Tom King and Clay Mann return to tell an epic tale of the Bat and the Cat.
When Tom King was previously on the main Batman title for DC, he wanted to complete a 100 issue epic on his take on the Caped Crusader. Due to some editorial shifting around, his Batman run ended on issue 85 with the conclusion of the City of Bane arc. Although I’m sure King would have wanted to end his run in the main series, the first issue of Batman/Catwoman is promising to be more than a worthy follow-up to his original run.
Batman/Catwoman (which I’ll refer to as BatCat for brevity’s sake going forward), along with other limited runs in recent years such as Three Jokers, Batman: Damned and Strange Adventures, falls under the DC Black Label. For anyone not in the know, this is the new imprint that publishes darker, self-contained takes on class DC characters. This allows the stories being told under this label to be free from continuity, letting the creators take bigger risks with the characters. Tom King takes the format he used in his Batman Annual #2 in 2017 (written by King and drawn by the fantastic Lee Weeks) and expands it for this limited series. Like the annual, the storyline for BatCat takes place in three time periods: The past, when Batman and Catwoman first dating or “schtupping” as Joker teases Catwoman, The present, the events taking place sometime after the city City of Bane storyline, when Andrea Beaumont comes back into Bruce’s life and the future when Bruce has passed away and Selina has long since retired.
This first issue of BatCat sets up the present with Andrea Beaumont being a major player in the series. That name should ring some bells in the minds of fans of Batman: The Animated series, specifically the 1993 film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. This first issue establishes that the events of that movie have happened in the Batman comic-book continuity (or just in this Black Label continuity, it’s hard to tell). Beaumont comes to Bruce looking for her son. Bruce and Selina scour the city only to find her son dead under a bridge, skin white as a sheet, and mouth forming the infamous rictus, seemingly implicating the joker in his death. This leads to Andrea literally digging up her “Phantasm” costume, setting the stage for the action in the present day storyline.
During this issue we get flashes of the past and the future storylines. There are only a few moments that this issue highlights. Most importantly, we see Catwoman stealthily stealing jewelry from a mob enforcer only to find that Joker got to him first to snuff him out. Joker and Catwoman have a quick conversation about her relationship with Batman, with Joker reminding her how tenuous her relationship with Batman is. In the future, Selina is visiting an unnamed old friend, letting him know that Bruce Wayne has passed away. Selina reveals that she finally gets to kill him, this “friend” taking his wig and glasses off and revealing to be the Joker in a truly masterful splash page by Clay Mann.
It’s not an easy job hooking readers with a first issue, it doesn’t matter if it’s Batman or Howard the Duck. There has to be a good mix of intrigue and payoff. If there is too much set up, readers will get bored and wait for the trade paperback but you can’t figuratively blow your load in the first issue and then have nothing happen for 3 or 4 issues. King does a great job of intriguing the reader with some great teases but also having a compelling starting narrative. It does help that I was such a huge fan of his Batman run from 2016-2019. Not that you need to go back and read his whole run to understand BatCat , but it helps to know the tone that he set in the main series and especially in Batman Annual #2.
The narrative structure does tend to give the reader a bit of whiplash. Artists Clay Mann and Colorist Tomeu Morey do a good job of subtly signifying what scenes take place in what era (Catwoman having a slightly different costume, snowing in the background in the present) but at first read, it takes a minute to adjust to the different time periods. However, this could be a plus in which it forces the reader to pay closer attention to the story.
Speaking of the art, the teaming up of Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey is a fantastic choice by Tom King and DC. They all worked previously together on Heroes in Crisis and, despite how many people may feel about the overall story, the artwork was absolutely gorgeous. The only drawback was the schedule of a timely book like that. DC replaced Clay Mann with Mitch Gerads on issue 6 and, in addition, Jorge Fornes and Travis Moore drew issue 7. Granted, I love all of the artists previously mentioned but having the art in the finale of a book switch up so much is a bit distracting. Thankfully, DC knew to give King and Mann almost a full year from when it was originally said to debut to finish up the writing and art so BatCat wouldn’t run into that issue.
I can see any readers not familiar with the Mask of the Phantasm movie reading this issue and being confused by the Phantasm costume reveal at the end but as a fan of the movie, it’s hard for me not to get excited for what’s to come. Seeing what King has done with DC in the past, I can safely say that we are in for a treat for the next 11 issues.
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