Selina Kyle gave Bruce her answer after he confessed his deepest darkest secret to her: during the War of Jokes and Riddles, a bloody turf battle between the Joker and the Riddler that was recounted in the past eight issues, Batman almost broke his cardinal no killing rule by trying to stab the Riddler with a knife. Ironically, the Joker intervened and stopped him from crossing that line because he thought it was funny. In spite of this shocking revelation, Selina still agrees to marry him because their love is more important than all of their sadness and tragedies, earned or not.
Now, Bruce needs to break the news to his family and friends. The upcoming arc “The Rules of Engagement,” which begins in Batman #33 (on stands Oct. 18), follows the Dark Knight as he tells everyone from Dick Grayson (the original Robin) and Superman to Talia al Ghul, his former flame and the mother of his son Damian. (Awkward!)
“As crazy as it is to the audience, it’s even crazier to the people in the fictional world,” King tells EW. “That’s going to cause both tension and happiness throughout DC comic books.”
EW caught up with King to discuss the reasoning behind pairing Batman and Catwoman up, how “War of Jokes and Riddles” complicates Batman and Joker’s relationship, and most importantly, everyone’s favorite tragic C-level villain Kite Man.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to actually go through with having Batman and Catwoman get engaged?
TOM KING: When you approach a character like Batman, the only thing you can bring to it that’s new – because Batman’s been written by everybody, has done every medium, for 78 years — is you. In trying to do something different, something that surprises people, you look to what you care about in your life and your great passion. I’m passionately in love with my wife; it’s been that way for 17 years, and that’s a source of great happiness to me and it’s a source of the biggest dramas in my life, the biggest risks I’ve taken in life, like leaving her to go to Iraq or something like that. So, I wanted to bring that emotion and passion and put it into comic books. So, it just comes from me stealing from my own life, which is probably a good place to steal from.
In the writing process, was there ever a version of the story in which Catwoman said no, or was this story always heading toward “yes”?
This has been the direction since issue #1. I’ve got a 100 issues plan. If you look back in issue #1, Catwoman is not in the issue, but we do alternative covers, and you’ll see that a lot of the alternative covers feature Catwoman because when they first asked “What is your run going to be about?” way before I wrote it, I said, “It’s going to be about Catwoman and Batman.”
In comics, there’s this general idea that superheroes shouldn’t be happy. We’ve seen this in Spider-Man, Bat-family, and other places. How did you pitch this story to DC Comics? Was there any pushback?
No, because what you’re talking about is looking at happiness as the end of conflict, right? This idea that if a character is content, then there’s nothing dramatic about them and you don’t want a cliffhanger and you don’t want to turn the page. That’s my whole point as an artist — I’m trying to get you to turn a page. But what makes Batman unique is that happiness is, instead of being the end of conflict, the source of conflict. It’s something you haven’t seen before. You throw sadness, you throw depression, you throw horror at Batman, he’s like, “yeah, yawn, I’ve done that.” You throw happiness at him? That’s something that riles him, that’s something that he’s not used to. That’s throwing gas on a fire, and that’s always how I pitched it. This is not the end of something. This is the beginning of something.
Looking ahead, how will this engagement affect Batman and his story moving forward?
Oh, it’s 100 percent at the center of the story. It’s a new status quo for Batman that you haven’t seen before. After 78 years of the character, here he’s going to into every situation brand new, but he’s not changed in his Batman ways. He’s still Batman. He’s still Bruce Wayne. He still has the pain. You’re not losing the core of the character, but there’s something new here. He’s going to talk to Superman in a different way now. He’s going to talk to Green Lantern in a different way. He’s going to approach danger in a different way. He’s got a partner that’s his equal in every sort of way but is not the same as him morally. There are plenty of places to point the camera, so we’re going to point it as many places as we can.
Will we actually get to see him telling the rest of the Trinity about this engagement?
I’ve never told anyone this before, but we pulled a little trick. In comic books, they do something called the solicitations, which means we have to release the title of our next arc months before they come out, and we lied. We told everyone the next arc is “A Dream of Me.” The next arc is actually called “The Rules of Engagement,” and it’s about Batman going back to his family, going back to Dick Grayson, the original Robin, Damian, his biological son, Superman, [and] Green Lantern. It’s him going back into his comfort zone and them reacting to this, because the honest reaction is, people are going to look at Batman proposing to Catwoman as something insane. They’re not going to understand it. As crazy as it is to the audience, it’s even crazier to the people in the fictional world. So, that’s going to cause both tension and happiness throughout DC comic books, and that’s what we’re going to record in our next books.
So, does that mean we’ll still get Batman on a horse?
Yeah, it’s going to be Batman on a horse. His first mission is: If you’ve been following the Batman mythos, Catwoman’s wanted for 237 murders, and she’s covering for her best friend Holly Robinson, who actually did the murders. Holly Robinson is now on the run, so now we’re going to try and find her and try to sort the whole thing out. They run into Talia al Ghul. So the next issue is Batman going on a quest and running into the mother of his child, who is not his fiancé.
I’m guessing that’s going to be rather awkward…
Yes, it’s quite awkward, but it’s drawn by Joëlle Jones, who is one of the best artists in comics, and it’s violent and bloody and cool. I love it.
The other big development in this issue is that Joker stopped Batman from killing the Riddler. What made that an interesting addition to the character’s backstory?
I think it would’ve been an easier story to write where Batman tries to kill someone — that’s weird — but the fact that Batman tried to kill someone and the Joker saved him, I think that’s what I like about it. This is a story that happened to him when he was young, when he didn’t understand the job as much, so he was in a different emotional place than he is now. To me, to have that concession in your heart to have hidden that for all these years, “I pretend I’m better than these people, but I’m not. At the end of the day, I did something as bad as they did, and the only reason I didn’t succeed is because the worst human that has ever occupied this Earth, the worst person anyone has ever imagined in fiction, stopped me. I owe my goodness to his evil. He stopped me to make himself laugh.” That sets up a Batman I want to read. That sets up a Batman whose pain comes from guilt, not just from inaction. I think a lot of us, when we think about the worst parts of our life, we think about ourselves being involved in them. It’s not just the pain that was done to us but [also] the pain we caused ourselves. In looking at Batman and making him more human and raising the stakes of the series, I wanted to bring out that guilt.
This also complicates Batman and Joker’s relationship.
That’s exactly it. [Growing up], I loved comics but I sort of grew up as a Marvel fan. I came to Batman after the 1989 movie. So, I was introduced to Batman and Joker at the same time. I think the first Batman story I ever read was “The Killing Joke,” and I was way too young, but that’s what happened. So I’ve always seen them as two parts of the Batman story. You can’t tell a Batman story without the Joker, and you can’t tell a Joker story without Batman. They’re just the symbols of the best and worst of humanity. Like I said, Batman turns pain into hope and Joker turns hope into pain. They’re the alpha and omega of comics.
Kite Man has been one of my favorite parts of your run. What made Kite Man the perfect C-list Batman villain to rehabilitate?
Honestly, I grew up a huge Peanuts fan. When it came to Kite Man, I sort of used him just for a background joke at first, but then I realized his name was Chuck Brown. So, I started to see him as this Charlie Brown-esque character — nothing right ever happens to him, his whole life is the football getting yanked away. There’s something appealing to me in that tragedy. I wrote it directly into the script, but there’s something Sisyphean about it. He’s a supervillain who is always pushing up the rock and having it fall down again, which is both funny and tragic at the same time. So, I wanted to play with that. I think you see that play out in issue #32, because when that first Kite Man came out, people were like, “What does this Kite Man have to do with anything?” and you see that moment where Batman’s sitting there and he’s watching Kite Man’s son die and that’s the trigger, that’s what pulls him over the edge in the very end. This whole thing comes right back to Kite Man, and that’s the idea behind jokes and riddles — they’re funny because they’re sad and they’re sad because they’re funny. It all just sort of thematically fits.
Do you have plans for Kite Man moving forward?
Oh yeah, Kite Man’s in play. Kite Man’s at the beginning and he’ll be at the end. These 100 issues are a story about Batman and Catwoman and a story about Kite Man, too.
Batman #32 is available to purchase now.