Comics – Batman #50

7 Jul

There will be spoilers in this review, for the end of Batman #50 as well as the two previous storylines, “The Gift” (Batman #s 45-47) and “The Best Man” (Batman #s 48-49). I will make some non-spoiler observations prior to those discussions.

Tom King took over the Batman title with issue #1 of the current volume, which began its numbering as part of DC’s 2016 Rebirth event. I’m a huge fan of his run, which is illustrated by a number of artists with a less-cartoony, somewhat photo-realistic style (or at least more realistic than what is generally considered comic book art). I have especially sung his praises on Facebook for the storyline “The War of Jokes and Riddles” (issues 25-32), in which Batman tells a story from Batman’s early days, a time when the Joker and the Riddler united all of Gotham’s underworld behind one or the other of them and waged war for control of the city.

King is not afraid to feature pages where people are just talking, not in some action figure “I’m about to leap into violent action at any second” contortion, but rather simply sitting or standing or laying, as people are wont to do. His prose is often quite literate and sometimes moving, and I truly can’t recommend it highly enough.

Way back at the end of Batman #24 (August 2017), Batman proposed to Catwoman, and she accepted, and much of the storytelling since then has focused on them preparing for the wedding. There’s a wonderful two-parter  (#s 36 and 37) where Batman tells Superman about the engagement, then Bat and Cat (their pet names for each other) go on a double-date with the Man of Steel and his wife. The aforementioned “The Gift” comes from superhero/screwup Booster Gold, and is a rather unorthodox wedding present. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the length of the storyline, but it lays important seeds for both “The Best Man” and the actual wedding issue. “The Best Man” depicts the Joker’s reaction to not receiving an invitation, and the second of the two parts is a textbook example of a comic book which is primarily dialogue; there’s action in the first few pages, then 11 pages of two characters simply talking to each other without moving hardly at all, followed by some motion (I wouldn’t exactly call it action) to end the issue. And it’s thoroughly engaging throughout.

I highly recommend picking up King’s entire run. Issues 1-37 have been collected in 5 volumes, available from Amazon in both print and digital form, and from your local comic book retailer. Volume 6 (issues 38-44) will be available on July 31. Or you can get most of the more recent issues at cover price from the aforementioned retailer.

I give Tim King’s Batman run 8 Cheeseburgers

SPOILER DISCUSSION STARTS HERE

 

 

 

I’m only a passing Booster Gold fan, so The Gift was not in my wheelhouse, nor was a recent, similar appearance in the Superman books. The Gift took as its jumping-off point the fact that, by his nature, Batman is grim, due to the death of his parents. So Booster determines that he will go back in time and save the elder Waynes from their fate, thereby showing Bruce how much worse things would have been had his parents lived. A truly misbegotten idea. And it does not unfold anywhere near what Booster expected. In the end, he manages to restore things to the way the always have been, but then tells Batman and Catwoman what he’s done, “how [Bruce was] happy, and the world wasn’t”.  Bat and Cat don’t react, but Booster keeps on talking, and it’s clear that what he’s done has affected one person…him. The issue ends with an “out out damned spot” Lady Macbeth riff that almost makes the storyline worth it. Almost.

“The Gift” introduces a key question, however, one that becomes more explicit in “The Best Man”. The Joker, miffed that he hasn’t received an invitation to the wedding, so he crashes another wedding and kills everyone except one hostage, to draw Batman out. This works, but Joker being Joker, he can’t contain himself and kills that hostage too. He then takes, alternately, Batman and himself as “hostage”, before an explosion renders the Bat unconscious. Catwoman, hearing the explosion, enters the church and, in the action to start issue #49, she and Joker end up critically wounding each other, causing them both to lay still, lest they bleed out. The ensuing conversation occupies the main portion of the issue. They discuss the upcoming wedding, the fascination of Batman’s rogues gallery for their common foe, and both Catwoman and Joker’s relationship with Batman. Near the end of the conversation, he reaches his ultimate point: “He can’t be happy. And also be the Batman.”

Issue #50 is nothing short of a masterpiece.

It follows a repeating structure: two (for the most part) full page “posters” featuring Batman and Catwoman together (each by a different artist), followed by a page of traditional storytelling featuring one of them preparing for the wedding, and a page of traditional storytelling featuring the other. Again, there’s very little action, as the pair decide to elope, Batman retrieves a hard-drinking judge to preside over the ceremony (under the operating theory that he’ll be too drunk to remember it), and Catwoman breaks in to Arkham Asylum to free her longtime friend and partner in crime, Holly Robinson, to serve as her witness. The text on the poster pages alternates between a letter written by Bruce to Selina declaring his love for her and from he to him explaining…

well, if everything went to plan, there’d be no need for spoilers, would there?

The Joker’s sentiment from the previous issue is restated by Holly, when she says “He always seemed to need his misery, y’know. Like it was how he did what he did.” And this restatement (from a person who’s presumably not certifiably insane, even though she’s just been broken out of Arkham) takes root with Selina who, despite her deep and lasting love for Bruce, does not show up for the wedding.

This conclusion, in retrospect, appears to be the only logical way to end this storyline. As stated twice here, and in many many other comics (in which Batman smiling or cracking a joke is usually noted as a jarring aberration), a happy Batman is not Batman. But the handling of the resolution here is handled beautifully, and I’ll be eager to see what Tom King does next.

This is not a perfect issue. There are a number of pieces that don’t quite make sense on inspection: The bit about the judge doesn’t quite work for me; with the vast array of heroes in the DC Universe, they’re saying that they couldn’t find one who was ordained in some church? Heck, I’m sure Booster Gold would be more than willing to get one of those internet ordinations, to make up for the crummy Gift he got. And since it’s already been established that they’re on the eve of the wedding (due to tie-ins depicting the bachelor and bachelorette parties–see below), you’d think they already would have arranged for a minister. Why couldn’t they just swing by (pun intended) and pick him or her up? These quibbles are there, but don’t ultimately detract from the story.

One note: Even though the ultimate end to the story thread was pretty much preordained, I don’t take issue with DC billing it as a wedding issue and playing it up the way they did. What I do take issue with are the five one-shot “Prelude to the Wedding” books that were released, featuring a heroic member of the bat-family versus a bat-villain, While the story titles were cute (each one a line from the traditional wedding vows), is Red Hood vs Anarky really a story the public was clamoring for? Written by Tim Seeley and drawn by a number of artists, the stories felt less a part of the main story and more a cash-grab with tangential wedding themes.

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