DC Honors Batman and Catwoman’s History

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The suit maketh the superhero.

Batman #44 is a deceptively deep comic. On the surface, it appears to be just one more Tom King-penned comic exploring the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Not that King and his collaborators haven’t struck gold in that area in the past, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before on this book. It’s only when you begin picking apart the story and comparing it to the classic Batman tales it references that the true significance of this story becomes apparent.

On one hand, Batman #44 tells a basic, straightforward story about Selina feeling restless ahead of her impending wedding. Even as her fiancé sleeps, Selina hits the town in search of her ideal wedding dress. And as she ponders her choice, she reflects back on some of her past encounters with Batman and her own mercurial nature. The end result is a sparse but elegant story, one that helps move the series one step closer to the big wedding day.

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Again, you really have to dig up some of the old stories King’s script references to fully appreciate what he and artists Mikel Janin and Joelle Jones have done here. The dialogue and imagery in the flashback scenes are directly lifted from old comics, dating all the way back to Catwoman’s first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1. This issue, as much as any other in King’s run to date, embodies the importance of DC Rebirth. It reflects upon and celebrates Batman’s 80-year history in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the New 52.

More interesting is the way this issue explores how superhero storytelling has evolved over the decades. As much as the flashbacks faithfully adhere to those classic stories, the presentation is far from identical. Sequences that unfolded over the course of a panel or two in the original books now span an entire page. Even where the dialogue remains the same, the pacing and flow is much different here. Even as we see Batman and Catwoman cycle through their classic costumes and become their contemporary selves, this issue also subtlety comments on the transition towards more decompressed forms of storytelling in comics.

The divide between past and present makes excellent use of Janin and Jones’ contrasting styles. Jones thrives as she renders Selina’s largely silent night on the town. Her lithe, elegant figure work is as impressive as ever, while this issue also makes it clear just what a talented fashion designer she is. Her bridal gowns are things of beauty, particularly the gown Selina ultimately chooses.

Janin, for his part, manages the difficult task of paying homage to classic DC stories while still making them work in the context of the modern DCU. Selina wears some pretty goofy and ostentatious outfits over the course of these flashbacks, but her interaction with Batman remains real and poignant all the same.

My only complaint here is that Janin doesn’t succeed as well when it comes to Batman’s classic looks as he does Catwoman’s. And to be fair, it’s hard to say how much of that is his fault and how much is due to DC editorial’s inexplicable phobia of Batman’s external trunks. For the most part, Batman is rendered in typical New 52 fashion, a la “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” Occasionally the color of his cape and cowl or bat emblem change, but never does his costume feel like it’s pulled from one specific era. Weirdly, one sequence does feature him wearing the trunks, but in a way that makes it look as though the trunks were crudely colored on at the last minute.

The Verdict

At first glance, Batman #44 comes across as a pleasant but fairly unremarkable addition to the series, one that arranges a few pieces leading up to the big wedding. It’s only by rereading this issue and directly comparing it to the classic Batman stories it references that it becomes clear how King, Janin and Jones are commenting on the evolution of these characters and superhero comics in general.

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