Batman #50 was fated to make headlines — no matter what actually happened in the issue. But Batman and Catwoman’s wedding got more attention than DC Comics had bargained for when a New York Times article leaked the ending, and the ending itself sparked its own controversy.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Batman #50, the wedding issue.]
Here to figure out what this all means for readers, and where Batman and Catwoman go from here, are Polygon comics editor Susana Polo and comics writer Meg Downey.
Susana: I read Batman #50, took some deep, considered breaths, went for a walk and then messaged you [Meg] because I still felt betrayed as a reader. Unlike with this summer’s other superhero wedding that was spoiled before its release, Tom King really leaned into the idea of Batman and Catwoman as a Great Literary Love Story. More than that, he’s talked about his arc as one that bends toward Batman’s happiness; that making him happy creates more interesting conflict than making him sad. Selina getting cold feet because of an implied villainous plot feels regressive after an arc that was about so much more.
So I was surprised to find out that you liked the ending of Batman #50 — and I was intrigued to find out why. We both have deep expertise in comics, we both love Batman and we both enjoy finding the romance in superhero comics, happy, tragic or otherwise. How did you view the ending?
Meg: I felt really satisfied by the whole issue. I thought the format of intercutting (individually credited!) one-page splashes with the dueling letters against the actual day-of story was extremely clever, but even more importantly, it felt like both Bruce and Selina were trying to take the next logical steps in their respective arcs.
I actually think this was a great extension of the “Happy Batman” thesis. Since the proposal, I’ve been off and on grappling with the idea that while, yes, I totally agree with King’s assessment that a content Batman drives more conflict than a sad one, I’ve never bought that marriage is the way to actually make that contentment happen — it just felt too externalized for a character as inherently introspective as Bruce. It was too much like a patch fix, or a distraction from the real problem. I was totally prepared to live with it, if things had panned out that way, and I was ready to clap and nod if we were to be handed a story that effectively said, “The ultimate cure for your decadeslong depression is wedding bells!” But I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.
I think for a Happy Batman to actually build a better story engine, he really has to earn it. He’s gotta fight for it and he’s probably going to get his ass kicked a few times along the way. This is clearly one of those times, and I think this issue proves that in a really interesting way.
Susana: Hmm. You’re definitely right about a relationship not being a substitute for personal growth, and it’s true that, at least in King’s run, Bruce has yet to fight for his wants. The first year was very much about Bruce getting over his fear of even acknowledging that he could be happy instead of just being a revenge monster forever. His vulnerability in proposing to Selina was the turning point of that progression, but, of course, she said yes, and King’s next year of issues has been all about the two of them being happy together.
If Batman #50 turns the arc in that direction, of Bruce choosing to fight for his own happiness, I’d be very interested in that. But if we’re just going to descend into the usual angst-sponge Batman story ... ugh.
Part of the reason I found Batman #50 so off-putting is that, at least superficially, it seems to go against everything King says he’s doing with his Batman story in regard to the narrative potential of his happiness. And also some of his other DC Comics work. King is a writer who has a real handle on writing characters dealing with their own trauma, and Selina leaving Bruce because of the toxic idea that a person’s success can depend on their trauma remaining unresolved — the “artists do their best work in their darkest times” argument — ground my gears.
Also, it’s essentially the same reason that Talia Head broke up with Bruce and hid the fact that he had a son from him in the 1987 story that inspired Grant Morrison to invent Damian Wayne, and it didn’t work then, either.
Tack on the implication that Selina was coached into her decision by supervillains, and it feels like all these very uncomplicated superhero tropes are intruding on a complicated story.
But if it’s all just a narrative hurdle for Batman to overcome ... hm.
Meg: You make a really good point on Selina’s logic! Honestly, the thing that kept me from feeling put off by the success-through-trauma argument being presented was how much I inherently distrust both Bruce and Selina as narrators. The page that really stuck out to me was when Selina’s in the car with Holly and we get that back-and-forth about heroism. That final panel, with Holly saying “don’t you have to be [a hero]?” sitting next to Selina’s clearly uncomfortable face.
That moment felt like Selina realizing that she couldn’t be — or, in fact, didn’t want to be — Bruce’s hero; it’s her suddenly understanding that it’s not her responsibility. She’s not here to be the person who comes in and fixes the broken and lonely boy. She may love him, but it’s not her job to save him, which is a decision I really dig.
As for the villains, I didn’t see causation in the Bane reveal as much as I saw correlation. I feel like King’s Bane is absolutely Machiavellian enough to have set some plates spinning, but I don’t think he stacked the deck to make Selina change her mind — more like he’s been watching from the rafters and just letting everything take its natural course. You know how Komodo dragons have toxic mouths, so when they bite their prey they don’t have to do anything but wait for the infection to naturally kill it? That’s how I see this incarnation of Bane — a guy who’s been watching and waiting with interest for nature to take its course in a way that benefits him.
Maybe I’m giving Bane way too much credit, or making him way cooler in my head than he actually is (it would not be the first time). There’s a genuine chance that the whole thing really was just your standard supervillain revenge plot, and you’re absolutely right — if that’s the case, it could get reductive quick.
Susana: It all comes down to the eternal “but what comes next?” tug of serial comics. I was expecting Batman #50 to be a conclusion, and it cheesed me off — but it could be the beginning of something that I’d find even more exciting.
Of course, I won’t know unless I stick around to read more, which is the other eternal struggle of serial comics. On the one hand, I feel duped for genuinely believing they’d be together at the end of this issue, but on the other, I feel kind of silly for forgetting that nothing lasts in superhero stories.
But on the other other hand, isn’t getting swept up in the promise of a story arc — even though you know the status quo is almost always restored — the whole point of superhero comics?
Meg: Even coming from a place where I really dug this issue, I think the next few months are going to be critical. It feels very much like we’re standing on the precipice of something here, and that something might be extremely cool, or it might be a total mess. Whatever happens next is going to make all the difference ... at least until the next big thing has to be teed up in its place.
Susana: And at the very least, let’s give King and his collaborators some credit: They’ve crafted a Batman and Catwoman with enough emotional depth that we just spent nearly one and a half thousand words breaking down different interpretations of their inner lives.