Batman has been going for over 75 years, and as we all know Batman is the lone vigilante who spends his evenings atop Gargoyles in Gotham City lamenting about his parents death and how cowardly the criminals in the city are… right? Well that’s what DC Comics wants you to think thanks to the event of Batman Vol 3 Issue 50.
To give this whole story context, we need to back up a bit.
The two biggest stories leading into July’s publishing cycle for comic books has been about the same thing: Marriage and an upcoming Wedding issue. If you remember, we here at The Outerhaven had articles up about MARVEL propping up sales of their slowly dying X-Men Gold series by featuring long time, off and on again relationship couple Kathrine “Kitty” Pryde (aka Shadowcat) and Piotr Rasputin (aka Colossus) finally tying the knot. This came almost as a reaction to the slowly evolving and amazingly written love story between Catwoman & Batman, which has had mainstream attention paid to it from the marriage proposal in Issue 00 through to the preview of the Bridal Gown Catwoman was going to wear and even sending actual wedding invites to Comic Book stores and media outlets… (The Outerhaven was like The Joker, we didn’t get an invite)
But then BOTH companies decided that the wedding was not going to be.
Starting with X-Men Gold Issue 26, leading up to the wedding itself in Issue 30; we saw Kitty pop the question to Piotr and the preparation all the way through to the big event. Sure, there were hints that things were not going to go the way they had been planned in Issue 29, where Kitty was having some second thoughts during her Hen’s Night out with some of the other X-Girls, but she was talked back around thankfully… Only to have a moment with Piotr’s sister Illyana Rasputin (aka Magik) where Illyana mentions that if the two were to be married, it would have happened a lot sooner rather than being the on and off relationship that it had been. This, of course, gets into Kitty’s head to the point where she phases through a cliff to escape Piotr putting the ring on her finger, leaving things between them broken with Kitty using the bullshit “I still love you, but things are too hard with us being X-Men and all” excuse
While this did leave the issue open to do the much more fan-favored sudden wedding between longer than forever couple of Rogue and Gambit, it still leaves a sour taste that Marvel decided to do a bait and switch after building up the wedding between Kitty and Piotr over the last 5+ months, complete with Youtube videos and all advertisements showing the two actually looking happily married.
Now I’m not too unhappy about what happened in the issue thanks to a combination of me not really giving a shit about the X-Men books for a long time (Sticking around through 4 years straight of X-Men centrist event comics really wore me out in reading them) and the fact that the book was saved by having the surprise wedding of Rogue and Gambit, two long time favorites of myself and many comic book readers. It still shows that Marvel isn’t really over the whole “marriage is evil” thing that started when Joe Quesada retconned over 20 years of Spider-Man history and stories to remove the “dead end marriage” of Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson.
For those who have forgotten, or aren’t old enough to know. Once Upon A Time, back in 1987, Marvel took one of their biggest draws in Spider-Man and allowed him to marry the second love of his life, Mary Jane Watson, and begin a whole new series of stories which involved Peter Parker going from teenager in High School/Collage and move him into being a full proper adult. As a result, the two lived together, had to find a way to balance their own lives with Peter’s ability to be Spider-Man and even get to the point where they would have had children (Though Mary Jane lost the first child, then traded the second unknowingly in the deal with Mephesto. Though this did create a splinter “Earth-2” version where the two had the first child, a girl called Mayday, who would grow up to become Spider-Girl in her own run of comic books). It wasn’t a perfect life, far from it. The two would argue, Mary Jane got worried about losing Peter in a super-villain fight that she took up smoking, Peter would forget things more than he ever did in his earlier relationship with Mary Jane, and the two eventually moved in to The Avengers Tower (with Aunt May joining them), which led into Civil War where Peter’s reveal of himself being Spider-Man caused more problems for the two. All of this, of course, leads up to the events of “One More Day” by Joe Quesada and J. Michael Straczynski (Straczynski has since come out publicly and stated he wanted his name removed from the storyline as he hated the idea from the get go).
One More Day was a 4 part event where Peter tries to find some way to save Aunt May, who was shot thanks to an assassin hired by The Kingpin who now knows the identity of Spider-Man (Thanks Civil War). While there are some good moments during the Civil War/Back in Black/One More Day trilogy, you could see things coming from a mile away. Peter would never let Aunt May die, and the writers would never kill her off because that would mean doing something that evolves Peter’s character more than the marriage ever did. But story wise, Peter goes to Doctor Strange, who refuses to help, this leads Peter to asking everyone from friends and teammates, to even some of his greatest enemies for help to save Aunt May. As the clock ticks down on Aunt May’s time on Earth, one being appears and offers both Peter and Mary Jane a deal. That being is the “devil” of the Marvel Universe: Mephesto; and his deal is simple: He will return Aunt May to life, and even removing the real identity of Spider-Man from the minds of everyone on Earth, in exchange for one thing… The marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As Mephesto puts it:
And so the deal is struck, Mary Jane sees the daughter the two could have had; suddenly Aunt May is fine and people have returned from the dead and no one remembers who Spider-Man is.
This was something that drove people insane at the time as it pretends that 20 years of Spider-Man history, somewhere around 200 issues, never happened just so that one man could write the Spider-Man stories he wanted to write. From here on out, Spider-Man has been getting small moments of evolution, but nothing that takes him too far out of the jobless loser with no home and girlfriend but somehow makes things work. The closest Spider-Man fans got to some real evolution with the Peter Parker character came from the series “Superior Spider-Man”, which featured Doctor Octopus rewriting Peter’s mind with his own and becoming Peter Parker. In that series we saw Peter get a Doctorate, almost marry again and open his own very successful technology company… Only to have it all fall apart and send Peter back to the homeless, loveless and working for the Daily Bugle.
Comic companies seem to have this fear of characters evolving into proper adults with proper adult style problems. I personally have no idea where it comes from, but it might have something to do with writers either being single, married and unhappy, or just a fear of making a character something other than what they were when the character peaked during the 90s or something. There is nothing wrong with making a character move into the next phase of life, the readers grow up with the character and would like to see that character grow with them. However we have companies who would rather do something controversial like placing a person of color into the lead role, or a woman taking the position of a man, or making a character suddenly gay for no reason at all. Say it with me people: “Replacement is not progressive”.
Now that I’ve ragged on Marvel for quite a while, let’s move on over to the other side of the big two: DC Comics.
Writer Tom King, who has worked as an assistant to X-Men writer Chris Claremont before leaving to work with the CIA after the events of September 11, 2001; before returning to comics with an amazing run on Nightwing where he turned the former Boy Wonder into Agent 47 for the secret agency Spiral; creating possibly one of the best changes to the Nightwing character since Dick Grayson split off from Batman. King followed this up with an award winning run for Marvel with Vision, a story about the Avengers android and his created family. Again, one of the best written stories based around Vision, which is a hard thing to do. Signing exclusively with DC Comics for a 100 issue run on the relaunched Batman Volume 3 in 2016, King has created some of the best written stories based around Batman in modern history, especially allowing Batman to be open about his feelings with Catwoman.
Batman and Catwoman have been one of the ultimate “will they or won’t they” couples in comic book history, so much so that just about every version of the Batman mythos from the 90s movies, the Adam West era TV show, to every cartoon version ever done and even the more recent Gotham series; has had some version of a relationship kindle between the two in some form. For decades Batman fans have wanted the two to get together, drop the secrets and just be happy… But there in lays the problem… Batman can never be happy. Somewhere in the DC Comics offices there is a book with has all the rules for their biggest characters, and page one reads: “Batman cannot be happy… EVER!”
However, King decided to begin telling the tale that no one else had the balls to do in a mainline Batman book: The tale of the Bat and the Cat.
We’ve seen versions of this story before, even some where it has been Batman (or Bruce Wayne) marrying Catwoman (or Selina Kyle). But none of that has happened in the main books, it was always something like Earth-X or some alternate version of Earth where the two got together successfully.
Yet here we are, Tom King gave us not only a relationship between Batman and Catwoman, but in Issue 00, Batman asked Catwoman for her hand in marriage, and she said yes.
From here we got some of the more interesting stories, and the central point tying it all together was the relationship. Catwoman was willing to reform, only taking a moment to steal the wedding dress she wanted for the big day. But before they say “I do”, we had Batman and Wonder Woman get sent into a world where they would be fighting an endless horde of demons and monsters for decades while in the main world, Catwoman was talking to X while he took a moment out from his endless fight for a 24 hour rest period and to see his family. This led into temptation between Batman and Wonder Woman, which was quickly laughed off by the two and Wonder Woman actually taking a moment to congratulate Batman on finding the one for him. More adventures followed, going from Catwoman taking on Batman’s former love, Talia Al Ghul, where Catwoman won Talia’s approval in one of the most well written moments in the story; to a crazed Joker not being invited to the wedding and taking it upon himself to set things up for Batman to see that The Joker belonged at his side just as much as Catwoman did, leading to a confrontation between Joker and Catwoman that needs to be read to understand how great King’s writing is… Then came the wedding itself.
July 4th, as we all know, is Independence Day, one of the biggest celebrations for Americans. As with a lot of holidays, businesses usually do not trade on this day since most of the population is out getting drunk and blowing up bits of the country or their hands with fireworks. But this year, 2018, was different. Due to the hype surrounding Batman Issue 50, a lot of comic book retailers planned to either have midnight openings or just be open on July 4th to sell this momentous book. Finally, after god only knows how many decades, Batman was going to be happily married to Catwoman in the landmark Batman event like no other… Then the story was leaked early.
In a move that will forever tarnish the relationship with DC Comic fans and the company itself, through the X website, people were told that at the last minute Catwoman leaves Batman stranded at the wedding. The whole idea behind why Catwoman would leave at the last minute was simple: She knew that in order for Batman to exist and to keep the criminals under control, he needs his grief over his parents death. Batman forever needs to be that wounded child pining for his parents; and she leaves him a letter stating as much. What Catwoman didn’t know was that for the first time in his life, Batman was going to allow himself to grow up, to move on from being that wounded child who lost his parents, and most of all he was willing to be truly happy for the first time in his life since losing his parents.
King’s writing here is some of the best that he has produced ever. There is nothing but emotion in every page thanks to the art from so many artists in Batman’s history combined with his words. There are moments that will bring readers to tears, especially the moment between Bruce and Alfred that I posted above. However, it is all tarnished, betrayed because of that all important rule: Batman cannot be happy… EVER!
Now there is plenty of reason to go after King for this one, after all he is the writer of the story up to this point and he knew what he was doing. Not to mention, as I’ll outline a bit later, he outright comes out and proves everything I’ve said in this piece so far. But I want to take a moment to talk about DC Comics and how they fucked this one up royally.
DC Comics knows what is going on in their house at all times. They would have seen the treatment from King and given the approval for him to go ahead with the story. This happens anywhere from 6 months to a year ahead of time so if things need to be changed down the track or the writer has a better idea, then it can be worked into the books long before they are drawn, inked and sent out to print. DC Comics knew that the wedding was going to end with the couple splitting and going their separate ways, or else why announce a solo Catwoman book only a week after the big event? So with that in mind, DC Comics hit the hype machine up with everything from placing stories in major news outlets about the dress Catwoman was going to wear to handing out promotional “Wedding Invites” to fans at conventions as well as Local Comic Stores. DC Comics even went as far as telling Local Comic Stores to put on big elaborate special events for the release of the comic on an American holiday, which they did.
Local Comic Stores all over the country, all over the world, went out of their way to put on special celebrations for the wedding issue. Hiring Batman and Catwoman cosplayers, putting on reception style spreads of food and drinks for customers, spending a lot of their own money to promote and celebrate something that did not happen at the end of the day. While the release of the issue wasn’t tarnished by the media leaks only days before, a lot of Local Comic Stores were upset with DC Comics advertising practices since this was possibly money lost through promotion and events. Luckily DC Comics allowed some Local Comic Stores to send the bill to DC Comics if they weren’t satisfied with sales of the book.
After the release of Batman issue 50, Tom King and DC Comics went into defense mode. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tom King spoke directly about how he saw his writing for the story leading up to and beyond the wedding issue.
“My job as a Batman writer is to show you something you’ve never seen before. A Batman who has been left at the altar, who was that close to happiness, and then to have it yanked away from him, that’s something you haven’t seen before. The next bunch of issues are exploring that pain and exploring him trying to get back from that pain. That’s the emotional part of it. You’re gonna see the original Robin comes back, sort of like your best friend living on your couch when your girlfriend leaves you.”
Unfortunately for King, fans once again show that they actually remember the past and can tell you exactly where King is wrong in his “My job as a Batman writer is to show you something you’ve never seen before.” quote. There have been plenty of times where fans have read a story about Batman/Bruce Wayne getting close to not only being happy, but getting married, and having it stripped away at the last minute to revert Batman to the grim/dark character that seems to the base Batman all writers want to go with.
But I don’t want to end things on a sour note. Though Batman issue 50 ended with a reset to basic Batman (The same thing is happening in Detective Comics, with the extended “Bat Family” being pushed away because they make Batman “weak” and he has to go solo again), it seems that Marvel is looking to extend an olive branch of sorts to long term fans of Spider-Man. Recently in Amazing Spider-Man Issue 1 (of Volume/Series 5, the third reboot in as many years) the issue takes a moment from taking everything away from Peter Parker (again) to give us a tease of a possible reunion between Peter Parker and Mary Jane (See image above). But as everything we’ve seen so far has taught us, you can’t trust comic companies or the writers when it comes to making a character happy, even for a moment.