Tom King previews 'ambitious' Batman/Catwoman: 'It's a story without compromise'
After 80 years of hookups and breakups that include one failed wedding, Batman and Catwoman are married in writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann's Batman/Catwoman (on sale Dec. 1). No, the DC comic-book series isn't set on some alternate Earth, nor is it a dream from which the long-single superhero will wake up. This time, Selina Kyle, who has been part of Bruce Wayne's life since 1940's Batman #1, and the lonely Dark Knight are making it official and for keeps. And it's going to stay that way if King has anything to say about it. "[They're] as married as I could make them for an intellectual property," King tells EW. "They're steady in their relationship. There's no 'Will they break up?'"
From King's perspective, you can't write about Batman without writing about Catwoman and vice-versa, and he should know since he recently completed an acclaimed three year run on the main Batman book. But this isn't just another run-of-the-mill Batman comic to him. King wants Batman/Catwoman — which is featured on the Must List in EW's December issue — to be his masterpiece, his The Dark Knight Returns — a definitive statement on the Caped Crusader that will stand the test of time like Frank Miller's disruptive 1986 miniseries.
"It's a story without compromise," says King, who admits he compromised at times on Batman because of the time-pressure that came with double-shipping. "It's not going to be as good as Dark Knight Returns. You can't get to that place. That's like infinity and you try. But when I talked to Frank about that, he [said], 'I wanted to be free and I wanted to tell my story.' This feels like that to me. This is everything I wanted a Batman story to be. In that way, it feels ambitious."
Picking up after the conclusion of King's Batman, the 12-issue Batman/Catwoman (featuring colorist Tomeu Morey) explores the costumed couple's legendary love affair across three time periods: the past, when the crime fighter and cat burglar had to navigate their complicated attraction; the present, where the rooftop-loving newlyweds investigate a murder; and the future, where an elderly Selina embarks on a mission of vengeance after Bruce dies of old age (This is the same future depicted in Batman Annual #2).
"It makes the story feel huge to me," says Mann of the True Detective-like structure. "I'll draw one issue and feel like I drew five." Mann has especially enjoyed the older version of Selina. "When I draw her, especially in the first issue, I think of her kind of like a Grace Kelly. I'm just having fun dressing her. I'm used to drawing muscles and young people. It's nice to know I can stretch a little bit and do other stuff."
For King, setting the story across three time periods was an opportunity to explore a question he's become obsessed with as he's gotten older: Is there a continuity to a human being as they age? Do our younger selves die as we mature, and/or will our present-self die when we reach certain age? Or are all these people the same? Those concerns are even more complicated when you're dealing with Batman and Catwoman because they've been written and interpreted by so many other writers over their fictional lifetimes.
"Is Bruce when he's in his mid-20s and madly in love with a criminal the same man as Bruce in his late 30s and he's married to criminal, or the same as Bruce in his late-70s and dying?" says King. "And the same with Catwoman: Going from breaking the law to being a superhero where she's enforcing the law, to the person who she always loved and watched over dying. So now she's free of [Bruce's] vow, what does she do once he's gone? Does she become her 20-year-old self again? Does she become her 30-year-old self again? And looking at Batman, being able to focus in on these moments but also expand out and tell a story that's not about villain-of-the-week stuff, but is about all of Batman's 85 year history just [makes this] the biggest story possible."
In the present timeline, the couple must also grapple with what it means to be married now, because let's not forget that Bruce vowed to spend his life fighting crime after his parents' oft-dramatized deaths. What does it mean that he's now forever tied to a semi-reformed thief? How does he make sense of this contradiction? For Catwoman, it's even more complicated.
"Catwoman has the opposite problem of, 'The person I love and I'm going to sit out my entire life with utterly disapproves of who I once was? What does that mean? Because I don't hate myself [or] who I was,'" says King. "It's about them rectifying or not rectifying who they are as a couple. Now they have to deal with the inevitability of, 'I'm attached to someone I shouldn't be attached to, but this is my reality now. How do I move forward?'"
Batman/Catwoman is already primed to have a lasting impact because it brings Andrea Beaumont, a.k.a. Phantasm — the frightening vigilante from the iconic 1993 animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm — into DC's main continuity for the first time ever. Bruce's first love, Andrea isn't back to break up the super-couple but does play a key role in the modern murder tale. Her inclusion in the book was the primary request Mann had when he and King started mapping out the series at 3 a.m. in the Connecticut casino where Terrific Con was held in August 2019. (Check out an exclusive new look at her below)
"I've been begging Tom for a while, I think, since I met him for the Phantasm part," says Mann. "I just always loved the character, and it kind of made me angry they weren't together. It stuck with me as a kid. I just thought it was weird she was never in the comics."
In bringing Phantasm to the comics, the duo hopes to recapture "how your heart raced the first time you saw that character both in terms of the romance angle and the fright," says King "We're doing this thing where I write the issue a little short. I leave out some pages and then he reads the script and says, 'I want to expand this segment so I can put more of my art in it.' And it's almost always an Andrea segment. He added this whole horror element to issue #2 and he added this incredible fight between Phantasm and Catwoman in issue #3."
If you're familiar with King's work on Batman or Mister Miracle, then you know he has a soft spot for stories about the power of love. Batman/Catwoman isn't that. In fact, King views it as as part of a new trilogy of angrier tales that includes Rorschach and Stranger Adventures.
"It's about being a good person and a bad person at the same time. It's about the deep anger inside of you and how you deal with that, and how it affects you and those around you. That's in Catwoman, Phantasm, and Batman," says the writer. "This is a very heavy book. It's about death and life and love, but I've never been happier writing."
Batman/Catwoman #1 goes on sale Dec. 1.