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Batman and Catwoman perch on a gargoyle against a red sky and moon. “Andrea Beaumont,” he says. “An old friend I haven’t seen for some time. She’s here about her son.” in Batman/Catwoman #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom King, Clay Mann/DC Comics

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Batman/Catwoman #1 tests the superhero duo’s love across 80 years of history

Also the Joker is there

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For 80 years, Batman and Catwoman have will-they-or-won’t-they-ed across DC Comics history, in comics and out of them. Tom King’s 2016-2019 run on Batman brought them the closest they’ve ever been, married in everything but the literal, legal sense.

Now, King is continuing the story of their relationship from where he left it in Batman #85, and adding several new ingredients. Batman/Catwoman, a new 12-issue miniseries under DC’s Black Label, is a story about Batman, Catwoman, the Joker, and Andrea Beaumont. Andrea is better known as the Phantasm, the vigilante of 1993’s Mask of the Phantasm, one of the best regarded Batman movies ever made, and this will be the first time she appears outside of a story intended to fit with the Batman: The Animated Series continuity.

Who is making Batman/Catwoman?

For Batman/Catwoman, King is joined by his Heroes in Crisis collaborator Clay Mann. Together, they’re a team that contrasts carefully detailed and strong-jawed heroes and heroines with dream-like staging and layouts, breaking a first panel’s borders with a figure from the next and leaping from scene to scene without warning. How did those characters get on that rooftop from where they were a second ago? Not really important. Just go with it.

Rounding out the team on Batman/Catwoman #1 is Tomeu Morey on colors, and Clayton Cowles on letters.

Catwoman Mission Impossibles down to a sleeping man in the second panel, with her body breaking the borders of the panel to also hang suspended over a first panel of snapping crocodile mouths and a third panel of her looking over her shoulder in Batman/Catwoman #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom King, Clay Mann/DC Comics

What is Batman/Catwoman #1 about?

The series takes place across three timelines. In the past, Batman and Catwoman have begun their romance for the first time, and the rest of the Gotham Underworld is skeptical about it. In the present, Andrea Beaumont, former vigilante and Bruce’s first love, returns to Gotham City to ask for a favor. And in the future, Batman and Catwoman have grown old together, Bruce died of cancer, and their daughter Helena has taken the mantle of Batwoman.

Why is Batman/Catwoman happening now?

The series began life as the final arc of King’s run on Batman — but didn’t quite make it in. Though the writer initially conceptualized his tenure as lasting 100 issues, with Batman and Catwoman’s not-quite-wedding as the midpoint, King bowed out at Batman #85.

Concurrently, Batman/Catwoman was announced, as a continuation and an ultimate conclusion on his work. But it seems like King and Mann have taken the looser space of the Black Label imprint to stretch out, storytelling-wise. Black Label is a place for stories that don’t necessarily fit into main DC Comics continuity, and it seems likely that Batman/Catwoman is literally a tale that has grown in the telling.

Is there any required reading?

Not really.

If you really want to get a proper academic and contextual history of what you’re reading, you should read Tom King’s run on Batman, from #1 to #85 and the various annuals and specials sprinkled in. If you’d just like the most important highlights, get ahold of Batman Annual #2, the Catwoman 80th Anniversary special, and Detective Comics #1027, each of which features a story from King’s version of Batman and Catwoman’s romance — how it began, how and why he died, and how their daughter was born.

And, of course, you should watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It’s just a good movie and it’s available on several streaming services.

But as long as you can grok the idea of a story that starts when all the regular Batman characters are old and Batman and Catwoman got together years ago, then you’re probably good to go.

Is Batman/Catwoman #1 good?

The issue is a good kickoff in a confusing package.

Clay Mann sure knows how to draw a sexy couple, and the present day story of firmly-in-lust Batman and Catwoman helping out Andrea Beaumont seemed like the most interesting of the timelines, until the older Catwoman storyline swung in with a gripping antepenultimate page reveal. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t see it coming.

In spite of Mann’s careful crosshatching and every deliberately placed crease and seam on each costume, Batman/Catwoman has a kind of Batman: The Animated Series hyperrealism to it. It’s the kind of setting where all the villains definitely hang out at the same bar and trade “industry gossip” and Catwoman and the Joker talk like colleagues in the same “profession,” not a world class thief who preys upon the uber-rich and a monstrously indiscriminate serial killer.

On a rooftop at dawn, Catwoman excuses herself to go meet Batman. “You know, darling,” the Joker responds, “This isn’t who you are.” in Batman/Catwoman #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom King, Clay Mann/DC Comics

It’s a valid take on the characters, and even one that I like, but one that takes a little getting used to when (literally) the comic is drawn so realistically. It’s also a take that, while considered “cartoony,” is rooted in mundanity. And while King is perhaps best known for merging the details of mundane life with high concept philosophy and operatic comics in Mister Miracle, these are details he has mostly eschewed in his Batman work.

To be fair, there isn’t a lot about Batman’s life that’s strictly mundane. King’s use of poetry, cadence, and narration often gave his Batman run a dreamlike quality. Sometimes it really worked, and sometimes it felt like I was watching archetypes instead of characters. Batman/Catwoman #1 did not feel that way, but I worry that it’ll wind up there, especially given the issue’s lack of clear transitions between timelines.

This first issue does a lot of juggling to kick off three separate plot lines in the standard 22 story pages, but it fumbles the ball more than once. I’m genuinely uncertain when a handful of panels in the comic take place, and not in a fun mystery way. King, Mann, and colorist Morey needed a stronger design choice to distinguish between those three eras, whether it was clearer establishing shots when scenes switched, more distinct costume changes, or a change in art or coloring style.

If the whole series is this difficult to keep track of, it doesn’t bode well, but hopefully after this first issue King and Mann relax a bit, stop swapping timelines so often, and give the reader more handholds to get settled on.

One panel that popped

Zoot suit Joker. You love to see it.