DC Comics’ Batman/Catwoman has always been full of nostalgia. You hear it in the way that the Joker and Catwoman talk with one another. You hear it in the Penguin’s lamentations. But more than anything, you can see it in Tom King’s writing. Writer Tom King, artist Liam Sharp, and letterer Clayton Cowles make something quite clear in Batman/Catwoman #9. Whenever the Golden Age was for these characters? The Joker is making damn sure that it’s not now.
There’s a twisted kind of fun that these characters all seem to have. King shows this especially in a conversation between Catwoman and the Penguin. They talk about when they used to commit their crimes in the daylight. But by this point, Selina and Oswald are old and bitter. They live in a world that has broken them. So King brings us back to the Golden Age, when Batman and Catwoman are fighting the Joker together. But these scenes are also dark and disturbing. The Joker’s playfulness only makes the scene feel even more ominous. And even further back, we see the Joker and Selina chatting like old friends. But again, things take a sudden turn for the macabre. King is showing us that these characters are fooling themselves. They’re always dreaming of a bygone era. But when it comes down to it, they’ve been dysfunctional all along.
Art & Coloring
Sharp’s styles change drastically throughout this issue. It’s a mesmerizing dance of different approaches. He bounces back and forth between making the Joker look cartoonish or demonic. It perfectly captures the dual nature of the Clown Prince of Crime. But Sharp’s choices go further than that. Each timeline has its own style. The future scenes, with old lady Selina and Oswald, are shown in gritty realism. The dark blue lighting makes everything feel somber and sober. But Catwoman and the Joker’s conversations in the distant past feel quite the opposite. They’re cast in a red and green tone of cartoony brilliance. The linework is simpler, often with very little shading in their faces. It makes it feel like a brighter time.
And then there’s the Joker holding a hostage in our middle timeline. Sharp pushes into both extremes here. Batman looks gritty and realistic, but the Joker has a smile that curls impossibly out from his face, like a wisp of red smoke in the air. The purple lighting sometimes feels playful, other times it feels cold and threatening. And as the issue progresses, the lines between these timelines start to blur artistically, as though they’re mimicking each other. The simplified art style of the Joker and Catwoman’s conversations in the past suddenly look grotesque and monstrous, like the scene of where Joker holds someone hostage. And the hostage scene looks animated and playful, before returning to its gruesome tone. It’s a gorgeous war of styles that culminates in an issue that manages to be both versatile and focused.
There are some scenes in Batman/Catwoman #9 that end in the middle of a page, before another scene begins in the page’s next half. There isn’t a ton in the page layout to show this, though Sharp’s colors are a great visual cue. But it’s actually Cowles’ letters that make these transitions work. On one page, he disrupts the flow of his word balloons leading them off the page, effectively ending the scene. Then the next panel’s letters are much higher and it feels like we begin reading the page all over again. Through this, Cowles gives us time to reset and notice the panel differences before tackling the next scene.
DC Comics’ Batman/Catwoman #9 is a beautiful, layered lament. These characters want the simple days of the Golden Age. They want to chase each other over rooftops and laugh when they’ve been caught. But this creative team is underlining that these characters have poor memories. The times they long for were just as complicated and heartbreaking. Which is really the most heartbreaking thing of all. Pick up Batman/Catwoman #9, out from DC Comics December 21st, at a comic shop near you!