SYNOPSIS: Batman and Catwoman may have just gotten back together, but Joker is ready to complicate things by asking Selina for a favor that could lead to Batman’s demise! That’s not the only trick he has up his sleeve…he’s also hiding a secret that will drive Phantasm mad. Plus, Batwoman hunts down her own mother!
After a two-month hiatus, Batman/Catwoman has returned, bringing Liam Sharp back on art once again. His style continues to be unconventional, channeling his inner Bill Sienkiewicz instead of blending in aesthetically with the tone established by Clay Mann. His Joker is pure insanity and wickedness, so corrupt that his smile twists and bends reality around him. Sharp makes the interesting choice of having Joker’s tongue curl out like a snake, reinforcing the artistic metaphor that the Clown Prince is some kind of devil from hell.
The surrealism continues in a scene where The Joker details his dream of murdering The Batman. Taking a visual cue from the marketing for The Dark Knight, the vulnerable Bruce Wayne’s face is scratched from the art, keeping his identity hidden. King’s dialogue is terrifyingly descriptive as The Joker describes the act. The art, in general, is very painterly in this installment, making this feel more in place with something like Arkham Asylum than Batman/Catwoman.
Batman himself has taken a back seat in quite a bit of this narrative, so I was happy to see some insight into his character. In a scene set in the past, Alfred holds the punching bag as Bruce trains. Sharp’s backgrounds become Leroy Neimanesque as Bruce tries to come to grips with his feelings for Selina. As Alfred imparts his wisdom, we get the rationalization other characters have been seeking in the future as to how Bruce and Selina could have been together. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable scene, highlighting just how much Alfred Pennyworth is missed in present-day continuity.
The “hideous Penguin-man” (shoutout to Peter Verra) gets to open the window box in this issue, a small consolation for what happens to him. Sharp plays up his features, heightening the severeness of his nose. Once again, there is a parallel between King’s and Morrison’s run. As Penguin and Selina reminisce about the good old days, King highlights past continuity, bringing up the big props and daylight crimes of a bygone era. It’s not quite “We met on a boat/we met in the street”, but I appreciate the acknowledgment of past adventures. It adds to the epic feel of the narrative as the characters span decades.
As the issue reaches its conclusion, Sharp fractures the panels, with each one showing a climactic face-off for each time period. Not only is it brilliant to look at, but it quietly says something about Selina’s descent into villainy in the future. In the past and present, she is the hero. However, her murder of The Joker puts her on the other side. As we’ve seen Selina wrestle with morality in the past and present, there’s no debate when it comes to the future. With Bruce gone she is untethered, leading to what looks like a painful conflict next issue.
I really enjoyed this issue, but also had reservations. The Joker’s plan in the present relies on a plot twist in this story’s inciting incident and Sharp’s art is surreal, making one doubt what is actually transpiring. I find Sharp’s work to be downright stunning and it evokes an emotional reaction out of me. As much as I love it, it just doesn’t fit the established tone of this story. With three issues (and a holiday special) left to go, I’m wondering if King can satisfactorily tie this up in the time remaining. – Javier E. Trujillo