In many ways, this arc reads like a direct follow-up to 2017’s “Rooftops,” widely regarded as one of the high points for this series. This issue features many of the same elements – the sexual tension, the clipped, mirrored dialogue, the argument over how the two first met, etc. Once again, King shows he really knows how to write a compelling Batman/Catwoman story. The love and desperate longing is still readily apparent, but so is the unease as the two characters wrestle with their recent past and whether they can allow themselves to grow close once more.
The most compelling material comes late in the issue, as both characters are finally allowed to voice their thoughts over the marriage that wasn’t. We learn whether Bruce blames Selina for abandoning him. We see Selina’s carefree facade crack and reveal how much her sudden exit from Gotham cost her, emotionally. And all the while, the story further builds on that ever-important question – can Bruce Wayne be happy and still be Batman?
The one element “Rooftops” had that Batman #78 lacks is urgency. In that earlier story, there was a sense of tragedy hanging over Batman and Catwoman’s encounter. They only had one night to be together before Batman had to make his choice – bring Selina to justice or let her run free. Either way, their love was seemingly doomed. There isn’t a similar ticking clock element here, even with Selina’s dialogue directly calling back to Batman #15. Batman’s upcoming mission isn’t treated like a critical part of the plot. The focus is almost entirely on that love affair. And while that’s generally enough, there’s no reason this issue couldn’t have done a bit more to further the events of “City of Bane.”
On the other hand, Batman #78 is a strong contender for being the most beautiful chapter of the series, an area with plenty of stiff competition already. It’s difficult to imagine a story more directly catered to the strengths of artist Clay Mann and colorist Tomeu Morey. The tropical setting alone serves as a true showcase for Morey’s coloring abilities. It’s a novel environment for a Batman comic, to be sure. Gone are the towering skyscrapers and pervasive shadows, replaced by bright sun, gently rolling waves, and moonlit nights. It’s not a setting that invites excessive amounts of details on Mann’s part, so it falls on Morey to convey the lush environments and establish that mood of longing and desire.
Mann’s figure work is equally crucial in this issue. He certainly knows how to render beautiful heroes. This issue should easily fill your monthly quota of superhero beefcake and cheesecake. But more than the sleek muscles and chiseled jawlines, Mann’s figures stand out because they emote so clearly and deeply. The pain both characters are experiencing is readily apparent in the way they carry themselves and the subtle changes in facial expression. There are several gorgeous splash images in this issue, but the single most effective page is a simpler one, with panels showing Selina gazing upon her old lover and then looking despondently at the starry sky. These characters may be fictional, but their pain is all too real.
Revisit another classic Batman saga with this early look at the Batman Beyond remastered Blu-ray: