Tom King’s Batman/Catwoman has been an interesting ride to jump on. As a direct continuation of his Batman run, King has embraced the fact that Batman/Catwoman is part of DC Comics’ Black Label. Thanks to that he has been able to develop a standalone story without worrying about how other Batman comic books work within the world he is crafting. This is straight up just taking every Batman-related content that King has written and giving us one big payoff as the story in this series is set in multiple timelines. That set-up has led to some interesting, to say the least, choices being made as Andrea Beaumont as Phantasm has made her debut in the Batman comic book world. How will things turn out next as Batman, Catwoman, Phantasm, Joker, and others are being set up to clash? Let’s find out with Batman/Catwoman #4.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: As Gotham City citizens skate at an ice-skating rink during Christmas we see a countdown in the middle of the ice with a time of 00:22:15. Phantasm then appears towering over the city as she welcomes them all to Gotham World Fair.
Phantasm then walks into another room filled with screens that show Andrea Beaumont’s son and Joker’s faces on them. Phantasm then proclaims that the future begins now.
Decades into the future Batwoman (Helena Wayne, daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle) disarms Penguin’s guards as soon as she enters the Iceberg Lounge. Penguin tells his gang to take Batwoman down. Batwoman quickly takes them all out. Batwoman then demands Penguin to tell her what he knows about her mother and Joker.
Back in the past, years before they got married, Bruce Wayne gets ready for a gala party Selina Kyle reveals that Joker has placed a bomb under Gotham Ice Rink with a twenty-minute timer. Bruce starts taking off his tuxedo and tells Selina to have Alfred Pennyworth create an excuse for why he won’t be at the gala.
In the present, Selina wakes up to the voice of Andrew Beaumont (Andrea Beaumont’s deceased son) talking about robots and rocket cars in a home video. Selina walks downstairs and is welcomed in by Andrea as Phantasm. Phantasm says she is holding Selina hostage as she plans to trade Selina’s life for the Joker’s.
Flashing forward into the future Batwoman interrogates Clayface, Mr. Zsasz, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and The Ventriloquist to give her details of the old days that include meetings between all of Gotham City’s villains and Joker and Catwoman’s relationship.
Batwoman eventually meets up with Nora Fries (who is watching over Mr. Freeze’s body that has been placed in a similar cryo chamber she was in a long time ago) who is open to talking all about what she knows of Joker and Catwoman from what Victor Fries told her.
Decades earlier Batman clears the Gotham Ice Rink and is able to find the bomb as the countdown gets to “HA:HA:04” on the timer.
In the present Phantasm says she knows Bruce will try to find a third way out so he can get Selina back safely. Selina says that they know the Joker is a suspect for who killed Andrew and both she and Bruce are working hard to uncover the truth. Phantasm reminds Selina how Joker always escapes after being captured because all Bruce ever does is forgive.
Back in the present Selina meets up with Penguin to ask what he told Batwoman. Penguin laughs and tells Selina to back to her mansion with her cat so she can drink some milk. Selina says that while her cat is hungry she does not want milk.
Selina then puts her cat on the ground. The cat then pounces on and kills Oswald Cobblepot’s penguin.
Decades in the past Batman confronts Catwoman over the bomb he found. Batman demands to know where the Joker is. Catwoman curses out Batman for not being clear about what he really wants. She then tells Batman if he wants Joker that bad to capture and threaten her like he does other criminals.
Catwoman then jumps off the roof, leading Batman to sadly reflect on their meeting alone. End of issue.
The Good: Tom King and Clay Mann slow things down as they give time for the stories around the different timelines breathe. In certain aspects that allows Batman/Catwoman #4 to plant more seeds that will grow narrative for this series progress. But largely this issue almost feels forgettable because of how the story is constructed.
On the positive side we do get more into how Helena Wayne does take more after her father, Bruce Wayne, as she very much falls into the detective side of things. The intimidation and detective tactics she uses as Batwoman when interrogating classic Batman villains was a great way to connect Helena and Bruce together. King really gets across how at this point Helena is very experienced as Batwoman as she is making sure to not let any stone left unturned.
The entire investigation also builds out the sub-plot of how much Bruce and Selina actually shared with Helena about their respective past. We once again see that Helena has caught on to how secretive her mother is around her past as Catwoman in particular. This helps further develop the cat and mouse game that Helena and Selina are on with one another as the investigation into Joker’s death continues in the future.
And while this series is titled Batman/Catwoman the deeper we get into the story King and Mann are crafting it is clear that this is a Selina Kyle story. Every timeline we visit is driven by the actions Selina takes as Catwoman. Whether it’s her partnership with Joker in the distant past, her growing connection with Andrea Beaumont in the present, and her relationship with her daughter, Helena, this is a Catwoman story. We constantly get the narrative of how Selina is constantly tapping into her more conniving side as a thief. Even when she tries to be on Bruce, Andrea, and Helena’s side the picture is painted that she has her own personal stake in what is going on.
The defensive nature Selina takes as Catwoman against Batman to conclude this issue particularly stood out. Catwoman was very much on the defensive with the way she spoke to Batman. What made this scene work was the final page with Batman just standing on the roof alone after Catwoman left. Batman not moving spoke volumes to how this latest conflict that Joker is causing is impacting all the characters on a personal level.
Clay Mann’s artwork is solid throughout Batman/Catwoman #4. He does a particularly great job when it comes to executing the splash pages. The timing of these pages work well to added a sense of dramatic flair to put over each scene. The way Mann portrayed Helena’s quick efficiency worked well to put over how she has likely been trained by not just her parents but other members in the Batman Family.
The Bad: While there are definitely elements in Batman/Catwoman #4 that work but largely this is a issue that when you finish it you almost forget what happens. The entire issue just hit a tone that it is buying time for the next big moment to take place. The slow, methodical pacing works sometimes but not when King is working between three different timelines. When you have so much switching between different timelines having this type of pacing does not work.
What particular hurt this method was the fact that its still not clear when certain events are happening. King just moves us between timelines from page to page with the only clear indication is Helena as Batwoman and Selina’s hair color. Outside of that there are times where scenes could be honestly happening in any timeline we are seeing. This all points to how King and his editor just decided to not make the timeline jumps reader friendly by indicating how with somethings as simple as years each jump is in. Just simply saying the Catwoman and Batman scenes are “10 years earlier” or Batwoman’s future is “30 years in the future” would go a long way in helping the pacing issues.
This problem also falls on Mann’s character design choices. Outside of Selina’s hair color and when we see Batwoman all there is not much to the character designs. Penguin, Nora Fries, Ventriloquist all look like they do in the “present day” in Batwoman’s future. Even with Selina’s future design if it wasn’t for her hair color you wouldn’t be able to tell her confrontation with Penguin is in the Batwoman future. The same goes for the past scene as Mann keeps Bruce and Selina’s character designs the same as the present-day story with Phantasm.
Also because of all the timeline jumps the only thing that King really accomplishes on the Batman and Catwoman side of the story is just point to how bad their relationship is. You question more how they even make their relationship work because of how much distance they keep from one another. With how much time King has dedicated to developing Bruce and Selina’s relationship over the course of his Batman run it feels like we are back to square one with the pair. Being a fan of most of King’s Batman run it is definitely disappointing that we are spinning our wheels with how Bruce and Selina’s relationship is portrayed.
While the Phantasm using Selina as a bargaining chip to make Bruce finally choose to put a permanent end to Joker is interesting it doesn’t have the impact King intends it to. That all falls on the fact that we already know how this story ends as King had the Batwoman future spoil the fact that Joker kills or does something else horrible to Andrea Beaumont. You just never feel fully invested in Andrea’s story because of the way King has decided to tell this story.
It would be different if King went with a more linear approach. Allowing us to actually spend an extended period of time developing Andrea’s arc as Phantasm would go a long way. But because we are constantly changing which timeline we are experiencing from page to page the intended impact the Phantasm story is supposed to have just does not hit.
Overall: Batman/Catwoman #4 doesn’t deliver the big moments that this series has been known for. Instead, Tom King and Clay Mann take a more methodical approach to progressing all the different character arcs. Unfortunately the pacing ends up highlighting how difficult it is to get invested in what is going on because of how often we jump between all the different timelines. Hopefully these pacing issues are figured out immediately so we can get into what made King’s Batman run so engaging.
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