddler’s role in the whole plan, and when exactly the plan was conceived (before the book begins, or after Batman’s assault on Santa Prisca to steal the Psycho Pirate away from Bane?). At this point, however, Batman’s more reckless behavior, his resignation to death appear much more plausible than they did in the first issue of the run, if you see Bane’s manipulations through Holly, framing Catwoman and destroying part of Thomas and Martha’s legacy at the orphanage affecting Bruce’s mind just as the plane is attacked, and Gotham and Gotham Girl appear.
Final Thoughts: Torn by external and internal factors, Batman #50 is nonetheless a powerful experience, pulled through by the strength of King’s ability to evoke emotion and connection.