Written by Tom King
Art by Lee Weeks and Michael Lark
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser and June Chung
Letters by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Tom King has written DC’s flagship Batman title for more than thirty issues now. While his run has seen multiple peaks and valleys along the way, some of the most compelling moments in his tenure have focused directly on Batman’s romantic relationship with Catwoman. King has found a near-perfect foil for Bruce Wayne in Selina Kyle, slowly building their tenuous relationship up to their current engagement over the last year and a half. The bi-weekly Batman series has shown glimpses into the heart of the two’s mutual attraction, but it’s in this week’s Batman Annual #2 that King, along with artist Lee Weeks and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, finally reveals his ultimate thesis on the two and their 75 year-plus relationship. The results are a beautifully rendered examination packed with some of the most emotional moments in superhero comics this year.
King wisely keeps the scale of his story tight and grounded by going back in time to one of the characters’ first meaningful interactions. By containing the story to, more or less, one setting, he gives himself plenty of room to explore the whole reason readers bought this comic in the first place; namely, the interactions between Batman and Catwoman. King sets a mesmerizing cadence between the two’s dialogue within their first scenes together, which slowly pulls you into their chemistry with the same seduction that the characters experience on the page.
This attraction is made all the more real by Lee Weeks, who nails the body language between the two. Flirtation is a very interpersonal form of communication that involves far more than just speech, and Weeks gets that. His character acting clearly displays the nature of the two figures, showing that we can understand much about their relationship by just looking at how they carry themselves. Catwoman’s limp, elastic movements next to Batman’s solid, statuesque posturing go a long way in bringing King’s dialogue-driven scenes to life. In turn, it creates a wonderful inverse of the usual Batman-chasing-Catwoman action scene. Here, in a far more subtle way, Catwoman is chasing Batman with small bits of intimate action. Since this is a flashback story, the moment asks the question if it’s Catwoman who’s been chasing Batman this whole time—possibly changing the two’s paradigm in fascinating ways.
It’s in this entwinement that we see another new wrinkle in the Bat-and-Cat dance. While Batman usually struggles with the temptation that Catwoman presents, here we see him go in a decidedly different track. This change is heartedly deserved however, as King spends ample time revealing what could bring them together as actually lovers in a committed relationship. These revelations justify what could be seen a contradiction to the core of Batman at face value—namely, making compromises in his war on crime—but instead it reveals new traits about Batman and Catwoman that were never considered before, thus deepening the characters. Again, these moments are sold by the power of Week’s storytelling abilities, along with strength of Breitweiser’s coloring. Breitweiser adds several layers of depth into these pages, while also using color for strong storytelling effect. One instance stands out in particular towards the end of the issue. While much of her palette is rendered in cool blues and greens, representing Batman’s forced emotional sterility, she pivots at an emotionally crucial scene. When Batman and Catwoman unmask and touch each other as Bruce and Selina for the first time, Breitweiser relinquishes the issue’s one and only red background, ingeniously representing how the heat of Selina’s love can melt through Bruce’s icy exterior. It’s this kind of perfect synchronization from every member of a creative team that shows how multilayered comics storytelling can be.
The issue’s final scene, which acts as an epilogue of sorts with artist Michael Lark and colorist June Chung rotating in, might throw a curve ball for some. It creates a perfect coda for King’s take on Batman and Selina’s relationship, but it can’t help but disrupt the story’s flow as questions of continuity, and whether this story “fits” within the main Batman cannon, inevitably rise to the surface. It doesn’t really matter within the context of this singular story, but seeing as how this was published in the main Batman series, it’s difficult to for such questions to not get in the way. Continuity, of course, is really within the eyes of the given reader, and some may have fun trying to tie this into their own definitive story of Batman.
Batman Annual #2 is easily one of the best stories in King’s run so far, and likely a contender for the best Batman story of the year. King’s examination of Batman tends to thrive when the universal stakes are low and the emotions are high, and this issue is perfect example of that. By the time the last page hits, it’s clear that this issue is a love story and emotional exploration more than anything else. King, Weeks, and Breitweiser have presented an easy contender for one of strongest best Batman stories of the year.