In this review of Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Battle Lines #1, Batman reawakens to find that Gotham City has been transformed under Catwoman’s claws.
Title: Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Battle Lines #1
Writer: Tini Howard & Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mike Hawthorne
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Inks: Adriano di Benedetto
Cover Price: $3.99/$4.99
Release Date: August 29, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
The beginning of the two-month battle between Batman and Catwoman starts in Gotham City. A henchman walks home alone, visions of Professor Pyg mercilessly beating him interrupting his thoughts. At home, his daughter calls from the other room as he removes his jacket, letting him know that dinner is almost ready.
The man, sick of the abuse and mistreatment from Gotham’s rogues, tells her that he’s going to hit the sack. As he lies down, he hears a mew at the window. It’s a cat. The man compassionately lets the cat in, promising not to hurt it. Around its collar, he finds a note that says, “If you risk your life… you deserve the rewards.” The cryptic message is followed by an address in Alleytown.
Thus begins Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War. Before the proverbial “battle lines” are even drawn, readers are reminded of Catwoman’s empathy for the forgotten people of Gotham, for the Jean Valjeans of henchmen who only pick up the work in order to keep a roof over the heads of innocent children.
In two pages, Mike Hawthorne, Adriano di Benedetto, and Romulo Fajardo Jr. show us a warm, albeit cliche, heart that beats at the center of this upcoming feud. Catwoman isn’t organizing an army for the heck of it; she’s doing it to enrich the little people that Batman, presumably, may have forgotten. This man, this symbol at the center of “The Gotham War” sports a black eye and memories of too many beatings, all so his daughter can stay warm.
Elsewhere, Batman (Bruce Wayne) gets some much-needed rest after the events of “Failsafe,” “The Bat-Man of Gotham,” and the most recent Knight Terrors crossover. As he dreams, his backup personality, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh taunts Bruce.
Bruce awakes in the Batacombs. He’s surprised to see he’s been kept shaved and clean and even more shocked when Oracle (Barbara Gordon) tells him that he’s been out for 8 weeks. Oracle asks Bruce about his metal hand, which he received during the events of “The Bat-Man of Gotham” in Batman #135 (legacy #900). Bruce brushes Oracle off, telling her that he’ll fill her in later. For now, he suits up and goes out on patrol.
As Batman grapples through Gotham City, he reflects on how the years are catching up with him, on how, unfortunately, he’s human. He regrets hiding his metal hand from the Bat-family, but there’s something deep down within him that’s making him defensive lately.
At a museum, two lowly crooks try to steal a prized jewel, but they’re interrupted by Batman. He recognizes them as Marcus Tolliver and Stan Bevington, two hired hands who usually find work for either Mr. Freeze or the Joker. The crooks bail, and Batman gives chase, threatening them with beatings only to find that they’ve escaped through the skylight.
Batman’s taken aback, but he’s also thankful. The chase gives him a chance to exercise his muscles. Batman climbs through the skylight but sees no evidence of them. When he reenters the museum, he sees that it was a feint. The two crooks booked it through the vent. It’s a tactic he’s seen before, and it signals that something has changed.
This impression of Batman is darker and more vengeful. Despite resting up for 8 weeks, there’s a humanity missing from the Caped Crusader, and though his nightmare of Batman of Zur En Arrh suggested that the backup personality was under wraps, that might not be true.
Elsewhere, a man named Roland is struggling and failing to break into a window while hanging upside-down 15 stories up. When Roland whines about how difficult it is, Catwoman (Selina Kyle) reminds him that the wealthy like to live above it all and that this is where the big scores are. Selina checks her phone, then tells Roland that he’s off for tonight. Instead, the two of them are headed back to Alleytown.
Back at Catwoman’s hideout, she corrals her leadership, who are in the throes of training new recruits. Catwoman tells them that Batman is awake and that graduates need to be extra cautious. For now, newbies stay within the training compound. After the leadership leaves, Marquise, one of Catwoman’s confidants, stays behind. The two talk about Batman, about how Catwoman has a history with him. Though Marquise has doubts it will go well, Selina will talk with Bruce, and she will try to get him to see that what she’s up to is making Gotham City different and better than it was before.
Naturally, for those reading this issue, we’re not privy to what it is, exactly, that Catwoman is doing. Supposedly it’s to help Gotham City, but what we’ve seen so far is that Catwoman has organized a crew of elite thieves who are tasked with plundering the wealthy. For all intents and purposes, this appears to be an operation she put together during Batman’s 8-week Odin sleep nap.
Meanwhile, at a power plant, Maxie Zeus and one of his henchmen are trying to disable “divine electricity” from flowing into Gotham. Robin (Tim Drake) brings the plot to a halt, chasing Zeus to the rooftops, wherein Batman lands the final blow.
Batman and Robin hug. It’s a tender moment, wherein Batman refers to Robin as his “son.” When Batman asks about Zeus’ “goons,” Robin notes that it’s just Craig Groff, a man who worked for the Riddler for a week. Robin isn’t too worried about Craig, though, as the police are inside and will nab him.
What’s interesting about this issue thus far is that featured henchmen have all been denoted with first and last names. Our heroes know who they are, have encountered them before, and are aware that they are repeat offenders. Whereas Robin expresses little concern for Craig, Batman in a previous scene almost looked forward to beating on Marcus and Stan. It’s subtle, but this motif ties into the issue thematically, playing into Catwoman seeing these lowly crooks as real people with real problems and financial needs. It’s one of the strengths in an issue that’s really been about setting up pieces on a chessboard thus far.
Before Robin and Batman can catch up, they’re alerted that Catwoman wants to have a talk — masks off.
The Bat-family (Signal, Spoiler, Batwoman, Batgirl, Orphan, Nightwing, and Damian Wayne Robin) assembles at the Kitty Kat Club. Marquise alerts Selina of their arrival. Selina tells Marquise to go home, as she will handle them.
When Batman enters, so does Selina. For some strange reason, Stephanie Brown is going by Spoiler, despite her most recently having been one of the Batgirls.
Selina gives the Bat-family the lowdown. While Batman has been out, she has been training henchmen to rob the elite. She’s asked that they don’t risk their lives, that they commit no violence or confrontations. She’s also asked that they donate 15% of their take to Gotham charities. As a result, crime has been reduced by 75% in Gotham City, and the colorful rogues that Batman and the Bat-family often beat on have no hired help to assist their plots.
It’s an interesting idea, one that gets at a deeper commentary about the relationship between gainful employment and a reduction in crime. In this case, however, the employment isn’t necessarily gainful. It’s just refocusing the targets of crime. While Selina relays all of this information, she stands before a curtain on the main stage of the Kitty Kat Club. With her intense eye makeup, there seem to be Liza Minelli vibes, as if Selina was channeling her inner Cabaret look.
The Bat-family is of mixed opinions on this, each member chiming in with their own take. Batman is vehemently against it, screaming out that his parents were rich. After Batman yells, Catwoman shouts back, telling Batman that Gotham didn’t need a Batman, that his reason for abandoning their marriage isn’t accurate. In Selina’s opinion, Gotham needs a Catwoman.
Batman storms out. Tim tries to stop him, but he tells Tim that all of them are victims of a crime. Batman didn’t train them all just so they could decide who gets to be a victim and who doesn’t. It’s a grown-up perspective, one that, while simple, seems more sensible than the maelstrom of opinions seen inside the Kitty Kat Club, which is what makes the conceit of Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War a tough pill to swallow. Catwoman has always been one to plunder the rich, but did she really think, in her infinite wisdom, in her expertise of both crime and Bruce, that Batman was just going to understand?
Back at her apartment, Selina is ready to pack it in for the night, but Red Hood (Jason Todd) shows up. Red Hood and Catwoman battle, and Eiko, one of Selina’s criminals, gets the drop on Hood. The three battle it out until Hood is subdued. Todd then reveals his hand. He convinces Selina that she needs help from the Bat-family, not just to do battle with them. Selina then puts Todd in contact with Marquise, who will be working with him going forward, so as to not alert suspicion.
Anyone who knows Red Hood’s history with criminal enterprises is aware that his character, especially in recent years, is one who has worked with criminals and aided their plans, relaying much of that information back to Batman. Part of Red Hood’s whole angle is that he’s a bit of a plant, doing the dirty work that other Bat-family members can’t, all in service of a greater cause.
Meanwhile, Batman is summoned to the GCPD rooftop by Commissioner Renee Montoya. She wants information on the jailbreak Catwoman led, but Batman isn’t giving out information. When Montoya notes that crime went down in Batman’s absence, he tells her that numbers can be manipulated, flying off into the night. It’s sort of a silly scene, one that plays into a seemingly wildly erratic emotional edge that this reawakened Batman has. However, it’s hard to put a finger on it if this is just a sloppy section of writing or intentional inconsistent characterization of Batman throughout this issue.
Watching all of this, to no surprise, is Riddler, who muses about how Batman might need a new friend.
Elsewhere, Roland Garner, the man Catwoman was training earlier, returns to pull off the heist. Everything goes well. He gets in and opens the safe, noting that the family is out of town. A noise catches his attention, and it turns out that his intel was wrong. One of the family members was still home, and she’s pointing a gun at him.
Elsewhere, Batman visits the regular haunts of hired hands for Gotham’s rogues. He finds dead ends and empty bars. He’s coming around to the idea that Catwoman actually pulled it off when sirens alert him.
At the scene of the crime, Batman finds a dead Roland Garner on the pavement. He’s the man from this issue’s opening, the one with the daughter. As it dawns on him that Garner’s child is now an orphan, Batman swears vengeance, and the face of Zur En Arrh reappears.
The opening and ending to this issue was solid. There’s definitely a thread of heart, humility, and compassion baked into this Batman vs. Catwoman war, but the middle is a little uneven. The plotting, especially when it comes to Catwoman, asks of some powerful logical leaps from readers, particularly long-time fans. What characters should or shouldn’t know is inconsistent. It’s also strange to see characters like Stephanie Brown, who was previously a Batgirl, return to donning the Spoiler moniker.
The art has some shining moments, though much of the character designs come across as stilted and uneven. Overall it has an interesting premise, albeit one that needs fleshing out. Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham Wars: Battle Lines #1 just isn’t the fire-starter one might hope for.
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.