Can Batman Be Happy?

This column contains massive spoilers to Batman #50 and the majority of Tom King’s current Batman run. Read at your own risk. This column premiered on Fan Fest News but I liked it so much I shared it here too! 

There was supposed to be a wedding this week. For the better part of a year, we’ve been going through the preparations. No wedding is ever easy. There is a ton of work that goes into making that special day, well, special. This wedding though was a bit more complicated. Not in the sense that the DJ canceled the day of or the bridesmaid dresses didn’t arrive on time, no, that’s typical wedding complications. This is more of the superhero marrying a super villain type complications.

For almost a year now Tom King has been building his Batman run to the impending nuptials between Batman and Catwoman. Having read superhero comics for a long, long time I’m well aware that superhero weddings aren’t the most…sturdy. I’ve seen a number of different characters get married and only a handful of those marriages stick. Characters like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Peter Parker and Mary Jane (until Marvel tore that to shreds), and Superman and Lois Lane are all legit marriages within the pages of comic books that seem to have worked. Others, without trying to sound so crass, are there to sell books. If you read comic books then you know stories work in arcs, a select number of issues to tell a specific story before the next starts. A wedding can be a plot device that sets up a number of different arcs for a writer and a character. Readers can usually see through these types of marriages but it doesn’t stop you from buying the books. Especially when the writing is good.

When you think about it, comic books aren’t really the venue for “death do us part”. Especially when you consider just how fleeting the concept of death is. How many characters have you seen actually stay dead? Death in comics is much like marriage. A plot point. Something to set up a series of arcs for our star characters. I don’t mean this in a negative. I understand the medium and there are times where these storylines work out really, really well. Taking characters in new directions and shaking up the status quo. There are other times where they fall flat because they seem like more spectacle than substance. It happens, but the writer’s heart is usually in the right place.

With the marriage of Batman and Catwoman, there was something a bit different here. When Batman asked Catwoman to marry him back in issue #24 there was a gravity to the question. Anyone who has ever read a Batman comic or seen a Batman movie/show knows the history between Batman and Catwoman. Star-crossed lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of justice. One who can’t keep from straying from the path and another who can’t help but enforce the path. Two polar opposites that work so well because deep down they’re the same person. Tragic family histories. Isolation. That feeling of wanting or deserving happiness but assuming it’s not for them. Batman and Catwoman have been destined to fall in and out of love with each other forever, and Tom King seized that opportunity with a proposal. What if Batman married Catwoman? Instead of chasing her across rooftops for the rest of his life, what if they ran across them together?

Knowing this is a Batman story this marriage seemed doomed to fail, but there was something bigger at play here. Tom King wasn’t just telling a story about two costumed characters falling in love and saying the “I dos”. No, these first fifty issues, of what is a planned hundred issue run, explored a question that we don’t really think about too often.

Can Batman be happy?

Think about it, what is the most polarizing part of Batman? The fact that he is the night. The fact that even though he has an extended Bat-Family, he keeps them all at arm’s length. Is there a more tragic character in all of comics than Batman? A man who has never gotten over the murder of his parents, and uses their death to find purpose as an adult. A man who has adopted and trained young men to follow in his footsteps only to watch some of them die at the hands (or crowbars) of lunatics. A man who is an actual father who tries his best but seems to be a little distanced from the concept. A man who has files on the weaknesses of all his super friends to use in case they fall off the rails. Yeah, Batman has some intense trust and intimacy issues going on. The fact that he would even think about asking someone to marry him is an amazing accomplishment. This same man who feels all these emotions, and acts the way he does, makes an active choice for happiness. Marriage. To Catwoman.

Of all the things we’ve seen Batman do over the course of time, giving his heart to Selina Kyle might be the most vulnerable of them all. When we talk about Batman with our friends we never describe him as a man who is emotionally sound, but with Selinopportunityan opportunity to see something different. What could Batman be if he was happy? And for a while he was. Watching the progression and the evolution of his relationship with Catwoman has been one of my favorite things in comics over this past year. King has written a relationship that is rooted in reality, two broken characters lifting each other up because they get it. They understand each other. The purpose of love and a relationship is finding a person that will be your other half, who will pick you up when you can’t do it yourself. Just look at Catwoman’s acceptance of the proposal. It comes at one of Batman’s weakest moments, as he confesses that in his darkest hour in life he snapped and attempted to kill the Riddler only to be stopped by the Joker. Batman, tried to break his one rule and he tells the one person in the world he can trust this and she sees beyond that choice. She sees the man who wants to do what’s right and decides that she wants to be with him forever. She chooses to pick him up. It’s all very romantic and touching, but is it a reality?

Having read issue #50 we know that the marriage didn’t go through. That Catwoman ultimately decides that Batman can’t be Batman if he’s happy. This is a hero that has built a career off of the trauma that has befallen him, and Catwoman knows that if Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman then who is he? If Batman settles down and falls in love and focuses on starting a family it becomes a bigger question than what happens to Gotham. It’s a matter of what happens to the man. Can a marriage withstand that change? Will he even be the same person she fell in love with? I like to believe that Selina’s decision to walk away isn’t selfish, it’s her biggest act of love. She removes happiness from the table so Bruce can stay happy. Like I said, it’s all very tragic.

The problem is, she takes the choice away from Batman. We were in a situation where we could watch the Dark Knight evolve. Either he could stay Batman and adapt to his new emotional state or he could find that it made him weak and push away the marriage like he’s pushed away just about everything in his life. We know the Joker firmly believes that there is no Batman if he’s happy, and Bruce Wayne himself doesn’t know if he deserves happiness. The problem currently is, we don’t know. We don’t know what Batman would have become because Selina chose for him. A character who sees beyond the cape and cowl looked at the man and decided for him. Leaving us wondering, can Batman be happy?

Here’s hoping that King’s next fifty issues explore that concept a bit further because I want to believe that there is happiness at the end of this story for Wayne. That after all he’s done, after all that he’s been through, that the Batman Annual can be the actual ending he deserves. Because if you think about it, is there anyone in all of comics who deserves happiness more?

 

Images from DC Comics

 

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