Four months ago, Batman proposed to Catwoman. It was a shock, but not necessarily unexpected. Writer Tom King had strengthened their relationship since taking over Batman post-Rebirth and it felt like the culmination of years of unfulfilled potential. Unfortunately, King has held Selina’s answer hostage ever since. Rather than build on that momentum, he’s given us yet another battle of wits between Batman and (arguably) his two greatest foes: the Joker and the Riddler. That arc blessedly ends with this issue and it is both perfect and utterly infuriating.
It is impossible to talk about the issue without spoiling its contents, so stop now if you don’t want to know what happens. The arc began because Bruce told Selina that she couldn’t marry him without knowing what he did during the “War of Jokes and Riddles.” Some of that story–like the Kite Man interlude–has been surprisingly strong. The War itself, however, has been chronically underwritten. Presumably, Catwoman would know some of what happened during the War, but the readers don’t and instead of showing us how the villain armies were assembled or how they damaged Gotham, King has only provided an overview. So, the conclusion of the battle we see here (which finds Batman, Joker, Riddler and an incapacitated Kite Man in a room together) isn’t as satisfying as it could be. We only understand how horrible the war would be in theory, we’ve barely been shown the actual effects.
That said, watching the trio finally battle it out is a treat. Artist Mikel Janín’s is good with body language, but not with facial expressions, so he frequently does his best work during action scenes. Mostly, though, there’s a flatness to his art that makes every character seem like they have only one emotion and colorist June Chung doesn’t help matters. There’s a flatness there too and the arc has most closely resembled an early video game: stiff and lacking in complexity.
Granted, the problems with the art wouldn’t be as noticeable if King’s story structure or dialogue weren’t also pretty terrible. Stilted and heavy-handed, it sounds like what a teenager writing fan fiction thinks Batman sounds like. It’s too literal, too sanctimonious and worse, it doesn’t really help us understand why the characters act the way they do and it keeps Bruce’s revelation from having any impact.
After the fight ends, Riddler explains to the Joker that he started the war to make him laugh, which, sure, why not? For whatever reason, this incites Batman to try to stab the Riddler in the face, but the Joker stops him and finally, unexpectedly, begins to laugh. It’s shaky ground to build on, but as pure concept, there is absolutely something intriguing in the idea that Joker would enjoy watching Batman pushed into breaking his own moral code. However, the questions remains: what the HELL does it have to do with whether or not Catwoman would want to marry Batman?
If the point was to show that Batman’s sense of morality is personal and therefore fallible, then this time has been wasted. His relationship with Catwoman already proves that. She is more qualified than perhaps anyone else to understand the compromises Batman makes in order to satisfy himself, but King isn’t concerned with her motivations.
She barely speaks during this whole arc and it’s difficult not to wonder if this time would have been better spent understanding why she would want to marry this damaged, angsty nightmare person. Regardless, she does say yes, but only after responding to Bruce’s story in the most perfect way: with an exasperated “who cares?” It’s a great moment and the only logical end to this worthless digression of an arc. But that doesn’t mean King should be forgiven for wasting our time.