Ah Knight Terrors, I remember it well... DC's last big event ended, er, today, and already here we are with another world-shaking crossover.
Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War is set to cause a rift between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle that will have drastic consequences for the city. Taking place across both the core Batman and Catwoman books, as well as a two-issue Red Hood spinoff and various one-shots, it explores an epic tiff between Gotham City's foremost ex-lovers. So which side will you choose: the Bat or the Cat?
Interestingly the opening Battle Lines one-shot, which is released today (confusingly before Prelude to Gotham War comes out next week), seems fairly conclusively on Selina's side. Spoilers for Battle Lines from here on in.
The issue opens with Roland Garner, a no-hope career criminal who has worked with everyone from the Riddler to Professor Pyg, receiving a mysterious note from Catwoman that reads, "If you risk your life... you deserve the rewards." He meets her and is offered something too good to refuse.
Batman, meanwhile, has been resting up. Exhausted from recent events - notably his possession by Deadman in Knight Terrors - he's slumped into unconsciousness, waking eight weeks later to find a very different Gotham. Crime is down by almost 75% and the usual rogue's gallery of villains have been notably silent. What's happened?
The answer is simple: Catwoman. She's recruiting an army of people like Roland and training them to be elite cat burglars, all with one target: Gotham's super rich. It's all part of a Robin Hood-like attempt to forcibly redistribute the city's wealth. At the same time, she's made it clear that violent crime will not be tolerated.
The other positive side-effect of this scheme is that there are simply not enough thugs for the city's real menaces - psychopaths like the Joker - to hire, meaning that violent crime has plummeted.
From where I'm standing that seems like a pretty compelling (if certainly doomed to fail) vision. It is effectively "eat the rich" in action and, honestly, Catwoman's argument that it's a more positive course of action than simply punching and imprisoning impoverished and desperate people is hard to argue with.
Naturally Batman hates it. While he can see that violent crime is down, it prods at some of his insecurities. When she states that only the rich will be targeted, he snaps back, "My parents were 'rich'!" Which is both true and also very much missing the point that, had something like this been in place when he was a boy, Thomas and Martha Wayne may have simply lost some money, or a few expensive trinkets, rather than their lives.
That's not to say her plan is without flaws. In training these people to be expert thieves, is Catwoman simply empowering thieves and murderers to be more efficient criminals? And it's already not as bloodless as she'd hoped. We see the first casualty at the end of the issue when poor old Roland is killed while breaking into a supposedly empty condo.
Even so, it feels better than the alternative, especially given that Bruce is clearly not doing well right now. As he admits to himself in the issue, he's "losing control" and it's no wonder. It's been a more-than-usually difficult time lately with Failsafe, Red Mask and then the whole Knight Terrors shebang.
The disturbing key to where this is all going comes near the start of the issue. While he sleeps he is visited by the violent Batman of Zur-En-Arrh personality and perhaps something else. In a single panel we see several glowing eyes watching suggesting... what? Some kind of possession? Might some of the entities from Knight Terrors have survived in Bruce? Or is this something new?
Regardless, the final panel of the issue makes it clear that the Zur-En-Arrh personality has fully taken control. "The mission has been tainted," he snarls, like Travis Bickle or Watchmen's Rorschach in a Batsuit. "We stop crime. Because we're Batman."
Bruce Wayne has left the building and this darker, more authoritarian version seems to be in control of his body. Unless someone can rein him back in, the Gotham War is going to be long and bloody.
This is a really strong start to the new event. Mike Hawthorne's art has an appropriate grittiness, while Adriano Di Benedetto's inks reflect the murkiness of this situation.
Howard and Zdarsky's script, meanwhile, is both compassionate and reflective, perhaps, of the inherent contradictions in being a fan of Batman. It's fun to watch him beat up villains, but as many have commented over the years, it's not exactly the most efficient way to solve the structural problems that have made Gotham such a troubled city. It's also lead to its fair share of problems in the past. Perhaps Selina has finally stumbled upon the answer that has eluded Bruce so long - but will he let her follow through with it?
Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Battle Lines #1 is published today by DC Comics.
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