The big day is finally here! Now I get to find out exactly why Batman and Catwoman don’t get married! Yes, I realize that saying this straight out is arguably a spoiler. Except that it’s been months since the events of “Batman #50” and the fact that the two of them aren’t a happy couple is now common knowledge at this point. So the real questions here are why didn’t they get married and is the end result look to be more satisfying than if they did? I’ll get to those eventually (well, one of them at least), but first there’s the matter of Booster Gold’s efforts to find the perfect wedding gift for Batman.
Hoo boy, Booster Gold. One of the key members of the Giffen/DeMatteis “Justice League” team from the 80’s, he was a disgraced football player from the future turned museum security guard who stole a time machine, a Legion flight ring, and a Brainiac shield and travelled back in time to become a superhero. Self-centered and kind of a screw-up, he was still someone who could be counted on to do the right, heroic thing in the end. I’ve got no experience with the Giffen/DeMatteis “League” outside of hearing about its reputation. Even that was enough to convince me that the period in the aughts where it looked like characters from that series were being killed off or turned into villains didn’t reflect well on DC. As for Booster Gold himself, I thought his strengths and weaknesses were utilized really well over the course of his storyline in the weekly “52” series.
So it was a little disappointing to see his more annoying qualities cranked to eleven for the three issues of “The Gift.” It’s not obvious at first, but the storyline has a good hook to it: Rather than get Batman a cheese tray as a wedding gift as his robotic buddy Skeets recommended, Booster decides to travel back in time to save Bruce Wayne’s parents from being killed. Why? Because he’s sure that it’ll result in a terrible future that will show Bruce that his decision to become Batman was the right one all along.
You should be able to immediately see the flaws in Booster’s plan. It winds up being a darkly entertaining one because of how far King is willing to go with this alternate time. Things aren’t just subtly different: Gotham is a smoldering warzone barely kept together by the efforts of the Wayne Family, Dick Grayson is a Batman who wields all the firearms, Catwoman is a serial killer locked up in Arkham, and Oswald Cobblepot is President of the United States. King makes this timeline where Bruce Wayne never became Batman unflinchingly hellish and it’s all the more interesting for this approach. Even more impressive is how he manages to find moments of peace and hope in this timeline to keep all the awfulness from becoming numbing, and allow him to stick the knife in further when they pass.
The problem here is Booster Gold himself. I can buy the idea that he’d try to use time travel to show Batman what the future would be like if his parents had lived. What I have a harder time accepting is that Booster would be brain-damaged enough to go about it in the way he does here. From his fundamental misunderstanding about which Bruce Wayne would be in a position to appreciate this, to his efforts to reunite Bruce with Selina without realizing she’s a serial killer, and then with his nonsensical, aggravating banter with Skeets his actions are the kind of dumb that’s actively painful to witness. It’s to the point where you feel like King is writing Booster in a way that emphasizes all of his worst qualities while completely ignoring the ones that make him a worthwhile hero and character. I’m not the biggest fan of Booster, but the way he was written here just grated on me. I can only imagine what his actual fans thought of this.
“The Gift” does have some pretty spectacular art from Tony Daniel to take the edge off of its problems. Daniel has had a long association with the character and he really delivers in this alternate-universe vision of Batman and his supporting characters. This war-torn version of Gotham is made out to be a convincing hellhole, complete with its paramilitary Batman whose design gives you a pretty good idea of how it got that way. It also helps that King gives Daniel the space to show how bad this world is with full-page sequences that show us how Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and *shudder* Duke Thomas are much worse off here.
Giving us some memorable art as well is Clay Mann in the story that follows, “Your Big Day.” It’s a Joker story where he’s invaded the home of a random father to wait for the mail to arrive with his invitation to Batman and Catwoman’s wedding. Mann’s vision of the Joker is uniquely creepy in the way that he sets the story in a completely normal house where the character’s facial expressions are frequently and disturbingly at odds with that normality. It’s also a nerve-wrackingly tense story as King shows us how a regular man, a father, deals with the terrifying uncertainty presented by the Joker. Terrifying uncertainty, and genuinely awful jokes delivered in the worst possible circumstances.
That uncertainty carries over to the next story, the two-part “The Best Man,” which also features the Joker and starts in the middle of the character shooting up a wedding. Why? All so that he can get Batman’s attention to talk to him about love and chaos before his wedding. The Joker remains a frighteningly unpredictable presence right up until the end of the first issue, when Catwoman has to intervene. After a brief fight, she and the Joker wind up gravely injured with nothing to do but talk about things before they bleed out.
That conversation between the Joker and Catwoman in the second issue is the real heart of the story. Aside from carrying on the same streak of dark humor that’s pervaded the volume up to this point, the sequence allows King to dig into how the characters see themselves and how they define their relationship to Batman. The answers we get are pretty fascinating, as is the general interplay between the two of them as Selina shows that she’s one of the few people in the Bat-mythos who can verbally spar with the Joker on his own level. It’s also worth noting that this is basically a sequence of two people talking to each other while they lie on the ground and artist Mikel Janin still manages to make it visually interesting. From the way the pages are laid out to the expressions on the characters’ faces, the fact that they’re in a static situation winds up not detracting from the experience at all.
Janin gets a better chance to show off in the wedding issue, particularly in a couple of double-page spreads that play with the reader’s perception of time and space in fun ways. It’s also down to him to sell the small joys of the wedding night and the uncertainty that ultimately keeps the Bat and the Cat from tying the knot. Between Janin’s story pages are pin-ups from many other artists who have drawn Batman over the years overlaid with text from the characters as they discuss their feelings for each other. All of the art is great (except for Frank Miller’s contribution, but that was to be expected…) even though the monologues feel kind of superfluous to the whole affair.
As to the reason why Batman and Catwoman don’t get married, it’s honestly kind of subtle for a big superhero event comic like this. Not in a good way, though. When I got to the final page and saw what was really going on, my initial response was, “That was it?” To call the whole thing a bait-and-switch is something of a misnomer. You see, in a bait-and-switch you still get something even if it’s not what you originally signed up for. Here, you get nothing. Not even a good look at what’s in store for the character and King’s run from this point on. I’ll admit that all of the characters’ motivations make sense and are certainly understandable yet I’m left not feeling much of anything after it. Not even sadness that the Bat and the Cat aren’t getting married.
What the whole issue reminds me of, and not in a good way, is the wedding issue from “X-Men: Gold vol. 6.” Though that issue had a much, much larger cast the throughline between the two issues is pretty much the same. Peter and Kitty are all set to get married, unti a pre-wedding conversation between Kitty and Illyana causes the former to re-think things, leading to the bride ditching the groom at the altar. While Illyana didn’t mean to talk Kitty out of marriage, if it had been revealed that she was secretly working with someone like, say, Apocalypse or Dormammu to break them up then you’d have “Batman #50.”
The thing that sets “X-Men: Gold” apart from “Batman #50” is that its writer, Marc Guggenheim (and some other people in the X-office at Marvel if I’ve heard correctly), realized that you can’t just end the story with the wedding being called off. You’ve got to give the readers something to chew on. Which is how we wound up with Gambit’s spontaneous yet completely-in-character proposal to Rogue and her acceptance. You could argue that the final-page scene in Arkham is the equivalent here. The problem is that it feels too slight for that. Anyone from Batman’s rogues gallery could’ve been responsible for what’s done here and this person’s declaration rings hollow in light of how we have yet to see the effect of Catwoman’s action here on Batman personally.
That’s something I’m sure we’ll see in the next volume, which I’ll be picking up. Even if this volume has many issues, it still offers plenty of interesting things to consider regarding the characters in it (save Booster) and uniformly fantastic art all around (save Miller). Still, I’ll admit that I’m disappointed that Batman and Catwoman didn’t tie the knot. “Married Batman” is something that’s been touched upon in other timelines and other Earths in the Multiverse, but never in the DCU proper. Even if “Batman #100” was going to be the divorce, I would’ve liked to have seen how marriage and even the momentary bliss of the honeymoon period would’ve affected Batman. If there’s anything to hold against this volume, it’s the fact that it has poisoned the well for that particular idea for a good long while to come.