After first being a year-and-a-half of teases, Batman/Catwoman #1 is finally here.
Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC/Black Label
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Tom King's run on DC's flagship Batman title was his most ambitious project thus far. Over the course of its grand narrative and various feints and swerves, his time with the Caped Crusader with the Batman ongoing was at its strongest when he dialed in on Bruce Wayne's complicated relationship with Selina Kyle, such as arcs like 'Superfriends,' in which the couple went on a double date with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Those issues were penciled by Clay Mann, who quickly became one of King's major collaborators, working on Heroes in Crisis and now this series.
As the title 'Batman/Catwoman' suggests, this is a book about the pair and functions as a quasi-continuation/conclusion to what King did with them in the main Batman series. This has a more ornate production, opening with a credits page designed around a landscape image of Wayne Manor, captured in all its Gothic glory, with twelve doors representing the issues of the series. This first issue is entitled 'Silent Night,' and opens with the song's lyrics running down the page courtesy of Clayton Cowles' lettering. Bruce doesn't appear in the first scene; instead, it tracks an older Selina on a drive somewhere, following on from the events of Batman Annual #2.
The central conceit of the Batman/Catwoman series is that it deals with this future, the past when they first became entangled, and the present which follows on from 'City of Bane.' The usage of multiple time periods makes this the third in a thematic trilogy for King, alongside his concurrent Black Label books – Strange Adventures and Rorschach. Though rather than rigidly structuring the periods, King, Mann, colorist Tomeu Morey, and Cowles are aiming for a more lyrical flow than the other two.
There are pitfalls with the approach, however, despite the ambition behind it to tell an all-encompassing story. Primarily, that it requires setting up three story strands, and only one of them is straightforward enough to understand without prior knowledge: the past-set classic dynamic of the pair having feelings for each other without fully connecting. The future-set piece of the puzzle relies on knowing King's prior work in this period, after Batman and Catwoman have led a married life, had a child – Helena Wayne – and picks up here after Bruce has passed away.
Meanwhile, The narrative unfolding in the present is building off not just King's 80-plus issues already written, but also the 1993 animated movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as it introduces Andrea Beaumont into comic book continuity. Her story from the film seems to have happened in the same way – Bruce's first major love, everything with her father, and becoming the Phantasm – so people who have seen that movie will understand what's going on. The people who haven't however will have to grapple with King's blasé way of bringing her back into Bruce's life so she can ask him to find her son.
Batman/Catwoman #1 preview
The creative team passes up showing her actual arrival, instead cutting from the opening of future Selina to the present where Bruce and Andrea sit in the manor. She brings up the (currently deceased) Alfred, which in turn transitions into the past where the dutiful butler accidentally intrudes on Bruce and Selina in the throes of passion. Rather than cutting directly between these however on the page turn, the last panel on the page is of Alfred, his silver tray overrunning the panel border and spilling into the present-day scene.
It makes for a brief, though nevertheless jarring moment as a result of the creative team not making the jump back in time clear enough, so it reads initially as a spatial cut to a different angle in the present rather than a temporal one. Later in the issue, colorist Tomeu Morey is sure to show a transition from the present into the past via a shift in his colors as the dominating red of the first image gives way to blue in the second, which is much clearer and shows that the montage style of jumping between time periods works best when there are clear distinctions between eras.
For all this structural movement, however, Mann's linework is considerably stiffer than he's proved capable of, leading to scenes where characters feel posed. This can work for images like the splash of Batman and Catwoman perched atop a gargoyle, the moon behind them, illuminating the chilly atmosphere. It certainly doesn't when it comes to his frequent framing of Selina in the issue that veers into cheesecake-y fan service. The 'Superfriends' arc in King's run was a better fit for moments like these due to the overall lightness of tone and more dynamic energy in his linework throughout. This story is more serious by design though, and is ill-fitting for angles which continually strain to highlight Selina's curvature in various positions, emphasized all the more by how still and porcelain doll-like other characters are, like a page that slowly zooms out from Andrea's face, while she stares blankly.
As much as Batman/Catwoman wants to be a summation of everything Batman can be, it serves too many masters to accomplish much at all. As a Black Label book, it exists in continuity without being entirely defined by it, which conflicts with it being the capstone to a lengthy run which did a great deal of development for the central relationship. These discordant ideas would be enough of a challenge before also considering the involvement of Andrea which requires leaning on another avenue of continuity and how the multiple time periods require setting up multiple story threads that are all fighting for space in the issue. It makes for an issue that is overstuffed and lacking at the same time, an at-times confusing story whose sprawling nature actively impedes forward momentum and prevents any real focus on the central relationship that the title suggests.
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