This isn’t much of a spoiler alert, since the news broke on Monday ahead of this week’s Batman #32, but: a couple of months ago, canonical Batman proposed to Catwoman, and the verdict is in: she said yes.
Clearly, this story needs time to bear out, although for the moment, Batman author Tom King seems dead serious about this plot development. He’d toyed with it in earlier issues of his Batman run, in which his thesis position on the characters is that both are in constant emotional pain, and when they put aside their constant chase and take a moment to just be with each other, the pain, mercifully, stops. Earlier in the run, King teased us with the fact that Catwoman is someone who doesn’t settle, but runs, always runs. It’s just not in her nature to be tied down to the Bat.
This was a painful enough moment, and seemed to be the end of the matter: Catwoman runs, Batman chases, the end. But something seemed to change with “The Button,” the four-part Batman/Flash crossover which really seemed to have larger ties to the “Rebirth” conspiracy with Doctor Manhattan and lesser actual implications for the Batman title. In “The Button,” Batman meets the Flashpoint version of his father, Thomas Wayne, who himself became a Batman in that reality. Thomas warns Bruce that being Batman leads to unhappiness and an unfulfilled life, and he begged Bruce to stop being Batman before they split one last time. “The Button” ended with Batman pondering this, ignoring the Bat-signal for once to ponder whether he should keep doing this.
Anyway, Batman rolled along despite Batman continuing his struggles with pain–trying to save Gotham Girl during his war with Bane, reflecting on his questionable choices in the flashback “War of Jokes and Riddles,” and over in Detective Comics, mourning the apparent death of Tim Drake. And so, something snapped in Batman and he finally decided to propose to Catwoman, with this week’s issue climaxing with Selina basically saying “screw it” to the madness of the lives of a Bat and a Cat and saying, effectively, yes, let’s do this. Let’s take this to the next level.
I’d like to think that most of us are going to be happy with this. Batman’s been a mass of open emotional sores for 75 years, so maybe the guy finally needs a break. But, there’s going to be two versions of the same kind of pushback on this: Batman shouldn’t change.
Short-term, there’s going to be a segment of fandom that will want perpetual Bat-bachelorhood, and while they’ll acknowledge that a fling with Catwoman is fun, it closes a lot of doors for Bruce Wayne. Over decades, Batman has had loads of relationships outside of Selina Kyle, including with Julie Madison, Silver St. Cloud, Vicki Vale, Wonder Woman (yeah, they flirted with that), Talia Al Ghul, Barbara Gordon, and probably a bunch of others. None have stuck, and while they’ve all had promise, in the end, Batman is alone. The preference is for a loner of a Dark Knight, a guy perpetually set apart from even the closest people he has to family.
Long-term, DC Comics may eventually want to walk away from this, either because it’s too limiting (Marvel Comics, after all, erased Spider-Man’s entire marriage) or because they’ll want their regularly-scheduled quarter-century reboot. This is going to be harder to resist, because Batman is a mass-media character and they need to keep him young and fresh.
I’m going to make the radical proposal here that DC Comics actually allow this marriage to happen, and to stick, for two reasons.
One, in almost a century of Batman comics, Batman is a rare character where he’s organically changed over the decades and various elements have actually stuck in a somewhat squishy chain of continuity. The original Batman from 1939 was eventually retconned into the Batman of Earth-Two, with the modern, eyes-on Batman being the main character on Earth-One. However, it was generally understood that the Earth-One Batman had a pretty comparable history to his older Earth-Two double. Sure, their histories eventually deviated (including, impressively enough, the Earth-Two Batman marrying Catwoman and having a daughter with her), but at least they had a common factual past and rogue’s galleries. Earth-One Batman’s past easily incorporated the earlier adventures, even if they were later explicitly set in a different continuity.
Through the decades, Batman’s continuity grew, but tended not to retract as much as other superheroes during various reboots. While Superman frequently added and shed various Kryptonian histories and cousins and such, Batman’s past was largely unchanged after Crisis on Infinite Earths or Flashpoint, with maybe the details blurring here and there. Batman has always taken in a ward named Dick Grayson, but Dick has also always gone from being Robin to Nightwing, and that story has never really reversed. Other Robins and heroes were added: there’s always been a Batgirl and various substitute Robins, including Jason Todd and Tim Drake. (Stephanie Brown poofed out of continuity and then poofed back in without her Robin history, sadly.) By far the biggest change is Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s no-kidding son, who has remarkably stuck in continuity after a decade and remains a huge hit of a character.
That being the case, why not allow a marriage to be added to the canon, particularly one with a regular adversary who at least plausibly fits as Batman’s wife? This doesn’t overtly hurt the character, and there’s ample room to tell adventures of a married Batman and Catwoman without violating the integrity of either character.
On a deeper level: well, look, I get why Batman’s fans want him to be a perpetual bachelor crimefighter. Marriage is scary, because it requires you to stop having fun. Sort of. The reality is that a real marriage requires a certain maturity that doesn’t come with being single. To some extent, the married person has to sacrifice a certain amout of themselves in order to really meet with the other person, especially when children come along. Hours playing video games or running out to the bar goes down; hours rise at home doing the dishes or putting emotional time into the other. Marriage is work, dammit.
I’ve seen marriages fall apart where one of the two people in the relationship just didn’t want to metaphorically die unto the other person. The bars and the video games and the random sex with strangers had more allure than being responsible with another person. I suppose that makes sense, but having lived both sides of the aisle, I’ll at least say that video games and bars are fun, but they also get old, and they don’t fulfill so much as thrill, and only for a moment. You might complete a speed run of Metroid or find all the gold bricks in Lego Dimensions or pound a keg to hoots and cheers…but none of those things tuck you in at night, or care for you when you’re sick, or will be with you at your death bed. You might have fun, but you’re still alone.
I imagine that this is what Tom King is tapping into with the Bat-engagement. After 75 years, Batman and Catwoman have reached a point where the perpetual chase is becoming pointless, existing for its own sake. It may be fun, sure, but it also keeps going exactly the same way, over and over. If you run on a treadmill long enough, you eventually realize that you’re going nowhere. King has a marvelous opportunity here to take the characters off the treadmill and push them into the exciting world of, well, not just marriage, but genuine growth as characters.
I don’t doubt that this will wrap up at some point, through a divorce or death or, more than likely, a reboot. Even the original Earth-Two Batman lost Catwoman to a murder, and he himself eventually passed. But they had something, and it was good, and it left a legacy in their daughter, who became her own hero. That’s how marriage and life work anyway: you go somewhere new, and death catches up with you, and you leave a legacy of what you did and who you loved in the years behind you.
So, with that, I say: let’s allow this to happen. DC, let’s follow through on this and explore what a happy Batman and Catwoman might look like, and let’s allow it to be a major new addition to the Bat-canon.