Overview: In Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1, Batman and Catwoman must team up to stop Vandal Savage.
Title: Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1
Writer: Tini Howard & Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mike Hawthorne with Nikola Cizmesija
Colorist: Arif Prianto
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Main Cover: Jorge Jimenez
Variant Covers: Adam Hughes, Kendrick “Kunkka” Lim, Salvador Larroca, Ivan Plascencia, Simone Bianchi & Jorge Jimenez
Release Date: October 31, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
If you’ve been following DC’s Batman/Catwoman fall event, Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1 is the dollar upcharge, 48-page, oversized grand finale. It begins with Marquise, recently revealed to be Scandal Savage, ordering Catwoman’s expert thieves to gain the missing meteorite fragments that are the key to unlocking immortality. She promises her soldiers immortality in return as she slides into a limo where her father, Vandal Savage, awaits. Should the daddy-daughter team succeed, Gotham will be ruled by the Savage family.
Elsewhere, Robin (Tim Drake) swoops in to save a couple of victims who have been gunked up with a sticky substance, courtesy of Killer Moth (Drury Walker). Before Robin can save them, he’s greeted with a band of Moth, Two-Face (Harvey Dent), Ventroliquist (Arnold Wesker), Mr. Scarface, Black Mask (Roman Sionis), Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane), Professor Pyg, Mad Hatter (Jervis Tetch), and Firefly, many of whom are wearing some form of Batman gear. As the gang gets the jump on Tim, Two-Face tells him to scream for his friends. It’s a goofy, albeit fun panel from Mike Hawthorne and Arif Prianto, one that fittingly debuts on Halloween proper.
Elsewhere, Catwoman (Selina Kyle), Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Batman (Bruce Wayne) meet. Selina wants Bruce to answer for what he did to Jason (see Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Red Hood #1), but Bruce doesn’t have the time to talk things over. Vandal Savage is about to seize control of the city with an army of meteor-empowered thieves. Bruce quickly recaps what the deal with the meteors is, noting that maybe Savage is losing his power, which is why he wants more fragments. When he mentions he had a large chunk at his Batcave that he was studying, it dawns on Bruce that that must have been why Savage purchased Wayne Manor.
Jason and Bruce argue over who is screwing everything up, with Jason accusing the Batman of Zur En Arrh and Bruce blaming Nightwing (Dick Grayson) for taking his network offline (see Batman #138). The penciling and proportions in this section are sloppy and strange. Bruce has strange, jagged facial features, with dagger-like eyebrows not unlike Spock from Star Trek, Prince Namor, or Flash Gordon’s archenemy, Ming the Merciless. Jason’s proportions are eerily similar, and if it wasn’t for the streak of gray in Jason’s hair, he would be indiscernible from Bruce.
Catwoman leaves, saying that she has cats to round up, pointing out that Oracle (Barbara Gordon) has relayed that Tim is missing. Batman taps into the comm network and tells the Bat-family that he trusts them, that they should go save Tim. Batman shall deal with Vandal Savage. It’s in this moment that Bruce gives a little speech, something that borders on inspirational, but in a storyline where Batman has essentially gone insane and each member of the Bat-Family has been bickering and fighting in very uncharacteristic ways, the speech feels devoid of emotion. Bruce and Jason lock eyes, then Bruce leaves, apologizing for his actions (sort of). His apology is followed by a terse “one day you’ll understand.”
Across town, Selina and Dario seek out her thieves who have turned traitor and joined Savage. Per Dario, they have been “trained too well” and have mostly given the few loyalists left the slip. Somehow, this gives Catwoman an idea.
Outside the GCPD, the gang of supervillains torch, shoot at, and beat on some police officers. Atop the roof, Ventriloquist ties Tim up to the Batsignal. Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) and Nightwing join the fray,
At the Gotham Observatory, Catwoman joins up with Batman. He’s surveilling the scene, filling in Catwoman on what he’s found. The fragments contain some sort of parasite that warps the mind of the users. Also, they become a homing beacon when brought together, beckoning forth a much larger meteor to crash down on Gotham City. This revelation scares Batman, and the two team up and leap into the action.
Outside the GCPD, The Signal (Duke Thomas) frees Tim. The two, along with Robin (Damian Wayne) join the rest of the Bat-family in battling the villains. Simultaneously, Batman and Catwoman battle Vandal, Scandal, and their henchmen in the observatory. Batman calls into Oracle to contact the Justice League. In mere minutes, a meteor will crash down. Unfortunately, no one is answering the call, but Jason overhears it, looking at a nearby Batwing as a source of salvation.
Batman calls into Jason, trying to stop him from killing himself. Jason won’t hear it, crashing the Batwing into the meteor, fragmenting it. The largest fragment lands near the observatory, and Vandal Savage goes to absorb its power. When Scandal joins him, he pushes her away, saying that he needs to absorb its power first. Scandal feels her father has gone back on his promise, but before she can do anything about it, the meteor cracks and sinks. Vandal falls into its pit.
Catwoman and Batman save Scandal, but Catwoman falls into the pit before she can save herself. Jason parachutes to the ground and joins his adopted father, who mourns the loss of his former fiancee.
Two weeks later, Bruce stands solemnly near the ruins of the observatory. Dick arrives, and Bruce fills him in that no bodies were recovered, that something akin to a Lazarus Pit formed beneath the observatory. Bruce then tells Dick that the Bat-family are the good ones, the ones who can shoulder on, with Dick and Barbara’s leadership, to be beacons of life. Bruce believes that he isn’t any good, that he should remain disconnected from the Batbox and soldier on in his mission alone, a sad hero whose life is about mounting tragedies. Bruce leaves Dick, driving to a hidden location where he communicates with The Riddler (Edward Nygma).
Batman and Riddler have another mutual goal, though Riddler thanks Batman for returning his henchmen to him. Riddler is about to talk about the Joker, pointing out that there are three of them, which Batman already knows. Batman ends their communication, then sets out to find Joker. On the way, he finds a clue that Selina is still around. It’s a jump drive left just for him, one labeled “in case of emergency.”
Elsewhere, a hood uses his recently gained “cat burglar skills” to rob an apartment, seemingly stumbling into one of Batman’s hidden lairs.
The End is the Beginning is the End
If that phrase sounds familiar, it was originally a single by The Smashing Pumpkins as part of the Batman & Robin (1997) soundtrack. It’s a song that’s meant to embody Batman per band frontman Billy Corgan, but the title fits with the never-ending saga of superhero comic books. One story arc ends, and like a hydra whose head was recently lopped off, new threads crop up in its wake.
Normally, the idea of multiple story threads being set up would be an exhilarating note to end on. For Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War, it’s exhausting. Throughout this event, the art has been up and down. Some issues, notably Jorge Jimenez, have been fantastic, while others, like Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1, have felt rushed with character proportions almost as disjointed as the dialogue that leaves their mouths.
I try to find positive things to like about a book, but after a couple of months of this event, I’m beyond tired. Each issue has been varying degrees of painful. The overarching story was awful from the get-go, with Catwoman’s reasoning not making much sense (nor her defenders’ reasoning amongst the Bat-family). This non-ending is just an empty dessert in a 9-course menu of nothing. As readers, what are we supposed to feel? What are we left with? Sure, Batman gave a couple of nice speeches to Jason and Dick, but it’s a mere drop in a bucket compared to this event’s tidal wave of nonsense. Riddler, for reasons unknown, also gave a shout-out to Three Jokers, a superior book whose connection to this event is incomprehensible and raises more canon questions than it’s worth to explore.
That said, while many would lay blame on the creative team behind this story, it’s worth noting that nearly every issue of this event reeked of editorial mandates. The erratic mess of character motivations, rushed art, and the forced cameos gave the overall impression that this was more of a push to have an event to sell variant covers and bonus issues than to tell any sort of meaningful story.
Suffice to say, I don’t know how to feel. As a reader of this event, I rode down a river not unlike the one that led to Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. And now, like Captain Willard, I feel dead inside. But I guess these are the stories we can expect when the plot hinges on Batman having to nap for 8 weeks in order for it to happen.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.