Written by Joel T. Lewis
As Batman continues to examine his life and vigilante crusade after his father’s dying plea to find happiness, Tom King’s issue 24 focuses on an extended discussion between the caped crusader and Gotham Girl (Claire Clover). As Gotham Girl debates whether to remain a hero Bruce provides a new intimate perspective on his own fight against crime. Instead of just dictating what Claire ought to do, Bruce confides in her about how Alfred’s protests early on in his career as Batman had no effect on his plan to reshape the Gotham underworld. Batman’s measured compassion with Claire speaks to the impact that Thomas Wayne’s final words have had on the Dark Knight. The control and cold manipulation Batman has employed over the men and women he’s mentored has always created barriers, but this intimate honest discussion shows a dramatic shift in Batman’s mentoring philosophy.
Batman is very candid about the nature of the mantle he created, 'I do this. But I’m not...happy...I do this to be happy. I try and I fail.' Claire responds in earnest, 'Why do you fail? Why can’t you be happy?' Batman replies, 'I fail because I’m scared. What I’ve seen. Gotham. Him. If you’re not scared...if all that doesn’t scare me...then I’m insane. And I’m not…I don’t want to be insane. So I’m scared.' Bruce’s vulnerability and self-awareness throughout this issue is poignant and powerful. Interlaced throughout this issue the brilliant David Finch depicts a late night game of Cat and Bat as Batman chases Catwoman over the rooftops of Gotham city. When Batman catches up to her one of the most important moments in Bat history takes place: Bruce Wayne proposes to Selina Kyle.
Now this is not truly new territory as Bruce and Selina have been married way back in the Golden Age continuity but this has potential to be a development that sticks. In a sense, the bond between Batman and Catwoman is one fans have championed for nearly as long as Peter Parker’s been with Mary Jane or Clark Kent with Lois Lane, and rather than feeling hackneyed or cheap, Bruce’s proposal at the end of issue 24 feels completely earned. Though their relationship has run the gamut from intimate and tender to estranged and tumultuous, the playful connection between Catwoman and Batman has always felt weighted and genuine which is why this proposal doesn’t seem forced. Their dual lives, their unspoken respect for each other’s skills, and their complementarily damaged psyches have always led them back to each other and now they could be getting married.
What does a married Bruce Wayne look like? How do a cat burglar and a superhero build a functional partnership? Where does Batman figure into this attempt at traditional domestic bliss? What does the wedding party look like? Though issue 24 doesn’t move mountains of plot, the questions it raises are fascinating and David Finch’s artwork is breathtaking. The stark contrast between Gotham Girl and Batman’s daylight discussion of heroes and their motivations and the late night scenes of Batman chasing the woman he loves are brought to brilliant life. These images weave their own narrative and were it not for Tom King’s brilliant deconstruction of Batman’s shifting motivations I would have said Finch’s work could have been published without words and the impact of that final page proposal would have been just as poignant.
Though the next 8 issues of Batman are set a little over a year after Batman began his one-man war on crime I can’t help hoping that when we return to the present, Tom King treats us to a little more catharsis. I would love to see this vulnerable Bruce talk to Dick Grayson, confide in Alfred, maybe even Commissioner Gordon. It would be such a shame for this drastic re-examination of the purpose of Batman to only impact Gotham Girl and Bruce’s relationship when the most intimate and important members of the Bat-Family, those most affected by the ripples of Batman’s influence, could really grow and benefit from seeing Bruce transition. Tom King is doing a bang-up job with Batman and it is always a pleasure to see David Finch’s work and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the Selina Kyle/Bruce Wayne relationship unfolds and I’m really excited for King’s upcoming arc 'The War of Jokes and Riddles'. Until next time, Geek On!