Mixed Matrimonial Machinations in ‘Batman #50’

Batman #50
Tom King
DC Comics
4 Jul 2018

Superheroes are like young ’80s rock stars at the height of their fame in that it’s hard to imagine them settling down. Their lives are so chaotic, hectic, and prone to death/resurrection that just having an opportunity to get married is something few achieve. Even for those who make it that far, there are a great many forces working against superhero couples. Some are there before they even get to the honeymoon. Others pay a high price for even trying. Just ask Peter Parker.

If there’s one superhero who is capable of beating those odds, though, it’s Batman. He has no powers, a long list of personal issues, and a colorful history with multiple women. At the same time, though, doing the impossible without the aid of Kryptonian biology is one of his most defining traits. It doesn’t matter if marriage is too challenging for most superheroes. He’s Batman.

That’s not to say the challenges he faces aren’t daunting. Batman is no Wolverine, but he’s no Superman, either. Batman is one of those characters who does plenty to attract women, but just as much to push them away. It’s part of his mystique as the Dark Knight and most women won’t tolerate that. Catwoman, however, is not most women. In the same way he’s in a unique position to defy the traditions of superhero matrimony, Catwoman is uniquely equipped to both handle those rigors and thrive.

Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle may not share the same star-crossed love story that Superman and Lois Lane enjoy, but that only makes the prospect of their wedding in DC Comic’s Batman #50 more meaningful. After the heartbreak in another recent wedding event in X-men Gold #30, a successful culmination feels necessary, if only to avoid starting a less-than-romantic trend in superhero weddings.

In many respects, Batman and Catwoman have much more going for them than Colossus and Kitty Pryde. These characters have a history that spans decades. At times, they go their separate ways, which helps them develop as individuals. Now, after all the excuses and complications, they have an opportunity to come together in a way that both solidifies their relationship and grant them generous tax benefits.

Once again, however, the promise of a heartfelt, tearful wedding full of joyous catharsis does not occur. Despite Batman being up for that challenge, finally taking that step into uncharted territories that so many superheroes and rock stars fear, the wedding doesn’t go through. However, it’s not Batman who calls it off. Catwoman is the one who ends it.

Like Kitty Pryde in X-men Gold #30, she waited until the last possible second to change her mind. Unlike Kitty Pryde, though, the story surrounding isn’t heartbreaking. It even dares to leave a sliver of hope that there are other forces at work besides someone just changing their mind. What X-men Gold #30 failed to deliver, Batman #50 manages to salvage to some extent. It still comes off as a dramatic letdown, but Tom King puts some substance behind it.

The bulk of the story doesn’t focus on the ceremony itself or the less-than-memorable way it plays out. Instead, King sets the stage by exploring the long road Batman and Catwoman take to get to this moment, utilizing imagery from multiple eras of Batman from a cast of artists that includes Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Rafael Albuquerque, and many others. Within these memorable moments are insights that put Batman’s feelings for Catwoman into a context that gives weight to the outcome of the wedding.

Batman is the world’s greatest detective and incredibly skilled at reading people, specifically criminals. Catwoman is a criminal by most measures, but when he reads her, he doesn’t see the same traits he sees in the likes of the Penguin, the Joker, or the Riddler. The same goes for Catwoman in that when she sees Batman, she doesn’t react the same way most criminals do. She’s someone Batman can’t use his detective skills to define and he’s someone who transforms the pain of childhood trauma into acts of heroism that put put him on the tip tier of the Justice League.

These insights establish how these two feel about each other. Nothing is assumed or overlooked. As a result, Catwoman’s decision to leave Batman at the altar doesn’t feel forced. There’s no melodrama for the sake of melodrama. She gives a reason rather than an excuse, one that builds directly on the events of her clash with the Joker in Batman #49.

To some extent, Catwoman makes a valid point for keeping Batman single. Granted, it’s a point the Joker practically shoves in her face beforehand, but it fits with how she feels about him and how she sees him. To her, a happily married Batman means he doesn’t have that same pain that he can channel into being the Dark Knight. Marrying him means denying Gotham the hero it needs to survive.

It still comes off as callous because she waits until they’re in their dressed in wedding attire to make her decision, but added context of her and Batman’s reflections helps keep the narrative from collapsing. The build-up that begins with Batman’s proposal in Batman #24 is not meaningless. That story is still intact, but the way things play out in Batman #50 really complicate things.

There are details within those complications, though, that leave the door open for some happiness, at least to the extent that’s possible with Batman. There’s a potential for tragedy but even though tragedy is one of Batman’s defining traits, it can also be redundant. Rather than culminate the story of Batman and Catwoman’s romance, Batman #50 promises to drag it out even more. For two characters whose love affair spans eight decades, that comes off as rather bland.

Even with the outcome, though, the fact that Batman and Catwoman make it this far feels like an accomplishment. Batman #50 is presented as a triumph that was decades in the making, but ends up being a prelude to even more strife. It offers powerful revelations for two iconic characters and reaffirms why they keep finding each other.

It doesn’t undercut or subvert the merit of the superhero marriage, but it reveals how difficult such a union is. Colossus and Kitty Pryde find that out in the hardest, most shallow way possible in X-men Gold #30. Batman and Catwoman find that out in a way that’s still part of a larger story in Batman #50. In that sense, there may still be hope for superhero weddings.

RATING 6 / 10
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